Happy birthday, StatCan!

February 9, 2018

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It's been 100 years since the Dominion Bureau of Statistics—later renamed Statistics Canada—was created.

Throughout 2018, the agency will be unveiling plans to celebrate this important milestone. "We want to honour our past and present," says Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada. "We recognize that our success was built on years of dedication, ingenuity and hard work, a tradition proudly carried on by employees today."

A century of growth

The agency has grown alongside Canada's population, which registered at 8.6 million in 1918 and 35.1 million in 2016.

In 1918, Robert H. Coats, the first Dominion Statistician and Controller of the Census, supervised the work of 123 employees in a small downtown Ottawa office.

A century later, the agency has continued to grow in reach and in relevance. Today, we stretch from coast to coast with staff in Ottawa and in regional offices. Statistics Canada's presence is now nationwide through a network of Research Data Centres where researchers can access microdata, allowing them to analyze complex social and economic issues.

And the agency's influence is not confined to national borders. As a member of organizations such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Statistics Canada plays an active role in international working groups, pushing new boundaries. The agency collaborates with other statistical organizations to share knowledge and expertise, and build capacity with colleagues around the world.

Statistics Canada, then and now

The last century brought an abundance of progress and innovation, which changed Statistics Canada in fundamental ways.

Although punch cards and electronic tabulating machines eventually revolutionized statistical compilation, printers back in 1918 did not make vertical lines. This left clerks the tedious job of drawing lines on sheets of paper used for census tables, entirely by hand!

Technological advances over the years have increased Statistics Canada's processing and analytical capabilities. Today's employees are able to impute, weigh and verify data using a range of sophisticated processing software.

Trends in communication and dissemination have also evolved. In 1918, with limited mediums through which to distribute information and no 24-hour news cycle to accommodate, the Canada Year Book was the primary publication.

Today, Statistics Canada leverages a variety of communication channels, releasing data through The Daily, and engaging with Canadians through blog posts and social media. The agency produces infographics and data visualization tools to make statistical information more accessible and engaging.

Expanding stats

Over the years, Statistics Canada's focus has diversified in response to the needs of Canadians.

In 1918, Statistics Canada focused largely on measuring industries such as mining and agriculture, recording 118 million pounds of copper and 189 million bushels of wheat produced that year.

While the agency still tracks these sectors, it has expanded its programs to meet the information needs of a modern society and global economy, which are fueled by high-quality and timely data. As the national statistical organization in a centralized system, Statistics Canada is uniquely positioned to meet those needs.

The agency now produces statistics covering a wide range of topics, from tourism, trade and energy to justice, health and education. The Cannabis Statistics Hub, launched as part of an initiative to track the social and economic effects of pending legislation that would legalize non-medical cannabis, exemplifies Statistics Canada's capacity to respond to rapidly evolving demands for statistical information.

Where we stand today

The solid foundation built over the last century has enabled the agency to achieve new successes in the past few years.

In 2016, Statistics Canada conducted its most successful census ever. Canadians responded with overwhelming enthusiasm—the 98.4% participation rate was the highest in census history.

The following year, the agency launched an ambitious modernization agenda, revealing plans to intensify its focus on user needs, enhance collaboration, build statistical capacity, adopt innovative methods to collect and process data, and modernize its workplace.

The end of 2017 was marked by legislation to amend the Statistics Act, formalizing the agency's independence and reinforcing Canadians' confidence in their national statistical organization.

Looking back, moving forward

While much has changed at Statistics Canada in the last century, some things have remained consistent over time: our dedication to quality, the innovation of our employees and most importantly, the value that we add to Canadians' understanding of our society, environment and the economy. In the words of Mr. Coats: "The statistics of a nation are, in point of fact, the quantitative expression of the character and activities of the people, and hence are of the most profound significance."

The act of gathering statistics in Canada is of course, nothing new: the tradition dates back to 1666, when Jean Talon conducted the first census in New France.

The anniversary marks the year that Canada formalized the Dominion Bureau of Statistics as a national institution. Celebrating Statistics Canada's centennial is about commemorating past achievements, celebrating how far we've come and looking forward to an even brighter future. Canadians expect and desire no less from a world-class statistical agency. As Mr. Arora puts it, "This is our chance to recognize the generations of talent that have brought us to where we are today, and to celebrate the continued achievements of a world-class organization."

Over the course of 2018, we will engage with Canadians through a series of commemorative products and activities. Visit our website regularly and join in the celebration—here's to the next 100 years!

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