Why your NWT community helps decide which census you get

It’s census season, NWT. Every five years, the federal government sends forms to each household asking about the languages you speak, how many people you live with, and your ethnic background.

This year, Yellowknifers’ questionnaires err on the shorter side. There are two versions of the census: a short-form one that takes moments to complete, and a much more detailed long-form version.

Most people in the NWT should brace themselves for a longer census session, but residents of Yellowknife were mostly sent the quicker version.


That’s because the census is one of comparatively few opportunities to learn more about smaller NWT communities, officials say, so residents in those places tend to be given the full version. In cities, where there are other sources of information, most people get the shorter version.

Geoff Bowlby, director general of the census program, told Cabin Radio only one in four people in Canada are chosen to receive the long-form census. That means Yellowknifers with a shorter census join the vast majority of Canadians.

The last census survey took place in 2016 and counted the territory’s population at 41,786. Nearly half of NWT respondents identified as Indigenous, compared to 4.9 percent on a national level.

“The census is the once-in-a-five-year opportunity to paint a portrait of who we are as Canadians,” Bowlby said.


“The census is more than the population on the sign at your city limits. The census has got all kinds of rich data on the languages that we speak, what’s our ethnicity, what’s our Indigenous background.

“It’s the only source of information we have that can produce data down to the community level or the neighbourhood.”

The census is used by the federal government to decide some per-capita funding. Bowlby said it would also allow officials to measure the success of Covid-19 vaccine rollout campaigns.

“There are other emergencies scenarios where there’s a forest fire or flood,” he said. “Governments need to know not precisely how many people live in the area, but at least roughly, so they can make sure the services provided to those people are appropriate.”

Filling the gaps

For this year’s survey, questions have been added on veteran status and gender identity. More Indigenous languages have been included.

The census is primarily online this year, whereas previous surveys used mainly paper copies to collect NWT data. The move online is in part a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bowlby doesn’t expect the pandemic to affect the quality of the data, but several questions will give a better understanding of how the pandemic has affected people throughout the country.

“Some examples are in the work questions,” he explained. “Of course, many people were impacted by unemployment or changes to their employment over the course of the pandemic. We will be able to provide a really interesting portrait there on how Covid impacted us.”  

To make participating in the census “more enjoyable,” Statistics Canada created 11 different playlists of Canadian music for people to listen to as they fill out the survey. One playlist, called Voices of the North, features NWT acts such as Quantum Tangle, PIQSIQ, and Leela Gilday.

“There’s a little bit there for everybody, from modern pop, to rap, to country, to more nostalgic stuff,” said Bowlby. “My favourite playlist is the Golden Age of Rock.”

Those who have received the shorter survey can probably only get through two or three songs before they finish, Bowlby added, while the longer one will require “about half an hour of good, old-fashioned Canadian music.”