This article describes the key events in the development of the national vital statistics system in Canada. Particular emphasis is placed on the role played by Statistics Canada, known as the Dominion Bureau of Statistics from 1918 to 1971. There were many obstacles to uniform national compilations, including differences in provincial legislation, the incomplete registration of vital events, a lack of uniform standards in classification and methods of presentation, the omission of important data, the use of fiscal instead of calendar years, and periodic breaks in the annual publications prepared by the provinces and territories. To overcome these obstacles, collaboration among federal and provincial/territorial governments was necessary. This two-part article chronicles the evolution of this collaboration, which led to the production of national vital statistics in Canada. Part 1 covers the years 1605 to 1945, from the time explorers, the Catholic Church and census takers first recorded details about the European population in New France, to the establishment of a system of national vital statistics. It ends by noting the important role national vital statistics played in launching Family Allowances in 1945. Part 2, scheduled to appear in a future issue of Health Reports, will cover the years 1945 to the present. It will focus on the creation of the National Vital Statistics Index, the Vital Statistics Council, computerization, record linkage, and occupational and environmental health statistics.