French, Irish, French, French, Irish … “Racial or Tribal Origin” in the 1901 Canadian Census

Here is the household of Francis (“Frank”) Charlebois in the 1901 Canadian census for Torbolton Township (Carleton Co., Ontario):

Francis Charlebois household, 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario, Carleton County, Torbolton, p. 13, lines 30-34.

The members of the above household, with their “Racial or Tribal Origin” (as recorded under column 14), are as follows:

3. Name4. Sex5. Colour6. Relationship to Head of Family or Household7. Single, Married, Widowed or Divorced 8. Month and Date of Birth9. Year of Birth10. Age at Last Birthday11. Country or Place of Birth14. Racial or Tribal Origin
Charlebois, FrancisM [Male]W [White]HeadM [Married]Mar 9186239Ont r [Ontario rural]French
Charlebois, Mary Af [Female]WWifeMAug 15187526Ont rIrish
Charlebois, Erson AMWSonS [Single]Feb 1718974Ont rFrench
Charlebois, John BMWSonSNov 2019004/12 [4 months]Ont rFrench
Charlebois, MargretfWMotherW [Widowed]May 7183368Ont rIrish

Btw, all of the above are listed as Canadian in Nationality (Column 15) and as R. Cath (Roman Catholic) in Religion (Column 16).

Note that while the three males here are all listed as French, and the two females as Irish, the difference is not a simple function of gender (though it is gender-based: more on this below). If Francis Charlebois and his wife Mary Ann Kennedy had had a daughter in 1901 (and they later had at least three daughters: Mary Rita; Mary Elizabeth Josephine; and Sarah Monica), that daughter would have been listed in the 1901 census not as Irish but as French.

For those of European descent (for those whose “colour” would be listed as White, in other words), “Racial or Tribal Origin” was traced through the father, not the mother.

So, while Francis Charlebois was the son of a French-Canadian father (Arsène Charlebois) and an Irish mother (Margaret Moran = Margret Charlebois, his widowed mother, in the household listed above), in the 1901 census his origin was simply listed as French. And while his two sons (Erson [for Arsène] Andrew and John Bernard) were the offspring of a French-Irish father (Francis Charlebois) and an Irish mother (Mary Ann Kennedy), their origin was likewise listed in the 1901 census as French. Indeed, with three Irish grandparents (Margaret Moran on the paternal side; and Andrew Kennedy and Sarah O’Leary on the maternal side) and one French grandparent (Arsène Charlebois on the paternal side), the children of Francis Charlebois and Mary Ann Kennedy were more Irish than French in origin (and they would have been culturally more Irish than French, too, given their birth and upbringing in an English-speaking Irish Catholic community). But in the 1901 census (and in the 1911 census too), the rule of paternal descent meant that their “Racial or Tribal Origin” was given as French.

All four of the children of Arsène Charlebois and Margaret Moran (family information here) married into Irish Catholic families in Huntley, Fitzroy, and March townships (Carleton Co., Ontario), which marriages gave rise to some interesting Irish-French name combinations (Patrick Gerald Charlebois; James Lavin Charlebois; and Patrick Leonard Charlebois, to cite just a few examples).

An important and significant exception to the rule of paternal descent:

According to LAC’s Search Help page for the 1911 Census of Canada (I can’t find anything comparable for the 1901 Canadian Census):

 Native people were to have their “racial or tribal origin” traced through their mothers, with the specific name of the First Nation entered (for example, Cree, Chippewa, Mohawk, etc.).

Children of a white parent and a parent belonging to another race were to be classed as a member of the other race (for example “Negro,” “Mongolian [Chinese]” or “Mongolian [Japanese]”).

This attention to maternal origins in the case of non-“White” parentage was a function of racism, surely, and by no means a sign of incipient feminism or anything of the sort. But the maternal information can be significant for those seeking information about their aboriginal or Métis heritage.

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