This week, Memorial University and the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency (NLSA) of the Economics and Statistics Branch of the Department of Finance will showcase their leading role in a massive project to digitize census data when national players for the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure (CCRI) project gather in St. John’s from August 25-27.
CCRI is a five-year, pan-Canadian initiative to develop databases of census information collected between 1911 and 1951. A team headed by Dr. Sean Cadigan from Memorial’s Department of History is responsible for digitizing the data collected in the Atlantic provinces. This will make rich details, previously stored only on paper or microfilm, available at the click of a mouse, saving researchers considerable time and money.
The Atlantic portion of the CCRI project will include data from censuses done in pre-Confederation Newfoundland - data that can offer insight not possible in other Canadian jurisdictions.
During the meetings, the Atlantic team will demonstrate a prototype of a searchable database which may serve as a model for all national centres - a major boost for the project.
This was made possible by the close collaboration between Memorial and the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency, and funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
The NLSA is part of the Economics and Statistics Branch of the Department of Finance which provides a broad range of economic and statistical services to government and the private sector.
“This is a project I am very proud of,” said Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan. “This partnership between our government through the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency and Memorial University of Newfoundland is one that will be a source of valuable information for the people of this province for years to come.”
According to Dr. Cadigan, data gathered pre-Confederation in Newfoundland does not fall under Canadian privacy legislation, so researchers are able to draw on a larger sample, making it a goldmine for research.
“The importance of this is immense,” said Dr. Cadigan. “For pre-Confederation Newfoundland, you can look at smaller centres and even families, and track the movement of people. This can help researchers gain a more accurate picture of how people moved in - and out - of communities in the early 20th century. “The data shows that there was a transitory nature to our population even then.”
The accessibility of this information will also be a boon for those seeking to clarify the genetic basis for transmission of a disease. In the past, health researchers spent valuable time and money looking for genetic links for a particular disease would spend years visiting residents in small communities, searching through church records, and exploring the Provincial Archives.
The Population Therapeutics Research Group, a non-profit research organization within Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine, is working with the CCRI team to develop a province-wide heritability database that could reveal genealogical links among individuals with a particular disease. This will be done in a way that optimally protects patient privacy.
Newfoundland, because of its past pattern of migration and isolation, is recognized as a unique founder population in disease research.
“The CCRI database has the potential to change the way genetic research is conducted. Instead of taking years to find a critical genealogical linkage, it may take just minutes. This will lead to better health outcomes for Newfoundlanders,” explained Dr. Proton Rahman, principal investigator with the Population Therapeutics Research Group.
The St. John’s meeting will gather members from the five other CCRI centres across Canada together. They include representatives from York University, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Centre interuniversitaire d'études québécoises at Université Laval and UQTR, and the University of Ottawa, which is at the national project’s helm.
Public access at the Confederation Building to the pre-Confederation Newfoundland data won’t be available until at least late 2007.