Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Finding Your Ancestor in Canadian Directories

My definition of directories: a compendium of knowledge about the residents of a town, county or city, their lives and day to day events. What makes a community tick? Who lived there (names of residents)? What were their occupations? Answers to these questions are often found in historical directories.

This article is a modest (not definitive) attempt at finding and providing information about online historical directories, almanacs and telephone books.

Example of a Canadian directory
Library & Archives Canada
Print telephone books are a rarity nowadays, although I remember quite a number of years ago the Calgary Public Library had many shelves of phone books which included books from European countries. The librarians were quite happy to do look ups and recently, I contacted the Vancouver Public Library with a very specific look up question in their phone book collection to which I received an answer very quickly!

Nowadays many family history societies and public libraries have reduced their collections of print copies of local directories. Because of space restrictions, partnering with a company or repository to scan these books preserves the print copies. As a result, the library may provide a mix of online and print copies. Tip: Contact your local library!

Please Note! A compendium of online Henderson's (Canadian) directories (similar to the U.K.'s Kelly's directories) can be found on Genealogy à la carte. A comment on Gail's site by M. Diane Rogers in B.C. notes that Miriam Robbins' website, one of Family Tree Magazine Best Websites for 2016, provides links to Canadian directories that helps fill the gaps of directories that are held by public libraries or in archive collections. Another comment on Gail's page pointed to a resource for Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario 1901-1950  Please see below for other suggestions for resources for directories.

Although listed on Gail's Genealogy à la carte page, I found this notice of an Alberta digitization project in a round about way via the Alberta Family History Society. This digitization of Alberta phone books (AGT - Alberta Government Telephones) is a project undertaken by the Medicine Hat and District Genealogical Society (MHDS). The MHDS were the recipients of Alberta telephone books given by the Medicine Hat Telus (successors of AGT) Community Ambassadors with the caveat that the books were scanned and stored for longevity.

They are listed by publication, with a separate link to a corresponding letter of the alphabet. They are a bit cumbersome to search, as I'm sure it was just as cumbersome to organize the digitization of these volumes! Each section is compiled into a very large pdf file which takes ages to load. As always, please respect the copyright restrictions -this work is only for research purposes, and not to be copied or published in any way.

Calgary City 1903-1949 ➤ Calgary Rurals 1922 to 1932 ➤ Calgary Yellow Pages (Pink) 1920-1949 ➤ Edmonton City 1909 Jan. and May; 1910 Jan. and Oct. 1911 Dec; 1925 All ➤Edmonton District Towns and Villages: 1925 ; (not digitized) 1926-1930 ➤Alberta South & Central 1908-1949 ➤ Lethbridge and District 1907 to 1955 ➤ Medicine Hat and District 1907 to 1959 ➤ Peace River District July 1923-1932; 1934-1952;  (not digitized) 1954-1958

Within each 'telephone book' they are first organized by the name of the place, then alphabetically by persons name. You will need to know the name of the place, at the very least the name of the area and then do a manual Ctrl + F (Find) to find your family name. Or skim for the family name. I downloaded Alberta South & Central 1947 Mar M to Z and there are no addresses, only names and telephone numbers.

Peel's Prairie Provinces provided by the University of Alberta, has digitized a lot of directories and Dave Obee provides links to Alberta issues in chronological order from the late 1890s to 1950s.

Other directories such as the Polk and Grodlund's are available at some public libraries in the province of Alberta.

British Columbia City Directories 1860-1955 - provided by the Vancouver Public Library, organized by year, then by cities, by outlying communities. Also searchable by initial, then by name.  The home page provides links to years along the left column, and there are helpful instructions on the main page. Each listing also provides a description of each volume. This digital collection is not hard to search, a bit old-fashioned, but very

The Vancouver City Directory for 1915 - Government Listings, Vancouver, North Vancouver and West Vancouver communities, also contains Chinese and Japanese firms.

Manitoba Genealogical Society -  Print copies of Henderson Directories – Manitoba addresses and residents from 1876 to 1908, Winnipeg addresses and residents from 1908 to end of publication in 1999. Please contact for more information. 

Winnipeg and incorporated towns of Manitoba coverage varies, starts 1880 to 1970s

Brandon 1906-1960 - often these smaller city directories contain outlying town and hamlet listings, such as Souris and Carroll.

Manitoba and Northwest Territories 1878-1905 (The Northwest Territories included the western provinces in the late 1800s- does not refer to the northern province NWT as it is now known)

'Let Your Fingers Do the Walking' - a very good guide to Using City, Provincial, Telephone and Business Directories. Directories from Nova Scotia Archives holdings. Most of the directories they mention are not available online. From this page: "The most complete run of telephone directories for Nova Scotia (1888-1999; predominantly 1911-1999) can be found at the Dalhousie University Archives in the Killam Library, University Avenue".

Landing page for Directories at the NS Archives.

Ontario directories including Hamilton can be searched by name once you download the pdf file from Library and Archives Canada

Toronto City Directories via Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society

Did you know that the Genealogy Centre - Allen County Public Library has 288 results for Ontario Directories? However, most of these are in print.

Hutchinson's 1864 Prince Edward Island Directory - an index, provided in table format and transcribed by Donna Collings.

A list of PEI directories from the Island Register, PEI Genealogical Society and their location - mostly print issues - webpage last updated 2003

This guide mentions that the directories are on microfilm and can be accessed onsite in the archives.

Regina Public Library have sent their print Henderson's directories to the University of Alberta to be scanned. Please use their online contact form for more information. It will be a number of months before they are available on the web.

The Family Search wiki for Canadian Directories provides a good overview of where directories are held, and gives a brief bibliography of guides to directories.

A selection of directories are freely available on  For example, this website provides the entire edition of The Canadian Almanac and Directory 1889 in an 'e-book' format.  Directories may contain family names, business names and trades or occupations.

Nowadays people turn to the internet to try to find someone in the 'white pages'. To find people who currently live in Canada, the U.S. and the are a few helpful websites:

Canada: Canada 411 | the United States: (a helpful university library guide to U.S. directories ) | and the U.K.: 

For easier internet searching use these alternate terms for Canadian directories: telephone books, white pages, yellow pages, almanacs, Henderson Directories - - & remember to add the year you are researching.

Of course, this just a quick (albeit lengthy) look at some of the directories available, so if you find any others please do share with the rest of the genealogy community!

Upcoming articles:  Finding your Ancestors in CanadaFinding your Military Ancestors in Canada ,   Finding Your Ancestors in Ontario

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