Better know a Canadian functionary: the Dominion Statistician

The Constitution Act of 1867 established that the government was obliged to conduct a census every 10 years, beginning in 1871. These were conducted by the Department of Agriculture until 1912, then by the Department of Trade and Commerce until 1918, when the Statistics Act established the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, headed by a Dominion Statistician, to conduct and tabulate the census, as well as conduct any surveys that the government may need to commission at any given time. The Bureau and its chief had their names changed to Statistics Canada and the Chief Statistician in 1971.

Beginning in 1906, a separate, smaller census was conducted halfway between each main census to keep track of the rapid growth of settlement and agricultural output of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This morphed into a nationwide brief update to the census starting in 1956, then into the modern construct of a full census every five years from 1986 onwards.

The Dominion and/or Chief Statisticians of Canada have been:

Robert Hamilton Coats, 1918-42. A graduate of the University of Toronto, a journalist for the Toronto Globe and editor of the Labour Gazette, Mackenzie King appointed Coats as Chief Statistician to the Department of Labour in 1905 before becoming the first Dominion Statistician in 1918. The office tower in Tunney’s Pasture, Ottawa, housing the StatsCan headquarters is named after him.

Sedley Anthony Cudmore, 1942-45. Sedmore was born in Ireland, attended U of T and Oxford, and worked at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics for most of his career. He helped set up a census bureau in Palestine in the 1930s. He died suddenly at Quebec City in 1945 while attending a UN conference.

Herbert Marshall OBE, 1945-56. Marshall graduated from U of T in 1915 and served in World War I. Marshall’s specialty was in pricing statistics, working for the Wartime Prices and Trade Board during World War II.

Walter E. Duffett, 1957-72. Duffett was a graduate of the U of T and the LSE, and as Dominion Statistician oversaw the census’s very first baby steps toward computerization. Duffett’s title changed from Dominion Statistician to Chief Statistician in 1971.

Sylvia Ostry CC, 1972-75. After earning a Ph.D. in economics from Cambridge, Ostry (née Knelman) taught at McGill before becoming Chief Statistician. Her husband was Bernard Ostry, a CBC Radio personality in the early 1960s and CEO of public broadcaster TVOntario.

Peter G. Kirkham, 1975-80. Kirkham was a professor of business administration at the University of Western Ontario before coming to StatsCan. He resigned abruptly in 1980 to accept a job with the Bank of Montreal.

James L. Fry, 1980 (interim)

Martin Bradbury Wilk OC, 1980-85. Dr. Wilk started in academia as a chemical engineer at McGill (he worked as a nuclear researcher for the National Research Council) before switching to studying and teaching statistical mathematics at Iowa State University, Princeton and Rutgers, where he co-discovered the Shapiro-Wilk test for determining the normality of groups of numbers in certain probability density functions. He then went on to spend the 1970s working as a corporate planner for AT&T before becoming Chief Statistician. He was the first to introduce modern digital computers into the operation of StatsCan.

Ivan Peter Fellegi, 1985-2008. A refugee of the Hungarian Revolt of 1956, Fellegi was the first person to earn a Ph.D. from Carleton University in 1961. From 1961 to 1985 he worked continuously for Statistics Canada.

Munir A. Sheikh, 2008-10. A Pakistani immigrant who earned a doctorate from the University of Western Ontario, Sheikh went on to serve in senior positions in the Department of Finance, Health Canada, the Privy Council Office and Human Resources and Social Development Canada before being appointed Chief Statistician. The Conservative government’s meddling in the long-form census caused Sheikh to resign in disgust.

Wayne Smith, 2010-now. A graduate of Carleton and an employee of StatsCan since 1981, Smith was given the job of Chief Statistician on an interim basis upon the resignation of Munir Sheikh in 2010, assuming it permanently in 2011.


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