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Religion data from the 2001 Canadian census

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Results from the 2001 Canadian Census:

Unlike the U.S., the federal census in Canada includes information on people's religion. It is held every five years, on years ending with a 6 and 1, However, religious data is only collected on every other census -- those collected on years ending in "1." So the most recent data available from Stats Canada is for 2001. The next religious data will be collected in 2011 and will probably be released in mid 2013.

We feel that with the currently rapid changes in religious affiliation and belief, collecting data only once a decade is inadequate.

Data for the 2001 census was released on 2003-MAY-13. It represents only religious identification or affiliation.

"Respondents were instructed to report a specific denomination or group, even if they were not practising members of their group. For infants or children, respondents were instructed to report the denomination or group in which they will be raised. In most cases, this would normally be the religion of their parents (or guardians). Persons who had no connection or affiliation with any religious group or denomination were instructed to mark the circle 'No religion'. However, if respondents considered terms such as "atheist" or "agnostic" to be applicable to them, they were instructed to specify them in the write-in area of the question." 1

bullet Christianity: The percentage of Canadians who identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics has decreased during the 20th century. The rate of decline is accelerating:
Year
% of Protestant or Catholic Canadians % following other religions or no religion
1901 98% 2%
1981 90% 10%
1991 83% 17%
2001 72% 28%

By the time of the next census, non-Christians will probably exceed the number of Protestants in the country.

bullet Activity: An increasing percentage of persons identify themselves with a particular faith group, but are not active members. Statistics Canada's General Social Survey reports that "attendance at religious services has fallen dramatically across the country over the past 15 years."

bullet In 1986, 28% of respondents said that they attended religious services weekly.
bullet In 2001, this declined to 20%.
bullet Non-governmental surveys of both the U.S. and Canada have been conducted on a county-wide basis. The number of people entering a church, synagogue etc. were counted on a given week. They reveal that the true percentage of attendees is about half of the stated value. People tend to lie on matters such as religious attendance. Thus about 10% of Canadian adults regularly attend services at least once a week, even though 20% say they do. The situation is similar in the U.S. where many surveys report that 40% of the subjects claim to go to religious services at least once a week, but only 20% do.
bullet In 1986, only 26% of adults reported that they had not attended a religious service in the previous 12 months. In 2001, this number increased to 43%. At this rate, a comfortable majority of Canadian adults will report on the 2011 census that they had not attended a service in the previous year.
 
bullet Trends in membership of various religions (listed in alphabetic order):

Religion 1981 census data 1991 census data 2001 census data
Atheists, Agnostics , Humanists, no religion, etc. 7.4 12.3% 16.2%
Buddhism 0.2% 0.6% 1.0%
Catholic + Protestants 90.0% 83.3% 72%
    Catholic 47.3% 45.2% 43.2%
    Protestant 41.2% 34.9% 29.2%
    Eastern Orthodox 1.5% 1.4% 1.6%
    Other Christian 2 - 1.3% 2.6%
Hinduism 0.3% 0.6% 1.0%
Islam 0.4% 0.9% 2.0%
Judaism 1.2% 1.2% 1.1%
Sikhism 0.3% 0.5% 0.9%
Canada remains a predominately Roman Catholic nation. Islam now has many more followers than does Judaism. Buddhism will probably overtake Judaism by the time of the next census.
bullet Canada's ten largest various faith groups:

In decreasing size:

Group Membership % of total population
Roman Catholic 12.8 million 43.2%
No religion 4.8 million 16.2%
United Church 2.8 million 9.6%
Anglican 2.0 million 6.9%
Other Christian, Apostolic, Born-again, Evangelical 780 thousand 2.6%
Baptist 729 thousand 2.5%
Lutheran 607 thousand 2.0%
Muslim 580 thousand 2.0%
Other Protestant 549 thousand 1.9%
Presbyterian 410 thousand 1.4%
 
bullet Some general observations of the 2001 census data:
bullet The population of Canada was 29,639,030, an increase of 9.8% over the 1991 census.
bullet There are 34 faith groups with membership in excess of 20,000 adherents.
bullet The percentage of Canadians who identify themselves as Christian has been dropping by about 0.9 percentage points per year. This is very close to the rate of decline in the U.S. If this trend continues, then by about the year 2023, non-Christians will outnumber Christians in Canada.
bullet "NOTAS" (our term for "None Of The Above") who report themselves as Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, secularist, or simply "no religion " represent the second largest religious group in the country.
bullet NOTAS are now the second largest religious grouping in Canada, being exceeded in numbers only by Roman Catholicism.
bullet They amounted to fewer than 1% of the Canadian population prior to 1971. They increased in numbers to 16.2% over the decade 1991 to 2001.
bullet Their median age in 2001 was only 31 years; the median age of Canadians is 37.
bullet About 37% of people in the Yukon, 35% in British Columbia, and 23% in Alberta reported no religion. This compares to 6% in Quebec, and fewer than 2% in Newfoundland & Labrador.
 
bullet Several denominations suffered significant declines in popularity, expressed as a percentage of the total population. In order of percentage change, they are:
Denomination 2001 Membership Change since 1999
Presbyterian 409,830 -36%
Brethren in Christ 20,590 -22%
Salvation Army 87,790 -22%
Pentecostal 369,475 -15%
Other Protestants 549,205 -13%
Christian Reformed Church 76,670 -10%
United Church 2,839,125 -8%
Jehovah's witnesses 154,750 -8%
Mennonite 191,465 -8%
Anglican 2,035,500 -7%

We are at a loss to understand why there is such a precipitous loss in the Presbyterian Church and Salvation Army. The loss in affiliation with the Pentecostal denominations is also a surprise, because this group is growing very rapidly elsewhere in the world.

bullet Wiccans and other Neopagans showed the greatest percentage growth of any religion, to 21,080 members. To our knowledge, this fact was ignored by all media commentators. This was an increase of 281% between 1991 and 2001.
bullet Native Spirituality showed a 175% growth to 29,820 members.
bullet The number of Muslims grew by 129% to 579,640 followers.
bullet Some denominations appear to be having difficulty attracting younger members. The median age of members of the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodists, Presbyterian, Ukrainian Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox, and United Church faith groups are in the range of 43 to 46 years. This is significantly higher than 37 years of age, which is the median age for the Canadian population as a whole. On the other hand, the average age of Hutterites is 22, of followers of Aboriginal spirituality is 25, of Muslims is 28.1, and of Wiccans and other Neopagans is 30 -- all younger than the average age for Canadians.
bullet Other small religions with fewer than 20,000 members include: Baha'i Faith, Confucianism, Goddess Worship, Kabalarian, New Age Spirituality, Santeria, and Satanism.

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Accuracy of the census data

It is important to realize that surveys and census data are based on self-disclosure: a person is counted as a Christian if they call themselves a Christian. (This is the same criteria that  this website uses.) However, many denominations define the term Christian differently. For example, many conservative Christians do not consider Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses to be fellow Christians. 

The government data are based on census data, which is made up from the responses of individual Canadians. The data do not necessarily reflect the way that individual religious groups record membership. Some churches count all baptized persons as members; other faiths consider only active adult members in their data; others include both adults and children; still others have different criteria. Because of active persecution in Canada, we suspect that members of some widely hated minority religions often lie to the census takers. The former feel safer pretending to be a Christian or a person of no religion than to admit their actual religion and risk attacks. We suspect that the actual numbers of Wiccans and Satanists are much higher than those recorded.

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References:

  1. "Religion: Part B - Detailed Definition," Statistics Canada, 2003-APR-22, at: http://www.statcan.ca/. This appears to be no longer a valid URL. A chart remains online at the Stats Can web site at: http://www12.statcan.ca/
  2. Included are persons who identify themselves as "Christian," "Apostolic," "Born-again Christian," and "Evangelical."

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Copyright information

Census data from "Statistics Canada...is used with the permission of Statistics Canada. Users are forbidden to copy the data and redisseminate them, in an original or modified form, for commercial purposes, without the expressed permission of Statistics Canada. Information on the availability of the wide range of data from Statistics Canada can be obtained from Statistics Canada's Regional Offices, its World Wide Web site at http://www.statcan.ca, and its toll-free access number 1-800-263-1136."

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Site navigation:

HomeReligious information > Basic info > Religion in Canada > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JUN-05
Last update: 2010-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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