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Taking care of their own: Ethnic benevolent societies in Ontario

Established in the 1830s and before, societies like St. Andrew’s, St. George’s, St. Patrick’s and many other ethnic-based benevolent organizations provided guidance, financial and social support for their countrymen and women arriving in Canada. The list below was compiled as I was researching a presentation for the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2017, “Welcoming Newcomers: Canada’s Patriotic Societies”.

I now know a great deal more about the subject than when I submitted the proposal some 18 months ago. I rather regret my choice of the words “patriotic societies” in the title. I think “ethnic benevolent societies” represents the groups more accurately. So we’ll go with that.

Large granite monument surrounded by a flower garden

Members of Toronto’s St. George’s Society could be buried in this plot in St. James Cemetery on Parliament Street.

I’ve attempted to limit my research to benevolent organizations that are based on an ethnic origin or nationality. I’ve excluded societies based only on religion, although many of the ethnic societies have a strong faith component. I have avoided fraternal and secret societies unless there is a strong ethnic tie. (In many cases, the lines are blurred but I had to make a choice.) All the societies covered had a role in supporting the immigration, settlement, and wellbeing of their countrymen and women.

This list is NOT comprehensive. It includes only organizations for which I found manuscript or published records—or a significant mention in a book or website. If you know of other ethnic benevolent societies with records, please add them in a comment at the end of this post.

Many of the listings came from York County Clerk of the Peace records at the Archives of Ontario: Register of benevolent societies [RG 22-5880 Register 1870-1907 Box 1, barcode D362873]. I did not find similar records for other counties. There is another long list of incorporations in the Archives of Ontario fonds RG 55-7. Most are not included in my list.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of the records collected by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Many of the textual and photographic records—a vast collection—are available at the Archives of Ontario. I have only scratched the surface in my list. Be sure to visit the Society’s website to find out more.

I found most records at archives and libraries around the province. An indispensable tool that searches many institutions in one fell swoop is the If you don’t find the item I’ve noted in archeion, look for a catalogue or local history database on the institution’s website.

You’ll note the initials CIHM for some published records. This refers to the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction. Established in 1978, CIHM microfilmed many thousands of pages of early Canadian print material and made them available to public and academic libraries. Some of this material has now been digitized at, but it should all be available on fiche at major libraries.

For more about St. Andrew’s Societies, see: “St. Andrew’s Societies in Ontario: A look at the records.

Once more, this list is far from comprehensive. But I hope it inspires you to explore just what treasures might be out there.

Anti-Slavery Society of Canada Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Caledonian Club Peterborough Peterborough Museum and Archives: Caledonian Club fonds (includes records of St. Andrew’s Society from 1877.) Founded 1913.
Canadian Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives: material in several fonds. Note that the Gordon Mendly fonds are a rich resource for photos of Jewish benevolent societies in Toronto

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1913
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Victoria, BC The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle (Arlene Chan, 2011) page 55

Many records of Chinese organizations are found in F 1405 Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds at Archives of Ontario

Founded 1884 to oversee clan and regional societies. Toronto branch established 1920.
Chinese Social Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Daughters of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Finnish Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-15 Finnish Canadian photographs (approx 10,000 images, includes societies from other communities)

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-62 Finnish Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Founded 1902
Franco-British Aid Society Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1517 Franco-British Aid Society Raised funds for WWI refugees
German Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG545 Alliance of German-Speaking Organizations fonds
German Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Founded 1862
Hebrew Pedlars Association No 1, Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Hibernian Benevolent Society Toronto Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229, and in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477 Founded 1858. Became linked to Fenian activity
Highland Society of Hamilton Hamilton McMaster University, Mills Library, William Ready Division: Fonds RC0781 – Highland Society of Hamilton, Canada West Founded 1853
Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex London Book: The Luck of the Irish in Canada: a history of the Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex (Gordon Sanderson, 2000)

Founded 1877
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 355
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Toronto Toronto S 189 Irish Protestant Benevolent Society fonds: Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections

Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

TRL records start from founding 17 March 1870
Italian Canadian Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900
Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 1405-90-70 Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation publications
Italian Immigrant Aid Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 2117-13, IIAS program files Some material is restricted
Jewish Immigrant Aid Society Toronto
Ontario Jewish Archives: Fonds 9 Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Toronto

Ottawa Jewish Archives: JIAS, Ottawa Committee fonds

Founded 1920
Judean Benevolent and Friendly Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library: 50th anniversary booklet

Ontario Jewish Archives

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1905
Ladies Coloured Fugitive Association Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1191 Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Founded 1922
Montefiere Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Montefiere (Ladies) Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1868
Old Country Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: The Many Rooms of this House: Diversity in Toronto’s Places of Worship Since 1840 (Roberto Perin, 2017)

Order Sons of Italy Canada Archives of Ontario: F 4378 Order Sons of Italy of Canada fonds Large fonds, full of names
Ottawa Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society Ottawa The Economical Cook Book, 1915: CIHM 79899
Polish Alliance of Canada Toronto? Founded 1907
Pride of Israel Mutual Benefit Society Toronto See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone. Founded 1905
Queen Victoria Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Refugee Home Society Western Ontario See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017)

See: Ontario’s African-Canadian Heritage: Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967 (Dundurn, 2009)

Provided land for Black emigrants
Sons of England Benefit Society Canada Archives of Ontario: F 1155 Sons of England Benefit Society fonds

Report of the Grand Lodge Proceedings, from 1876 to 1882 at Archives of Ontario Library

Sons of England Benevolent Society London By-Laws, 1888, CIHM 94300 Trafalgar White Rose Degree Lodge No. 15
Sons of England Benevolent Society Ottawa and Ottawa Valley Directory of members, 1889, CIHM 13831

Directory of members, 1898, CIHM 13830

Sons of England Benevolent Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: 8vo Sons of England Benevolent Society fonds

Book: The early history of the Sons of England Benevolent Society (King, 1891) is at Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 28861

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

Kent Lodge No. 3 Toronto, 1921–1943
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Canada Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Published The Scottish Canadian periodical 1890-1913: Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM P06105

Founded 1876

Periodical is full of bios and other names


Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Goderich By-laws and rules of order: CIHM 55821 Inverness Camp, No. 54
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: S 266 Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association fonds Women’s Lady of the Lake Lodge
St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society Hamilton Hamilton Public Library: Local History and Archives

Constitution in Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 13140

Founded 1835, records cover 1860–1961
St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships Beaverton Archives of Ontario: F 1168 St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships fonds 1868–1880
St. Andrew’s Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900

City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1329 St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Andrew’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG110-SASO St. Andrew’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

Founded 1846
St. Andrew’s Society of the Town of Kingston and Midland District Kingston Constitution and list of officers, 1841: CIHM 21838 Founded 1840
St. George’s Benevolent Society Galt Constitution: CIHM 42731 Founded 1850
St. George’s Benevolent Society Hamilton By-Laws in Archives of Ontario Library

Annual reports: CIHM A03025 and 84029

Founded 1843
St. George’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG556 St. George’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

St. George’s Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1575 St. George’s Society of Toronto

Acts of incorporation and by-laws: CIHM 66319

Reports of district visiting society for 1840–1871 (some gaps): CIHM A02323

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Jean Baptiste de la Cité de Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society Toronto Rules and regulations: CIHM 61785

Toronto Reference Library: The St Patrick’s Benevolent Society of Toronto: a history. 1995

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

Founded 1841
Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives Founded 1899
Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Jewish Mission Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Swiss Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-81 Swiss Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Umberto Primo Italian Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935 (John E. Zucchi, 1988)

Founded 1888
Union Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
United Macedonians Toronto
Founded 1959


St. Andrew’s Societies in Ontario: A look at the records

St. Andrew’s Societies were formed in many Ontario communities by Scottish settlers and their descendants. They helped new immigrants, provided fellowship, preserved Scots values and culture, and in some cases provided security and support for their members.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, unofficial home of the non-denominational Toronto St. Andrew’s Society. Photo by James Esson, 1876, Toronto Public Library

This article will outline some of the types of records created by the societies by using the records of two very different St. Andrew’s Societies. The first is the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto and the Home District. Its papers are deposited at the City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1283). The second is the St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships. A collection of its papers is at the Archives of Ontario (F1168).

The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto and the Home District, founded in 1836, is one of the oldest in the province. On May 5, 1836, a group of prominent Scots met and resolved that “…a Society having for its object the relief of destitute Scotch Emigrants would tend in a great measure to remove much of the want and suffering incident to migration” and that they should “now form themselves into a Society to be called the St. Andrew’s Society to be composed of Scotchmen and their descendants.” St. Andrew’s wasn’t the first patriotic society in Toronto. The St. George’s Society had been founded two years earlier in 1834. The St. Patrick’s Society of Toronto was founded in October 1836.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships, which met in Beaverton, was founded in 1868—nearly 35 years later than the Toronto group. It seems to have been much less formal, perhaps more inclusive of different levels of society, but organized with a similar structure and objectives. Members were to be “Scotchmen, and the sons or grandsons of any native of Scotland.” Society funds could be used for “the relief of indigent Scotch Emigrants, assistance of Widows and Orphans of Members, or [to] contribute towards the expenses of sickness or funerals in members’ families.”

St. Andrew’s societies in Ontario, and in Canada, were only informally affiliated with each other. Although it was publicly suggested as early as 1875, there was no parent or central organization, and there is, therefore, no comprehensive list of communities that had a St. Andrew’s Society. I have found evidence of St. Andrew’s Societies in the 37 Ontario communities listed below. Much of the evidence of their existence is from the records of those same unaffiliated sister societies.


The primary purpose of the St. Andrew’s Societies was benevolence—to help their countrymen and women who had fallen on hard times, or as new emigrants needed help to get established in Canada. The many social events were designed to raise money for the benevolent activities. A secondary purpose was the promotion of Scottish culture.


Candidates for membership in the Toronto Society had to be nominated by two members and voted into the group. (Similar guidelines also applied to the other St. Andrew’s Societies.) The membership application asked for place of birth (in Scotland) or place of birth of parent or grandparent. Although I have not located these applications for the Toronto Society, new members’ names were listed in the minutes with their sponsors and usually occupations. Members had to pay fees, so their names may appear in financial records. The Toronto Society’s membership rolls note changes of address, whether the person has been “struck off”, and for what reason. Death dates are often noted.


St. Andrew’s Societies had committees to handle benevolent activities. The Toronto Society had “Managers” who looked after assessing need and dispensing funds to the deserving. Managers reported at each meeting and annually. Respecting the privacy of the recipients of their largesse, these reports mention few specific cases, but financial records show the amount and name of the recipient. Most charity was dispensed in cash, but it could also take the form of train or boat tickets, job placement, housing, medical care, funeral expenses, school fees or placement in an institution. The Toronto Society purchased a burial plot at the Necropolis Cemetery in 1864, and in 1886, they purchased a new plot at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery with spaces for 223 burials (in Section U).

The records of benevolent activities of the Thorah St. Andrew’s Society are considerably more transparent. The names and circumstances of recipients were often named in the minutes.


The most important event on the calendar was the celebration of “The Day” (St. Andrew’s Day) on November 30. Invitations, menus, or dance cards for a St. Andrew’s Day Dinner or Ball may survive in Society files or personal papers. Local newspapers were sure to cover the event. The Societies would hold other events throughout the year. Some records of these may survive, for example, Toronto’s records include a “List of Tickets sold for Moonlight Excursion on August 15, 1862.” The St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah celebrated Dominion Day with an annual excursion on Lake Simcoe.


If the Society is still in operation, or has recently disbanded, you need to question members. The records are very likely still in private hands, but may also have been deposited with a local library, archives or museum. Check published local histories for references to a St. Andrew’s Society. Diaries of Scottish members of the community may have entries around November 30 for celebrations of the “Day”. Newspaper accounts of society activities will give you some prominent names in the Society—you can then check for collections of private papers and correspondence from these individuals in local archives. Before photocopiers, even small organizations used printers to produce multiple copies of things like annual reports. Don’t forget to search library catalogues for these items.


I’ve seen evidence that all these societies existed at some point. I’ve included founding dates when that information was available. “Before” dates indicate the date of the reference I found, but the society may have started decades earlier. I’ve added the location of records for a few societies, but I’m sure there are many more yet to be discovered. If you know of another St. Andrew’s Society, I’d love to add it to the list. Please send me a comment below. Provide a source if possible.

Aldborough (met in West Lorne in 1891)


Ancaster (before 1835)

Barrie (before 1873)

Belleville (before 1885) See Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County.

Brantford (before 1891)

Brockville (before 1891)


Collingwood (before 1882)

Cornwall (founded c1837)

Dundas (before 1835)

Elora (before 1892) See Wellington County Museum and Archives.

Fergus (founded 1834)

Flamboro (before 1835)

Guelph (before 1891) See Wellington County Museum and Archives and

Hamilton (founded 1835 as District of Gore) See Hamilton Public Library.


Kingston & Midland District (founded 1840)

London (before 1866) See Library and Archives Canada.


Mitchell (before 1886) See Library and Archives Canada.

Niagara (founded 1835)

Ottawa (founded as District of Dalhousie 1846) See City of Ottawa Archives.

Owen Sound (before 1891)

Peterborough (before 1877) See Peterborough Museum and Archives and

Petrolia (founded 1870) See London Public Library.

Port Rowan

St. Mary’s (before 1890)


Stayner (founded c1877)

Thorah and Adjacent Townships (founded 1868) See Archives of Ontario.


Toronto and Home District (founded 1836) See City of Toronto Archives.


United St. Andrew’s Societies of Ancaster, Dundas & Flamboro (pre 1835)

Windsor (founded 1881, but maybe an earlier one dating pre 1849)

Woodville (before 1883)

The Other Directories: Society Blue Books

My ancestors were not listed in anybody’s “blue book.” Nevertheless, blue books or society registers provide a fascinating glimpse into the way the other half lived, and to which my relatives may have aspired.

Selected blue books in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at Toronto Reference Library

Why blue? Blue seems to have been the colour of choice for many official lists for more than 400 years in the UK and North America. Perhaps it was the permanence of the blue dye that made the books feel authoritative? The topics were diverse, so the connection to “blue blood” is probably a red herring. Whatever the reason, the name “blue book” stuck.

The Royal Blue Book from London, England, began publication in about 1820. The 1911 edition claimed to give the “names and addresses of the better class private residents”. It was issued twice a year, at Christmas and in May. The book was aimed at the audience it represented—and would have been an essential reference for hostesses and for guests at the grand houses. The pages were also full of information about government departments, banks, insurance companies, sporting events, and clubs. Advertisements were tasteful and tailored to the clientele—no butchers, but “diamond and pearl merchants.”

The first blue books in North America were published in the US in the 1880s, and really seemed to hit their stride around the turn of the century.

The Élite Directory and Club List of Toronto was published by James Bain, a bookstore owner, in 1894. Like most North American blue books it also took on the task of gently informing the new élite about etiquette—what stationery to use, when one could pay a visit, how to reply to an invitation, and how guests ought to be introduced. The Élite Directory included street listings—but of course not just any streets. It listed the members of twelve “worthy” clubs, and the officers of military regiments.

A sample of families listed in Tyrrell’s 1903/4 Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London

A new edition of The Elite Directory was published in 1898 along with Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. A New York company also produced Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto the same year. Annual or biennial blue books for Toronto were produced by a number of different publishers—Foster’s, Wm. Tyrrell, and Dau’s—from 1900 to about 1912.

pages showing advertisements

Services for the well-heeled in Tyrrell’s 1904/4 blue book

The books came back in full force in 1921 with William J. Covington’s The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. It was a bigger, more appealing book with photos of society events and club facilities. It was published regularly until 1946.

For a family historian, blue books can add details to your ancestor’s story—their address, summer residence, what days they were willing to receive visitors, and to what clubs and organizations they belonged. Maiden names were usually supplied for married women, and if adult children were living apart, their residences might also be listed. Some blue books supplied brief biographies for some individuals—presumably for a fee.

It is very interesting to see the goods and services offered by advertisers to the well-heeled readers—everything from insurance, fine furniture, fashion, to medical services and finishing schools.

Most of the Toronto blue books can be found at the Toronto Reference Library. Some have been digitized by the Library and other organizations. You’ll find a list of titles, locations and available links below.

Toronto Blue Books

This chronological list includes locations where you can find each blue book in Toronto (in parentheses) as well as links to online versions when available. Libraries are abbreviated as follows:

  • TRL = Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street
  • OGS = Library of the Ontario Genealogical Society, housed at TRL (see above)
  • CIHM = Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (a fiche collection available at TRL and most Canadian university libraries)

1894: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1894-5. (TRL)

1898: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1898. (TRL)

1898: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1898: Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. Toronto: J.G. Foster, 1898 (CIHM)

1900: Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1900 (TRL and CIHM)

1900: Foster’s Blue Book or Ladies’ Directory of Toronto, 1900, 2nd edition. Toronto: J.G. Foster & Co., 1900 (TRL)

1902: [Tyrrell’s] The Toronto and Hamilton Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1902. A second online version here: (TRL)

1903: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1903-4.  (TRL)

1904: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1904-5.  (TRL)

1906: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1906. (TRL)

1908: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1908. (TRL)

1910: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1910.  (TRL)

1911: The Society Blue Book of Toronto and Hamilton: A Social Directory. [for 1912] New York City: Dau Publishing Co., 1911.  A second online version here: (TRL)

1913: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1913  (TRL)

1920: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1920: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1920  (TRL)

The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. Toronto: William J. Covington.

My accidental encounter with Reverend John Saltkill Carroll

I feel a little guilty using John Carroll’s colourful middle name, because I know he didn’t like it. But it makes him easy to identify and there’s a good story behind it, so I’m confident that he’d understand. More about that later.

In November 2016, I became part owner of an oil painting of Rev. Carroll. Three friends and I acquired it at an online auction of the contents of the closed and soon-to-be-demolished Woodgreen United Church in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto.

What first drew our attention to the auction were the war memorials listed for sale. They deserved better treatment. We combed through the rest of the 315 lots up for bid, and noticed the painting, described as “Picture A, 39 x 54”. The digital images included one of the name plaque which read “Rev. J. Carroll”.

Portrait from the Woodgreen United Church auction.

That name meant nothing to me. Time was short to determine whether the portrait, or the man it depicted, were historically or artistically significant. There were 48 hours left to the close of bidding.

A Google search for the combination of words “rev j carroll toronto” showed me an assortment of documents that connected Methodism, Toronto, and Leslieville. Taken together, they convinced me that the subject of the painting at Woodgreen United Church (originally Woodgreen Methodist Tabernacle) was Reverend John Saltkill Carroll.

There was a Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for him! (It begins by stating that he never used his middle name.) But the DCB is a great place to start.

John’s father, Joseph Carroll, had served for the British in the American Revolutionary War. After his corps was disbanded in the West Indies, he settled in New Brunswick. “Settled” may not be the right word. His time in the army and at sea had made him restless and intemperate. Joseph married Molly Ridout, twenty years his junior. John and his twin brother were the last of twelve children. They were born in 1809 on an island in Passamaquoddy Bay, called Saltkill’s. John was named for the island’s Quaker owner, John Saltkill, and his twin for the island’s other resident Isaac Clarke.

Joseph and Molly were on their way to Upper Canada at the time of the twins’ birth, apparently with the promise of a 1,000-acre land grant. (This remains to be proven and impresses me as very optimistic.) The family settled on the Grand River near Brantford. They moved to Niagara while Joseph, a skilled harness maker, served during the War of 1812, and the family was forced to seek shelter several times. The regimental harness-maker’s shop was relocated to Hamilton, then Queenston, then finally to York in 1814. The rest of John Saltkill Carroll’s childhood was spent in York and surrounding townships.

Photo from the Topley Studio collection at Library and Archives Canada. Identified only as Rev. John Carroll. Dated 1877, when our Rev. Carroll was 68.

John’s education was limited, although apparently his family recognized his readiness to learn. He figured out reading by five, likely with the help of his Quaker mother and older brothers. From age six to about eleven, he attended schools when they were available. Teaching was not government funded or regulated, and schools typically didn’t last long.

John attended Methodist Sunday School as soon as it became available in York, about 1818. He joined the church in 1823 at the age of 15 and became a probationary preacher in 1827. He was ordained in 1833. From 1831, he was assigned to charges based in Perth, Matilda, Brockville, Bytown, Johnstown, London, Hamilton, Montreal, Belleville, Ottawa, Monaghan, Guelph, Puslinch, Grantham, St. Catharines, and Leslieville.

Reverend Carroll was tireless preacher and leader in the Ontario Methodist community for some 40 years—a tumultuous time in the church’s organization. But his most important contribution was in recording its history.

The mostly self-educated Carroll was a prolific writer. A great storyteller and collector of stories, he tended to write in “anecdotes”—chapter length pieces that may have been published as articles in Methodist newspapers before compilation as a book. The five-volume Case and His Cotemporaries is probably his most significant work.

Today, when Methodism is largely absent from Ontario, it is easy to forget how important, even dominant, it was in the settlement period. A familiar denomination to Loyalists, Methodist preachers worked hard to reach out to isolated communities. The history of Methodism reflects Ontario’s history. John Carroll spoke to and recorded the stories of those “saddlebag preachers” in several books.

Portrait of John Saltkill Carroll from his book, “My Boy Life”

But my favourite book, by far, is the wonderful My Boy Life: Presented in a Succession of True Stories. Covering his family’s early life in New Brunswick, the arduous journey to Upper Canada, life during the War of 1812, the detail is richest after the Carrolls’ arrival in York. Every Toronto historian should read it!

Lucky for us, My Boy Life, and virtually all John Carroll’s books are available through, making them easily and quite reliably searchable. A list follows this article.

In 1882, in the opening chapter of My Boy Life, John Saltkill Carroll writes about his name: “My [twin] brother did not live long enough to assert his middle name; and I threw Saltkill away, and kept to John alone, when I came to choose for myself.”

Reverend Carroll died on December 13, 1884, at his home near Woodgreen Methodist Church. He was survived by his widow Beulah Adams, daughter Mary Elizabeth, wife of William Hugh McClive, barrister, of St. Catharines, and son John Adams Carroll, MD, of Toronto.

The portrait of this remarkable historian is now with the City of Toronto Museums Services, while they decide whether to accept the painting as a donation.


Case and His Cotemporaries, Or, The Canadian Itinerants’ Memorial: constituting a biographical history of Methodism in Canada, from its introduction into the province, till the death of the Rev. Wm. Case in 1855. Toronto: Wesleyan Printing Establishment, 1867–1877. Five volumes.
Vol 1: []
Vol 2: []
Vol 3: []
Vol 4: []
Vol 5: []

“Father Corson,” Or, The Old Style Canadian Itinerant: Embracing the Life and Gospel Labours of the Rev. Robert Corson, Fifty-six years a minister in connection with the central Methodism of Upper Canada. Toronto: Methodist Book Room, 1879. []

My Boy Life: Presented in a Succession of True Stories. Toronto: William Briggs, 1882. []

A needed exposition, or, The claims and allegations of the Canada episcopals calmly considered. Toronto: Methodist Book Room, 1877 []

The “Exposition” expounded, defended, and supplemented. Toronto: Methodist Book and Publishing House, 1881 []

The school of the prophets; or, Father McRorey’s class, and Squire Firstman’s kitchen fire : a fiction founded on facts. Toronto: Burrage and Magurn, 1876. []

The Stripling Preacher, or a sketch of the life and character, with the theological remains of the Rev. Alexander S. Byrne. Toronto: Anson Green, 1852 []

Thoughts and conclusions of a man of years concerning churches and church connection. Toronto: William Briggs, 1879. []

The Besiegers’ Prayer or a Christian Nation’s Appeal to the God of battles. Toronto: Christian Guardian Office, 1855. [sermon at the time of the Crimean War] []

Past and present; or, A description of persons and events connected with Canadian Methodism for the last forty years. Toronto: Alfred Dredge, 1860. []

Reasons for Wesleyan belief and practice, relative to water baptism: expressed in plain words and arranged in a summary manner. Peterborough: R. White, 1862. []

A Humble Overture for Methodist Unification in the Dominion of Canada. Toronto: Burrage and Magurn, 1876. [Bound with The school of the prophets.]

A picture of Ontario farming in 1881

As part of the preparation for my presentation “Agriculture: Was Your Ancestor on the Cutting Edge?” at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2016, I spent days reading a government report—five lengthy volumes. Sounds like fun, eh? Actually, I was riveted. Just ask the friends and relatives who happened to talk to me during those days—and were regaled with arcane facts about the benefits of salt as fertilizer, or the ravages of robins in cherry orchards, Holstein hesitation, or the turnip revolution.

We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But that is not and was never the case. Farmers had to react and adapt to changing conditions like climate, technology, economics, new markets and new competitors. Some farmers did more than adapt. They set out to be the most productive by innovating with new techniques and processes, products, and book

The Department of Agriculture and its various predecessor and successor agencies published some wonderfully rich reports on many subjects—evaluations of agriculture in a particular region or a specialized branch of agriculture like fruit growing or dairying.

One of the most important is the 1881 report of the Ontario Agricultural Commission. This is a very detailed account of agriculture across the province. The Commissioners held information-gathering interviews with farmers and other agricultural experts. The sessions were transcribed and show the knowledge and sometimes strong opinions held by the interview subjects. Published as appendices of “evidence”, they are often extensive, including information about immigration and family.

All five volumes of the 1881 report have been digitized and are available free at the addresses listed. I have indexed the names of the interview subjects and other major players. Even if the index doesn’t include your ancestor, I encourage you to look at farmers in the same geographic area or the same industry to understand the challenges they faced. Neighbours and colleagues are frequently mentioned in the interviews.

Ontario Agricultural Commission, Report of the Commissioners, 3rd edition. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1881. [Volume I]

Volume II
Appendix B: Containing returns relating to the soil, climate, topographical features, cultivatable area and products of, and the process and condition of husbandry*

Volume III
Appendix C: Evidence relating to fruit growing and forestry
Appendix D: Evidence relating to grape culture and wine making
Appendix E: Evidence relating to insects and insectivorous birds
Appendix F: Evidence relating to bee farming

Volume IV
Appendix G: Evidence related to general farming and management of crops and stock
Appendix H: Evidence related to the various breeds of cattle and sheep and to wool, pigs and pork packing
Appendix I: Evidence relating to grazing, feeding, and shipping cattle and sheep
Appendix J: Evidence relating to dairy farming, cheese factories, creameries, and the butter trade

Volume V
Appendix K: Evidence relating to horse breeding
Appendix L: Evidence relating to breeds of poultry and egg production
Appendix M: Evidence relating to salt in connection with agriculture and cognate industries
Appendix N: Evidence relating to the use of gypsum, phosphates, bone dust, and other fertilizers
Appendix O: Evidence relating to special crops, flax, tobacco and beans
Appendix P: Evidence relating to agricultural education*
Appendix Q: Evidence relating to meteorology in connection with agriculture*
Appendix R1: Report of Messrs Wm. Brown, Edward Stock, and A.H. Dymond, on their visit…to the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix R2: Evidence taken in the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix S1: Report on Manitoulin Island, and the Sault Ste. Marie District
Appendix S2: Report upon observations made during a visit to Great Britain…*
Appendix S3: Report…on agricultural education in Tennessee*
Appendix S4: Report on the productions of the County of Essex*

NOTE: Appendices marked with an asterisk* did not contain enough personal information to be included in the index.

Name Indentifier Town/township County/District Appendix Page
Allan, A. McD. Goderich D 25
Allan, Alexander McD. Goderich Huron C 74
Allan, John Gypsum manufacturer Paris Brant N 27
Allan, McD. Goderich Huron E 103
Allan, Sen. George W. Moss Park Toronto York C 181
Anderson, James Puslinch Wellington H 33
Anderson, James [Guelph] Wellington L 7
Armstrong, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Armstrong, John S. Eramosa Wellington H 28
Arnold, C. Paris Brant D 23
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant C 55
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant E 102
Ashdown, James Humphrey Parry Sound R2 31
Badger, James McDougall Parry Sound R2 45
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese exporter Stratford Perth J 27
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese maker Stratford Perth M 20
Barrie, Alexander North Dumfries Waterloo N 12
Beadle, D.W. Fruit Growers Association [St. Catharines] Niagara C 1
Beadle, D.W. St. Catharines D 19
Beadle, W.D. St. Catharines Lincoln E 101
Beall Lindsay D 23
Beall, Thomas Fruit Growers Association Lindsay Victoria C 48
Beall, Thomas Lindsay Victoria F 10
Beattie, John Pork packer Seaforth Huron H 94
Beattie, John Seaforth Huron O 6
Beith, Robert Darlington Durham K 97
Beley, B.S. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 24
Bell, James T. Prof at Albert College Belleville Hastings G 128
Bennet, Mr. Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Benson, W.T. Cardinal Edwardsburg Grenville G 43
Bethune, Rev Charles J.S. Insect expert Port Hope Northumberland E 22
Bird, Henry J. Woolen manufacturer Bracebridge Muskoka R2 7
Black, James Ramsay Lanark G 110
Black, John Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 48
Black, Robert Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 50
Britton, James Cattle buyer Toronto York I 7
Broder, Andrew Butter exporter West Winchester Dundas J 21
Brodie, William Bird expert E 15
Brown Prof at Ontario Agricultural College Guelph Wellington G 166
Brown, James Port Elgin Bruce C 164
Brown, W.H. Saw miller Baysville Muskoka R2 13
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton C 67
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton D 24
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton E 103
Buckland, George Prof at Kings College Toronto York G 155
Cady, Edwin Kingsville Essex C 99
Caldwell, David Nurseryman Elora Wellington G 194
Caldwell, David Waterloo C 136
Caldwell, William C. Lanark village Lanark C 141
Campbell, Neil J. Nelson Halton N 22
Cann, William Huntsville Muskoka R2 19
Cash, Edward Butter buyer Seaforth Huron J 35
Chaplin, W.H. Newcastle village Durham C 147
Chaplin, W.S. Newcastle Durham E 104
Chapman, Richard Korah Algoma S1 12
Clark, Peter Montague Leeds G 108
Clarke, Hugh Brampton Peel H 52
Clay, John Jr Bow Park Farm Brantford Brant G 1
Clements, Rev Vincent Bird expert Peterborough Peterborough E 97
Cochran, Andrew Ramsay Lanark G 112
Cochrane, James Kilsyth Derby Grey G 150
Cockburn, George Baltimore Hamilton Northumberland K 95
Cole, Zachariah Ridout Muskoka R2 12
Coleman, Dr. T.T. Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 5
Courtice, William Darlington Durham H 69
Cowan, James Waterloo Waterloo N 3
Cresswell, G. Edwin Tuckersmith Huron M 22
Daly, Peter R. Thurlow Hastings J 40
Davidson, William Watt Muskoka R2 19
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York H 88
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York M 28
Dawson, John Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Dempsey, M.P.C. Albany [Albury] Prince Edward E 102
Dempsey, P.C. Albury Prince Edward D 22
Dempsey, P.C. Prince Edward F 6
Demsey, P.C. Fruit Growers Association Albury Prince Edward C 35
Dickson, James Tuckersmith Huron G 38
Diermann, Rev. H. Missionary R2 36
Doel, William H. Doncaster Toronto York L 3
Donald, James Sheep buyer Dalhousie Lanark I 59
Donald, James Dalhousie Lanark E 97
Donaldson, John A. Flax expert Toronto York O 8
Dougall, James Windsor Essex C 106
Dougall, James Windsor Essex E 103
Douglas, John Blantyre St. Vincent Grey G 146
Douglass, Donald Percy Northumberland H 68
Dovey, Isaac Medora Muskoka R2 22
Drury, Charles Crown Hill Barrie Simcoe G 24
Edwards, Mr. Tarantorus Algoma S1 12
Elliot, R.W. Wholesale druggist Toronto York I 41
Elliott, Alanson Colchester Essex G 68
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo G 100
Elliott, Andrew Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 86
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo N 15
Fisher, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Foreman, William Port Carling Muskoka R2 24
Fowke, Thomas Lount Parry Sound R2 36
Fraser, James M. Gordon and Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 7
Garnier, Dr. John H. Bird expert Lucknow Bruce E 99
Geary, John London? Middlesex I 28
Gibson, David North Dumfries Waterloo N 16
Gibson, John Millikens Markham York G 91
Gile, John Bastard Leeds J 44
Gilmour, Joseph Ridout Muskoka R2 7
Girardot, Theodore Sandwich Essex D 12
Govenlock, Thomas Seaforth? Huron I 44
Govenlock, Thomas Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 25
Graham, John Wallbridge Sidney Hastings C 187
Graham, Ketcham Sidney Hastings G 124
Gray, William M. Salt manufacturer Seaforth and Blyth Huron M 16
Gregory, William Medora Muskoka R2 21
Hagaman, J. Oakville Halton E 104
Hagaman, Jeremiah Oakville Halton C 119
Hailstone, Matthew Ferguson Parry Sound R2 45
Hall, Richard Cattle salesman Liverpool, England I 50
Hallam, John Wool buyer Toronto York H 82
Harstone, C. Greville Ilfracombe Muskoka R2 46
Haskins, William Hamilton Wentworth D 3
Hay, Robert Furniture maker Toronto York C 160
Hayes, Martin P. Salt expert Seaforth Huron M 13
Hays, Thomas E. Seaforth Huron M 27
Hettle, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 36
Higgins, William McLean Muskoka R2 8
Hill, R.N. Franklin Muskoka R2 16
Hinman, Platt Haldimand or Grafton Northumberland C 144
Hobson, John I. Mosborough Wellington G 11
Holditch, William Croft Parry Sound R2 32
Hood, George Guelph Wellington H 17
Hoskin, John The Dale Toronto York D 16
Houghton, George A. Horse dealer Seaforth Huron K 64
Hunter, James Alma Wellington H 24
Hunter, Joseph E. Croft Parry Sound R2 33
Hurd, William A. McKellar Parry Sound R2 38
Iler, J.C. Colchester Essex G 75
Inglis, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 3
Ingram, John [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 10
Irwin, Hugh Chapman Parry Sound R2 34
Jardine, J.W. Hamilton/Saltfleet Wentworth H 55
Jones, D.A. Beeton Simcoe F 1
Kelcey, George Hagerman Parry Sound R2 37
Kenney, William McLean Muskoka R2 9
Lamb, Daniel Fertilizer manufacturer Toronto York N 17
Langford, Thomas McLean Muskoka R2 11
Laurens, Father Priest Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 14
Lawrie, James Malvern Scarborough York H 62
Leslie, George Jr. Leslieville York C 166
Macfarlane, James Dover Kent G 88
Macfarlane, Robert L. Ramsay Lanark G 113
Maitland, James Montague Lanark F 11
Malcolm, Francis Member of the Commission Innerkip Oxford G 191
Matheson, C.A. Perth Lanark G 51
Matthews, Matthew McLean Muskoka R2 9
McArthur, James Ailsa Craig Middlesex I 25
McCain, William Gosfield Essex G 84
McCallum, Archibald Medora Muskoka R2 23
McCrae, Thomas Guelph Wellington H 8
McCulloch, Thomas Korah Algoma S1 14
McDougall, A.J. Butter and cheese dealer Seaforth Huron M 28
McFarland, David Carling Parry Sound R2 42
McKerven, S.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
McKinlay, J.P. Howard Kent O 3
McMonagle, Dr. P.R. Horse expert [Prescott] Grenville K 3
McPherson, D.M. Cheese maker Lancaster Glengarry J 12
Meighan, Robert Butter exporter Perth Lanark J 37
Merritt, W. Hamilton Manager of Grand River Gypsum Co. Cayuga Haldimand N 9
Middleton, Henry Clark Durham G 137
Miller, John Brougham Ontario G 18
Monaghan, E. Chaffey Muskoka R2 14
Moore, John D. North Dumfries M 29
Morgan, E.B. Cattle shipper Oshawa Ontario I 3
Morris, Edward Fonthill Welland C 130
Motherwell, John Bathurst Lanark G 106
Mowat, J. Gordon Galt Waterloo C 140
Muntz, E.G. Muskoka R2 1
Murray, John R. Cheese maker Kinburn Huron M 19
Myers, Thomas Bastard Leeds J 42
Nelson, David Sr. Spence Parry Sound R2 35
Noble, William Haldimand and Hamilton Twps Northumberland G 136
O’Beirne, P.H. Port Carling Muskoka R2 23
Pardo, T.L. Not given Kent G 89
Parker, William Stephenson Muskoka R2 5
Parkinson, Lazarus Eramosa Wellington H 39
Patteson, Thomas C. Toronto York K 65
Peake, Tmomas Foley Parry Sound R2 43
Pearce. Thomas G. Chapman Parry Sound R2 35
Penns, Henry Korah Algoma S1 12
Perley, Daniel Paris and Ancaster Brant N 7
Peters, Major John London? Middlesex I 33
Peters. Major John London Middlesex K 59
Pettit, A.H. Grimsby Lincoln C 115
Pettit, S.T. Belmont South Dorchester Elgin F 13
Phipps, J.C. Indian Agent Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Platt, Samuel Salt manufacturer Goderich Huron M 9
Plummer, John [London] Middlesex L 8
Pollock, Smith Perry Parry Sound R2 16
Ransford, Richard Salt manufacturer Clinton Huron M 23
Rawlings, Albin Forest Lambton I 60
Rennelson, Richard North Dumfries Waterloo G 96
Rennie, Peter Fergus Wellington I 45
Reynolds, John Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Riddell, Walter Cobourg Northumberland G 130
Rightmyer, Levi Salt manufacturer Kincardine Bruce M 3
Robb, Hugh Pork packer Seaforth Huron M 26
Robertson, Charles Cardwell Muskoka R2 28
Robertson, W. Scott Pork packer

Cheese maker

Seaforth Huron M 22
Robinson, Walter Scott Butter exporter [Seaforth] Huron J 33
Rosamond, Bennett Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 87
Ross, W. Mackenzie Harwich Kent C 112
Ross, W. Mackenzie Chatham Kent E 103
Roy, William Sarawak/ Owen Sound Grey C 149
Rudd, George Eramosa and Puslinch Wellington H 13
Russell, James Richmond Hill York H 59
Saunders, Wiliam Insect expert E 61
Saunders, William E. Bird expert E 3
Scott, Isaac Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Shaw, William Ferguson Parry Sound R2 39
Shuttleworth, E.B. Manufacturing chemist Toronto York N 23
Simmons, C.S. Lobo and Delaware Middlesex I 16
Sirett, Ebenezer Humphrey Parry Sound R2 30
Sirett, William F. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 28
Smellie, David Concord Vaughan York G 141
Smith, A.M. St. Catharines and


Lincoln and Stamford C 125
Smith, Dr. Andrew Veterinarian Toronto York K 79
Smith, John Harwich Kent I 34
Smith, W.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
Snell, John C. Edmonton (now Snelgrove) Peel H 47
Spencer, William H. Monck Muskoka R2 3
Spring, Albert Draper Muskoka R2 2
Sproat, George Tuckersmith Huron M 12
Stedman, Reuban Drummond Lanark G 103
Stone, Frederick W. Guelph Wellington H 1
Strain, Francis Foley Parry Sound R2 46
Telfer, Andrew South Dumfries Brant N 6
Thompson, A.J. Cattle buyer Toronto York I 11
Thomson, James Brooklin Ontario G 139
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent C 134
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent D 11
Tookey, James Macaulay Muskoka R2 6
Trouten, William Watt Muskoka R2 20
Tumlin, George C. Horse dealer Toronto York K 40
Usborne, John Arnprior Renfrew C 142
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex I 39
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex K 62
Wallbridge, Louis Belleville Hastings F 15
Watt, John Salem Wellington H 36
Wattie, John Brunel Muskoka R2 10
Westland, H.W. Ridgetown Kent C 93
Westland, W.M. Ridgetown Kent E 103
White. Stephen Charing Cross Raleigh Kent G 57
Wilcox, William Foley Parry Sound R2 44
Willet, Andrew Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 5
Williams, W.H. Sports writer Toronto York K 87
Wilson, David D. Egg merchant Seaforth Huron L 10
Wilson, James Cardwell Muskoka R2 25
Winter, John Sinclair Muskoka R2 15
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Leeds G 116
Wiser, J.P. Distiller

Rysdyk Stock Farm

Prescott Leeds I 65
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Grenville K 42
Yuill, Joseph Creamery [Almonte] Lanark J 39
Yuille, Joseph Ramsay Lanark H 66


Big indexes to consider for every Ontario ancestor

Tried and true genealogy research techniques tell us to start with what we know—and to make previously done research and indexed records a priority. But more records are being indexed almost daily, and it is hard to keep track of what’s out there. This list was compiled for a session at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2015. The indexes all cover a wide swath of Ontario, if not the whole province.

There are other indexes! If I’ve missed one you think should be included, please add a comment at the end of the post.

Most of the indexes are online, some are databases, others are digitized images organized alphabetically. All the websites mentioned are free except for and ProQuest, which you may be able to access through your local public or university library or Family History Centre. I’ve also included some resources that you’ll have to find in a library or purchase.

In all cases, be sure to check variant spellings of the names. Many of these indexes were created from handwritten records, so be open to creative interpretation of handwriting. Sometimes it is a matter of “teasing” the information from the index.

These indexes were created by genealogists—for genealogists. They are growing and getting better all the time.

TONI: The Ontario Name Index (more than 3 million names linked to published or pay-per-view sources)

OGS Library catalogue (superb cataloging of names)

Family Charts Collection (not presently online, available only at North York Central Library)

Whether or not you ancestor left personal or business papers, he or she may be mentioned in a manuscript collection from their community or circle of acquaintances. These resources help you search many collections at once. (includes holdings of 170 archives in Ontario)

Archives Descriptive Database (Archives of Ontario) (holdings of 800 archives across Canada. Some links may not function, but it should be easy to find a current link to the repository.)

Guide to the Manuscript Collection in the Toronto Public Library (a guide published in the 1950s. The collection has greatly expanded since then, but this is the only online listing.)

Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories (printed volumes available in major libraries)

No one comprehensive index to Ontario land records exists, but these indexes to late 18th and 19th century land records come close when used together.

Index to Upper Canada Land Books (OGS publication by Susan Smart)

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project (McGill University)

Ontario Land Records Index ( a fiche index at the Archives of Ontario and other libraries)

Upper Canada Land Petitions (Library and Archives Canada)

Second Heir and Devisee Commission case files (Archives of Ontario)

Newspaper research is a time-consuming, fascinating task. These tools use optical character recognition to—with a little luck—jumpstart your search.

Globe and Mail – ProQuest Historical Newspapers (available through many libraries)

Google News (very few of the Ontario papers are every-word searchable, but the images are good)

Ontario Community Newspapers (

Toronto Star – ProQuest Historical Newspapers (available through many libraries)

Be sure to check these big indexes to births, marriages and deaths.

District Marriage Registers & District Vital Records, 1786-1870 (published resource, pdfs of the indexes to each volume are available online at this site)

Ontario Vital Statistics: Registers of Births, Marriages & Deaths (,

Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Register master index (OGS publication)

Toronto Trust Cemeteries (FamilySearch)

An assortment of big indexes and smaller, but easy to miss, indexes.

Census (FamilySearch, Ancestry, Library and Archives Canada)

City directories (Toronto Public Library,, Library and Archives Canada)

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Index to pre-1858 Estate Files (Archives of Ontario)

The Héritage Project

Toronto Emigrant Office Assisted Immigration Registers database (Archives of Ontario)

Exploring the Lennox and Addington Archives

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the new Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee. I’d been asked to do a presentation for the local historical society there, and well, who can resist an archives!

I have no ancestry in the area, and although my interests in Ontario history are broad, I can’t claim to have any current research projects from that neck of the woods.

Steps and ramp to a limestone archway in the courtyard wall.

Entrance and courtyard of the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives, Napanee. ©Jane E MacNamara

I looked at the Archives website about a week before my trip so I could contact the staff ahead of time to let them know I was coming. (Always a good idea for a small archives.) I also asked if a tour was possible—since I’d planned to write this article.

The website noted above lists 14 finding aids for the collection. These are pdf scans of collection inventories done mainly in the late 1980s, but searchable. The inventories, in many cases, briefly describe fonds of a similar nature or creator.1 So the 14 finding aids represent a much larger number of fonds. For instance the “Municipal Records” finding aid encompasses school, jail, law enforcement, court, and assessment records, licenses, minutes, bylaws, voters lists, and public utilities—for all levels of local government—towns, townships, county, and the Midland District.2

As a sample fonds for this article, I looked at the “Private Papers” finding aid and selected the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The inventory for this fonds ran to just over two pages, and showed that the collection was divided into to six files. More about Elsie and her papers later.

Archivist stands between rows of compact shelving with large bound ledgers and archival boxes of various sizes.

Archivist Shelley Respondek showing the wide variety of material in the Lennox and Addington Archives records vault. ©Jane E MacNamara

The Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives have been located in the old limestone county gaol since 1976. To celebrate the County’s sesquicentennial in 2014, a beautiful new archives wing was added, and the doors were opened last August.

Archivist Shelley Respondek was my guide. We started in the records vault where compact shelving units now allow proper storage of just about every shape and size of document and register book. Efforts are ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) to get new acquisitions housed and organized.

The reading room is bright and airy, with lots of table space and wifi. One glass wall separating the reading room from the corridor, provides a view of the museum’s limestone wall, currently with a colourful display of WWI posters. Out the windows opposite, trains go by at regular intervals.

A third long wall houses the extensive research library—local and family histories and lots of Loyalist material, as well as more than 2,000 unique family files.

These family files have been compiled over the years from researchers’ donations and correspondence with researchers. For example there are three files for “Parks” families including pedigree charts, typed biographies, and photocopies of original documents.

The fourth and final wall of the reading room houses the microfilm area—three readers/scanners and cabinets—and the archivist’s work area. There is also a card index to several local newspapers.

Tables and chairs with bookcases in the background.

Reading room at the Lennox and Addington Archives showing the local history books and file drawers for more than 2,000 family files. ©Jane E MacNamara

Back to the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The finding aid provides no biography of Elsie, but the fonds includes documents about her training and employment as a teacher in Napanee. There is much correspondence—with family members in California and St. Catharines, and a series of letters about “black Minorca chickens” with various parties in Ontario and eastern Canada.

Elsie’s files include letters, certificates, and ephemera from several generations of her family mostly from the Napanee area. There is a business journal from A.C. Parks of Hay Bay. Most material dates from the mid 19th century up to about 1930, the most recent being about 1960.

But I was really surprised and excited to find an original surveyor’s diary covering the dates April 1796 to May 1797. The diarist didn’t write his name in the book, so his identity or connection to Elsie Parks is unknown. He wasn’t working in Lennox and Addington, but in York and the Home District, east along Lake Ontario to Burlington Bay, and on the Grand River. He specifically mentions investigating locations for a bridge over the Credit River and working in the area around Castle Frank.

Handwritten book with archival weight holding it open.

The 1796-1797 surveyor’s diary from the Elsie Parks Papers at the Lennox and Addington Archives. The right-hand page records work at Castle Frank. ©Jane E MacNamara

Now, for those not immersed in Toronto history, Castle Frank was the summer home of Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe and his family. Named for their young son, Francis, and sketched by Elizabeth Simcoe, its exact location on the Don River has always been a contentious matter for historians.

Perhaps there is a clue in this precious surveyor’s diary, kept safe by Napanee schoolteacher Elsie Parks during her life, and now by the Lennox and Addington Archives.



1. For an explanation of archives terminology, see The Archives of Ontario: How do I find what’s in it for me?

2. The Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives website has a good listing of holdings in its “Genealogy” section including links to other resources of interest. Some 57 fonds have also been listed on Archeion.

Genealogy “Summer Camp” 2015

I’m pleased to announce that after a one-year hiatus, “Summer Camp” will return this year, starting with a get-together on Sunday evening, June 7, and running until Friday, June 12.

Genealogy Summer Campers are on the move every day of this innovative week long program. Each day, participants will travel as a group on public transit to an archives or library—where you’ll be met with a tour or a tutorial on the records available at that institution. Some days there will be a second tutorial during the afternoon. The balance of the day will be devoted to your own hands-on research, with lots of help from local experts.

We’re very lucky to have a wonderful cluster of archives and libraries in Toronto that welcomes our Summer Camp groups. Participants will have the opportunity to visit the Toronto Reference Library, Canadiana Department of North York Central Library, Archives of Ontario, City of Toronto Archives, and a choice of the archives of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the United Church of Canada’s Central Ontario Conferences.

Genealogy Summer Camp buttonSpace is limited. We keep the number of Campers small so we can provide individual help with your research.

You can help us plan and move forward by registering early. We already have several people signed up.

You’ll find more information about the program and accommodation, and the online registration form here.

Toronto Customs House Records

As mentioned in the previous post, the Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 collections or fonds of private documents—some amazing, fascinating things that I love to dip into from time to time.

The Toronto Customs House fonds (F 214) is one of these private fonds. The Archives Descriptive Database tells us that the Lt.-Gov. of Upper Canada authorized the building of customs houses in designated ports in 1803, although William Allan [1] had served as Collector of Customs at York from August of 1801 until 1828. The York (later Toronto) Customs House concerned itself only with shipments from the USA. European goods would have cleared customs at Quebec or Montreal.[2]

Worn hardback register books

The two registers that comprise the Toronto Customs House fonds F 214 at the Archives of Ontario

The Toronto Customs House fonds consists of two bound registers of manifests of goods arriving in Toronto by ship from April 17, 1836 to July 8, 1841. This covers, approximately, the period that the Collector’s job belonged to Thomas Carfrae, Jr.[3] Each record gives the name of the vessel, the date and wharf of arrival, the name of the importer, and a detailed list of what was being imported.

I’ve transcribed a portion of one particularly interesting manifest from June 1, 1836[4] that sheds light on the business activities of a Toronto merchant named Silas Burnham, and on the goods that were available for purchase in 1830s Toronto—somewhat more exotic then we might expect. The list (below) appears in the order in which it was originally written. Does the mention of some items, like raisins, several times on the list reflect the fact that the items were being fished out of the nooks and crannies in the hold where they had been stowed for the voyage?

Watercolour of a one-storey brick house

Artist Frederic Victor Poole’s impression of the Toronto Custom House, painted in 1912 from a drawing published in January 1889 in the Evening Telegram. (Toronto Reference Library, JRR 510)

The customs register book for 1836 began on April 17 (presumably when the lake was clear of ice) and continued until December 1. The Customs House at this time was a small one-storey building on the north side of Front Street east of Scott Street.[5] The register shows that virtually all goods were brought ashore at either Brown’s wharf or McDonnell’s/McDonald’s wharf. The vessel that brought Silas Burnham’s goods, the Robert Burns, appears to have come to Toronto only once that season, but Silas received about a dozen shipments from the USA on various ships, including a “thrashing machine” on August 12.

The importer, merchant Silas Burnham, may have started his retail life with a market stall,[6] but by 1836 he was operating a general store at 67 King Street East. At that time, King, Toronto’s principal commercial street, was numbered from east to west; 67 was on the south side between George and New (Jarvis) streets. He appears there in the 1833/4 and 1837 directories,[7] and in the assessment rolls[8] from 1834 to 1839. However, in the assessment rolls for 1840, the building is empty. Has Silas moved to a different Toronto location, or has he left the city? A thorough search of the 1840 and later assessment rolls should provide the answer.

Handwritten list, transcribed below

Detail of the list of goods shipped for Silas Burnham, 1 June 1836

We do know that he eventually left Toronto—and Upper Canada. In an intriguing letter written May 22, 1843, in Kingston, to his wife in Toronto, Samuel Peters Jarvis expresses surprise at a rumour that Silas Burnham has committed fraud and fled the country. Jarvis writes, “If the report should prove true it will cause quite a panic among the Good Citizens of Toronto.”[9] Not having consulted court records, I won’t hazard a guess about when or why Silas moved across the border. However, his estate file, proved in the Court of Probate on July 20, 1849, reveals that he died on May 7, 1848, in Centreville, Wayne County, Indiana. He left a son Erastus, aged 13, a daughter, Mary Louisa, aged 5. His widow Clarissa Jane Burnham returned to Upper Canada, and was living in Port Hope, shortly after Silas’ death.[10]

Should you consult the Toronto Customs House fonds? If your family lived in or near Toronto during 1836 to 1841, the registers will give you, at least, a glimpse of the activity at the harbour. Many individuals—not just merchants—received goods that are listed. On the same day that Silas Burnham’s shipment arrived, the Robert Burns also brought cargo for Messrs Rigney and Brent, Rev. D. McAuley, and three bales of hides for tanner Jesse Ketchum. We see William Lyon Mackenzie importing type and a printing press later that summer. [11] While the Toronto Customs House registers are not indexed, they are very legible, and a fascinating read.

June 1, 1836 / Importer: S Burnham / Wharf: McDonnel / Vessel: Robt Burns
3 boxes of ware
1 box medicine
1 box paper
3 bags of spice
4 tierces of rice[12]
4 casks of mittens[13]
29 kegs of tobacco
20 dry barrels
6 boxes of chocolate
4 dry kegs
18 1/2 boxes of raisins
6 boxes of pipes
3 boxes of ware
1 case
1 box of [goods]
2 boxes of bitters
1 basket of oil
1 rocket
20 drums of raisins
20 drums of figs
4 boxes of ware
4 bags of nuts
2 boxes of prunes
1 box cocoa
1 box capers
1 box syrup
2 small boxes
10 bales of goods
40 boxes of raisins
21 kegs of tobacco
1 box of goods
11 boxes of candy
2 boxes of pepper sauce
2 boxes ware
4 bags of nuts
16 boxes of scythe stones[14]


[1] Two customs account books created by William Allan during his tenure survive in the William Allan fonds, S 123, Series 1, Vols 1 and 2, Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library. They cover the period 1815 to 1830.

[2] Armstrong, Frederick H. Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, revised edition. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1985. pp 217, 225.

[3] ibid. p 225.

[4] Register entry for S. Burnham, June 1, 1836, Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario.

[5] Martyn, Lucy Booth. The face of early Toronto. Sutton West, ON, and Santa Barbara, CA: The Paget Press, 1982. p 31. The Customs House is also marked on the 1834 Alpheus Todd Engraved Plan of the City of Toronto.

[6] Silas Burnham appears in a list of vendors who rented market stalls in York in 1831 in Appendix to Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada 1831. p 172 (available at

[7] York commercial directory, street guide and register, 1833-34. York, U.C.: Walton/Dalton.
City of Toronto and the Home District commercial directory for 1837. Toronto: Walton/ Dalton & Coates.

[8] City of Toronto assessment rolls are at the City of Toronto Archives, and available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and through

[9] Letter from Samuel P. Jarvis (Kingston) to Mary Jarvis (Toronto), 22 May 1843, Samuel Peters Jarvis and William Dummer Powell fonds, F 31, item 362, microfilm MS 787, reel 2, Archives of Ontario.

[10] Estate file for Silas Burnham, merchant, Toronto, 20 July 1849, Court of Probate, RG 22-155, microfilm MS 638, reel 41, Archives of Ontario.

[11] Mackenzie received printing equipment on June 17, 26, and July 12, 1836. (Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario)

[12] A tierce was a cask that held 42 US gallons of liquid or about 159 litres.

[13] I have found several instances of mittens and gloves shipped in casks. Here is one from a manifest of goods shipped to Boston on the Renown in 1776.

[14] More about scythe stones.

The Archives of Ontario… How do I find what’s in it for me?

While most family historians are comfortable—or at least familiar—with libraries and their filing systems, archives are very different matter. Many of us will have never visited any archives before we became family historians.

Libraries, museums and archives have complementary roles. Generally, libraries collect published material (books, microform, published sound and visual recordings, and digital publications). Museums collect artifacts, and archives collect unique documentary material (manuscripts, photographs, artwork, sound and visual recordings). We must acknowledge the fact that there is overlap—many libraries hold some archival material and perhaps artifacts; museums often hold some documents and published material that supports their collections of artifacts; and the Archives of Ontario, for example, has a fine library and quite a few fascinating artifacts.

How are archival records organized?

Because of the diverse nature of their collections—and the varied users who need to access them—archivists deal with records quite differently than librarians.

Librarians work with published material, written or compiled by an author who has given the item a title, and probably explained the contents in an introduction. The library catalogue must include the title, author, publishing information, and some subject listings drawn from the book itself.

But an archivist may have none of these things. They must come up with a name for each collection of material or “fonds”; determine what person or organization created the records and when they were created; understand and evaluate the different types of records within the fonds; and, finally, decide how best to make the material available and useful for researchers. Almost like the author of a book, the archivist creates what amounts to a title, author, chapters, a table of contents, an introduction—and in the right circumstances, an index.

Rather than cataloguing, like a librarian, an archivist “describes” records. And it is important to consider this process to understand the best ways to locate just what you want.

The collection of records from one creator—an individual, a family, a business, an organization, or a government body—is designated as a “fonds”. It is given a name, usually that of the creator or collector, but sometimes more descriptive of the fonds’ contents. The archivist then writes a general description of the fonds and its creator. If the fonds is small, or consists of all the same type of document, the “description” may stop there. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario have only a “fonds-level” description.

Archives of Ontario reading room with the reference desk in the foreground. The rotunda, which houses the microfilm scanners, is behind the photo wall on the left.

Archives of Ontario reading room with the reference desk in the foreground. The rotunda, which houses the microfilm scanners, is behind the photo wall on the left. (photo: Jane E MacNamara)

Most fonds, however, must be described in greater detail. For instance, a fonds created by a business might contain accounting records, correspondence, catalogues, and personnel records. Each type of record within a fonds is called a “series”. If a series is large or varied, it also may be broken into a number of logical “sub-series”. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described to the “series level”.

A series (or a sub-series, if it has been broken down) is made up of “files” or “items”. These can be as small as a single page or as large as a 300-page ledger. A group of papers kept together in a file, for instance, would also be considered one item. A relative few fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described at the “items level”.

To summarize, every collection of documents at the Archives of Ontario will be described at the fonds level. The majority of those fonds are further described at the series and sub-series levels. Many fewer fonds are described at the “files and items” level.

What’s in the Archives of Ontario?
The collection includes more than

  • 105,000 metres of paper records
  • 4.4 million photographs
  • 5,000 documentary artworks (paintings, drawings, caricatures, and posters) from as early as the 1790s
  • 2,500 original works in the Government of Ontario Art Collection
  • 350,000 architectural drawings
  • 85,000 maps
  • 30,000 hours of film, video and sound recordings including government films, home movies, and oral history recordings
  • more than 1,500 gigabytes of electronic records

The Archives is a part of the Government of Ontario, and its main purpose is to look after the records of government. Approximately 70 percent of the holdings are Ontario government records. These government records are designated with a fonds number prefaced by the letters “RG”. Some of the most important fonds for genealogists are RG 80: Office of the Registrar General, RG 22: Court Records (which includes estate files), and RG 1: Crown Land Department Records.

The other 30 percent are private records—“private” by this definition meaning simply not generated by the Ontario government. These include records created by individuals, families, businesses, organizations and municipalities. The Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 fonds in this category. Private fonds are given a number prefaced by either an “F” or a “C”. The Archives of Ontario private fonds include an amazing array of material for family historians, depending on the area of the province and time period—including many municipal and religious records.

Beyond government and private fonds, is the “diffusion” collection. These are copies, usually on microfilm, of Ontario records at other institutions. The majority of this material is from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Some of the most important items for genealogists are the films of census records for Ontario, and early land records, including the Upper Canada land books and petitions.

And although it does not fall strictly within our definition of what should be in an archives, the Archives of Ontario Library holds about 80,000 books, pamphlets, periodicals and government publications.

How do I find records?

Once an archival fonds is processed, its description is added to the Archives Descriptive Database (ADD), available on the Archives of Ontario web site ( Look for the “Accessing Our Collections” button. Then choose “Archives Descriptive Database”.

You can search the full fonds descriptions in the ADD by keyword (Option 1 on the search page). In most cases, this option will be the best choice to start with. Option 3, “Advanced Search”, will give you three options: clicking “Groups of Archival Records” will let you search the fonds, series and sub-series levels; choose “File/Item Descriptions” to cover those fonds described in greater detail; or search by “Record Creators” to find fonds linked to the creator. You’ll find an excellent orientation linked to the Help button on the main ADD search page.

Your ADD search results will lead you to the location of the records—either original documents or on microfilm. The records have not been digitized. Any records that are not on film can be ordered and viewed in the Reading Room.

More than 20,000 photos, maps, architectural drawings, and documentary artworks are available in the Archives of Ontario’s Visual Database, although this just scratches the surface of the more than five million images at the Archives. The Visual Database is also available on the Archives web site. Look for the “Accessing Our Collection” button. Try the keyword search first, with a few variables, but you may also find the (somewhat idiosyncratic) subject search and the advanced options useful. You can use the Reference Code you find to look for more details (and perhaps more images) in the ADD.

Man standing in front of metal sheles filled with books.

Archives of Ontario library with librarian Frank van Kalmthout (photo: Jane E MacNamara)

The Archives of Ontario Library is invisible. Researchers can’t visit the Library, but must access holdings through the BiBLION catalogue. You can request material on site, or via email in advance, and you books will be delivered to the Reading Room.

Archives staff members have created many other wonderful research guides, in the form of online and on-site finding aids to specific records, and online exhibits that function as thematic guides. Links on the “Accessing Our Collection” page will lead you to all of them.

This article was written to accompany the lecture “The Archives of Ontario… What’s in it for me?”.

I’ve written a number of other posts about research at the AO. To find them, click on “Archives of Ontario” in the word cloud at the right of this page, or on the tag at the bottom of this post.