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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)

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

  • Chris Raible

    Thanks Jane – most interesting
    As you may know, Mackenzie was apparently a member in the 1850s

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Thanks, Chris. I’ll have to watch for William Lyon Mackenzie next time I’m at the City of Toronto Archives.

  • Dean Coates

    Jane, Anything similar for Orange Lodge or Masonic? I have made inquiries at both, but not very successfully. Actually, I am researching a John M Campbell who considered himself a friend of WL Mackenzie (4 letters survive). Thank you for the St. Andrew’s tip, I haven’t tried that one yet.

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Dean. I haven’t done extensive research on Orange or Masonic lodges, but there are certainly records available in archives across the province. A good place to start would be Archeion but it isn’t comprehensive so you may need to look at individual archives and libraries as well. Some individual lodges have very good historical information on their websites.

  • Rebecca C

    Fascinating, for locations that have ‘See Library and Archives Canada’ how does one go about finding the information at archives? My attempts have only given me military information.

  • josephine Herndler

    Would this society look after a child who had been orphaned?
    I am searching for Duncan Laing’s parents or a family who may have adopted him. His parents died soon after arriving in Canada in 1850
    I can find Duncan and wife from 1871 on from Essex Co to Manitoba, but I believe he may have spent some time with a Fleming family in Perth Co. I cannot find a Fleming family that lists Duncan as adoptee or member of family. Perhaps the St.Andrews society will help. (Sorry for the length of this)

  • josephine Herndler

    Thank you Jane, I have been in touch with both in the past, but will try again.

  • Leueen

    re: Masonic records.

    A few years ago I spoke to a freemason at one ofn the Toronto lodges during Doors Open and asked about this.
    He tole me that their provincial headquarters in Hamilton holds records of every man who ever belonged. These can be consulted by the general public. You need to know the name or number of the Lodge in question.
    He said the records would include when the person joined, any offices held, and when he left or died.
    I have never checked this out personally. I was hoping for information on their benevolent activities and/or minutes, but he didn’t think they held those there.
    The address is 363 King Street W., Hamilton; open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
    Tel: 1-905-528-8644

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