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City Directories

Ottawa City Directory, 1901, p. 271

Ottawa City Directory, 1901, p. 271.

Ottawa City Directory, 1901, p. 72

Ottawa City Directory, 1901, p. 72.

City and county directories can help you find information about an individual such as:

  • his/her occupation;
  • his/her address in a city;
  • the ward in which he/she lived; and
  • the lot and concession number in the country.

Genealogists and Family Historians use them to trace individuals, families and businesses. The published annual city directories contain helpful information. They usually include an alphabetical listing of the adult residents, with their occupation and address. The books also include listings of businesses, churches, schools, social organizations, municipal services, etc. and an alphabetical listing of streets, with the occupant at each house number. The directories can assist in determining a ward for census years, for identifying adult members of the same family residing in the same house and for trying to narrow down the time period when an immigrant may have arrived in the country.

Directories were originally published by companies such as Might, Henderson and Lovell, as marketing and advertising tools for medium to large size cities all across Canada, on an annual, biennial or irregular basis. The oldest cities have longest runs of directories:

  • Quebec City, since 1791;
  • Montreal since 1819;
  • Toronto, since 1832.

The directories for the 1800s and the early 1900s generally include names for most men over the age of 18, but not names for all women. Usually only women who were widows, employed or owned businesses were listed. In the first case, the abbreviation wid. appears after the name. These directories include names, street addresses, occupations, and if the person is a tenant or homeowner. You will find three sections in most early city directories:

  • alphabetical list of residents;
  • street directory (useful to find ward names for cities such as Montreal and Toronto);
  • Classified business directory.
  • Numerical telephone directory for later city directories

Provincial directories were also published irregularly from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have good runs of provincial directories. British Columbia is unusual in having a fairly complete set from the 1860s to the 1950s. Provincial directories are useful for finding residents of smaller towns and villages. Usually the major businessmen and farmers are listed; names and professions are usually provided but not the addresses.

County directories were also published irregularly mostly for Ontario from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s and a few for counties in other provinces. They are arranged by county and township and are useful for finding farmers and residents of rural areas. They include names, concession and lot numbers, tenant or freeholder and the location of the nearest post office.

Research Tips

  • It was not mandatory to be listed in the directories; many people did not want to be listed. Therefore, if you don't find someone listed in the directories, it doesn't mean that they weren't in the city, town, etc.
  • Always check several years around the time period in which you are interested; sometimes people are listed in one year and then not the next and so on.
  • Always check both the alphabetical and street sections of the directory; you will often find different information (sometimes contradictory!) in each section.
  • Check various spellings of family names; the directories were compiled quickly through a door-to-door canvass and therefore frequently contain errors.

Research at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada has one of the richest Canadian Directory Collections. The collection includes national, provincial/territorial, county and city directories, primarily of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Directories are not available through inter-institutional loan. Photocopying of original directories is not permitted, although copies can be made from microform copies.

Search for city directories in AMICUS, using title keywords such as:

  • Toronto directory;
  • Ottawa city directory; and
  • Middlesex county directory.

You can also consult the printed finding aid Canadian Directories, 1790-1987: a Bibliography and Place-name Index, Ottawa, National Library of Canada, 1989.

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