To Know Ourselves — Not


  • Susan A. McDaniel University of Lethbridge
  • Heidi MacDonald University of Lethbridge



Canada, census of population, self-knowledge


The quest for self-knowledge has been a guiding principle throughout history. Plato acknowledged the duality of self-knowledge as both individual (the Delphic maxim “Know thyself”) and societal. “[I]f a Canadian is to seek self-knowledge that is essential for both health and wisdom, he [sic] must have access to a wider self-knowledge of his historical community and its contemporary circumstances” (Symons 1975:14). Thus began the Canadianization project which saw Canadian artists in all fields recognized; Canadian subject matter and data taught in universities, colleges, and public schools; Canadians hired as faculty at our universities; and Canadian Studies programs flourish. Census data and census making are key means by which we know ourselves as Canadians, both at present and from whence we came in families and collectively. The Census is a unique way of knowing ourselves since it enables collection of data on everyone from the most disadvantaged and hidden members of society to the best known individuals. The Census is the preeminent text for us all, particularly those who are silent or weak, to make claims for recognition. The Census is also an increasingly utilized resource for tracing ancestry, to know ourselves as descendents. In this paper, we rely on Plato’s duality of self-knowledge to explore some examples of the making of claims for recognition by groups past and present that may be lost with the cancellation of the mandatory long-form Census for 2011.