Trained telephone interviewers contacted 1,573 adults across Canada about the nature and frequency of headaches suffered by them or by others in their households. Using a table of pain symptoms and other characteristics abstracted from the International Headache Society (IHS) classification, the headaches were assigned to migraine headache, tension-type headache or other diagnostic groups. Of the households sampled, 59% had at least one headache sufferer in residence. The proportion of headache sufferers with migraine was 14%; with tension-type, 36%; and with both, 14%. Migraine headache caused more disability than tension-type headache, with nearly 20% of migraine sufferers taking time off work and disability lasting for a mean of 1 day. It is concluded that the current prevalences of migraine and tension-type headache in Canada fall around the mean of previous studies, that the IHS criteria can form a basis for diagnostic classification and that the functional impact of migraine has been seriously underestimated in the past.