What is UNI·CEN?


The Unified Infrastructure for Canadian Census Research, or UNI·CEN, is a comprehensive database of historical and contemporary Canadian aggregate Census data. Hosted by NEST and funded by the Faculty of Social Science, the goal of the project is to liberate and harmonize Census data so that it can be easily used by academic researchers, students, and the public.

The wealth of digitized or “born-digital” historical Census data spanning from 1851 to the present is held by multiple libraries and repositories and is stored in a wide range of legacy data formats. The goals of the UNI·CEN project are threefold:

  • Reformat available data into a common table structure
  • Standardize variable labels to enable comparison across time
  • Link geographical area codes across time

UNI·CEN data can be downloaded now from the open-access Borealis Dataverse repository:

Several additional elements of the project are being developed and will be released soon:

  • A comprehensive database of questions asked in the Census between 1851 and 2021.
  • A series of geographic concordance tables that link equivalent units across Censuses.
  • An update of the Canadian Longitudinal Tract Database, which uses advanced techniques to apportion data pertaining to 1951–2016 census tracts to 2021 census tract boundaries.
  • Geographic lookup tables for all years that indicate which larger unit smaller units are located in, and also a postal code lookup table containing the best-fit Census units, across all time, that match each current six-character postal code.

In the future, UNI·CEN datasets will be available through other channels:

  • Digital boundary files can be viewed on, and downloaded from, ScholarsGeoPortal
  • Users of Esri GIS products will be able to access the data on Esri's Living Atlas facility.
  • Finally, the data can be visualized, analyzed, and downloaded from NEST’s companion project, the Canadian Communities Policy Observatory.

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