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Toronto ancestors? Check the city directories.

Whenever you’re doing urban research, particularly in North America, city directories should be a first stop.

For Toronto, the first directory was published in 1833—a year before the Town of York even became the City of Toronto. Over the next 25 years, five more directories were issued by various publishers. Directories were commercial ventures and expensive to produce. (Someone had to knock on all those doors.) By 1859, the value of owning an up-to-date directory seems to have been recognized by enough businesses to make publishing annual editions a reasonable investment. Annual or semi-annual directories for Toronto were published from 1859 to 2001.

This detail from page 232 of the “streets” section of the 1914 Toronto city directory shows the heads of household on Kimberley Street as well as a church and school that their families may have attended.

Most Toronto directories have two main sections: an alphabetical index of names and a street section that lists each street alphabetically and shows the resident or business at each address. Both sections are equally important.

Here’s how I suggest you search a city directory:
  1. Look at the title page first and properly cite your source, including title and publisher. It isn’t good enough to say “1888 Toronto directory.”
  2. Study the table of contents. Note the page numbers of all relevant sections.
  3. Look at the alphabetical index of names section first, noting all information. If the surname isn’t common, look at all occurrences. Watch for matching or similar addresses and related occupations.
  4. Look up the addresses you found in the “streets” section.
    • Note the street’s location, and former names if given.
    • Note the intersection before and after your ancestor’s location. Street numbering may change as the area develops and knowing the location will help you decide whether your ancestor actually moved house.
    • Note the ward information at the beginning of each street, particularly in census years.
    • Note your ancestor’s neighbours and neighbouring businesses. Take a “tour of the neighbourhood.” Perhaps he attended a church right up the street—or married the girl next door?
  5. Check the business listings and any other sections you noted in step two.
Where can you find Toronto directories?

If you are in Toronto, the easiest directories to use are the bound paper copies at the Toronto Reference Library. To be able to flip back and forth between sections as I suggest above, you can’t beat the real thing. The directories are on the 2nd floor.

Toronto city directories are available on microfilm at several Toronto libraries and archives. They are available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario. Toronto directories are also part of the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction (CIHM) collection. The CIHM collection is widely available at major public and university libraries.

But now you can also search Toronto directories in your pyjamas.

Digital images of all directories up to 1969 are now freely available from either the Toronto Public Library or Internet Archive. They are each searchable—although be cautious with this option. Luckily, directories were always meant to be searchable and arranged alphabetically for that purpose. (Unfortunately the Toronto Public Library’s earlier version of the directories, which allowed a search of all issues at once, is no longer available.)

To make the digital versions a little easier to access, I’ve created this chart of links.

Please let me know if you find the chart useful, and certainly if you notice any broken links.














1868-69 or 1868-9







































































































57 comments to Toronto ancestors? Check the city directories.

  • Janice Nelson

    This is a most helpful table with the links to the different directories. I was just exploring some of these directories to find out more about one side of my family but it is very handy to have them all in one place. Thanks!

  • DSC

    Very useful compilation, thank you. I recently spent several days looking at Directories and having a list like this available is wonderful.

  • Laurie Roberts

    I am working on the History of Silverthorn Area – Rogers – Eglinton and Black Creek to CNR tracks in the old Township/City of York.

    It seems that the suburb information is sometimes there sometimes not – I found this at the archives also.

    Are there any of the Directory’s on line between 1922 and present.

    Great job by the way – I have always wondered why these documents were not made available on line years ago.

    Thanks again – I really appreciated your efforts


    • Jane

      Hi Laurie,
      Since the directories were commercial ventures, the publisher had to decide whether and how to include suburban villages. Where there enough potential customers in the village to appeal to directory buyers? It is probably a good indicator of the growth and prominence of the village.

      I haven’t found any later directories online. Copyright concerns, I presume. Time for a trip to the Toronto Reference Library—where the directories are now on the second floor.

      Good luck with your Silverthorn history.

    • Donalda Taynen


      I wonder how your history of Slverthorn area is going. An ancestor of mine farmed the Silverthorn property in Carleton Village for about ten years in the 1860s and 1870s. His wife was related to Francis Silverthorn by marriage. I have a little information which I could pass on to you but would very much like to hear your results.

      Feel free to contact me.


    • Brooke Skelton

      Researching the Silverthorn area is a big task! I am a descendant of the original owner, John Silverthorn through his eldest son Joseph whose land was in the old Toronto Township. His father’s was in Etobicoke Township – he followed Joseph over from the Niagara area in 1811. He did eventually own a lot of land in Etobicoke Township – it appears as much as 600 acres.

      Donalda, as Francis married three times I wondered which of his wives you are connected through.

      Jane, I have often found the city directories most useful – great post.

  • Jean

    Any idea which month the Toronto city directories were published? Thanks.

  • […] the neighbourhood where your ancestor lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. A reader of that September 2 article has asked a question and has inspired this new […]

  • Susanne

    These directories on-line have helped me trace my family movement in Toronto from 1904 – 1922. When will more directories be added on your site? Great work!

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Susanne, I will certainly link to more Toronto directories when they become available online. I’d like to see some of those missing years filled in, too! In the meantime, check the holdings of your closest reference library or university library for paper or microfiche copies.

  • Michelle

    Thank you so much for the list of directory links.

  • Yvonne Locke

    I have been told there a directories also at the York University library. I live in the Oakville area – would that be closer to visit? Thanks for your help,
    Yvonne Ferlatte Locke

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Yvonne. York University’s Scott Library, like most Canadian universities, has the city directories that were filmed by CIHM (Canadian Institute for Historic Microreproduction). It looks like they have a few more recent issues as well. You can search the catalogue here: And don’t forget, the Archives of Ontario is also located on York University’s Keele Campus. Looks like the Mississauga Public Library has a pretty good collection, too.

  • Cindy Bradshaw

    Thank you for this wonderful tool online. I traced my family from 1881 to 1922 seeing where they lived, worked and what business they owned and operated. Very useful and very much appreciated.

  • Wanda Sinclair (Rexdale, Ontario)

    Jane great webpage

    But some of them are not working.

    For instance 1909 says “Couldn’t find image stack”

    And will some of the (eg 1910-1911) ever be up and running?

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Thanks, Wanda. I have tweeted about the 1909 directory problem. No response so far. I see no good reason for the gaps. Perhaps we could all gently nudge Toronto Public Library to submit them.

  • E

    Hi, I am trying to locate information from Toronto telephone directories from around 1970-1976. I haven’t been very successful; any further suggestions?
    Thank you,

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      If you’re in Toronto, or close enough to visit, you’re in luck. The North York Central Library’s Canadiana Department, Toronto Reference Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences department, and the Archives of Ontario all have a set of Toronto telephone directories on film/fiche that covers 1879-1979. The libraries hold some more recent issues as well. Unfortunately, these directories are not listed in the Toronto Public Library’s catalogue or on its local history and genealogy pages. When you visit, please mention that omission!

  • Ted Wright

    Thanks for taking the effort to place these links. I have sent these to many. They appreciate too. Many do not yet feel comfortable with computer searches. This site helps. Thanks a lot.

  • Kris

    Very cool. I used City Directories to find my birth family. Thank God for the City Directories or I would not have found them. Facebook helped too. Many, many thanks for this great resource!

  • Sherry

    I need to find directories of Halton and York counties for mid 1960’s and on. How can I access this info?

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Sherry,
      City directories published in the 1960s are still within copyright, so won’t be available online. You’ll need to locate them in a library. If you’re in the GTA, your best bets will be the Toronto Reference Library and the main Mississauga Public Library. If you’re not in the area, consider hiring a local researcher to search the directories for you.

  • Sherry

    Thank you. I will work those angles.

  • Donna Di Lello

    Hi Jane,
    great job! I was looking at the Mights directories at the library last night and see (at least in the 1940’s) there is a code after some of the names/addresses.
    ie. 1947, Dunlop, John, tool & die maker Amalgamated Electric, r 29 Wilson Ave LA 3192
    I checked the beginning of the directory but can’t see an explanation. Any ideas?

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Donna. Those mysterious letter-number codes in later directories are phone numbers, or more precisely an exchange code and number. The database on this site: identifies LA as “LAkeside”. So, this is not the Wilson Avenue we think of today, but one now renamed Wilson Park Road, running north and south between King and Queen Streets, just east of Roncesvalles in the west end of the city. Interesting that the telephone exchange code can provide that clarification!

  • Ruth Craig

    Wonderfully helpful links, thanks very much.

  • Mark

    How would you cite a page from the City Directory?

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Mark. Directories are books and should be cited as such, using whatever style guide you have chosen, with a page number of course. Some early directories might number different sections separately, so it would be useful to say “names section” or “streets section”, etc. If you are using an online version of the directory, the url should be part of the citation. It isn’t sufficient to to say something like “1890 Toronto Directory” because in some years there was more than one directory published.

  • sharron montgomery

    I have family on city directories 1945 Ontario.why are they not on internet searches ?

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Sharron. The main reason 1945 and later city directories for Toronto (and most other places) are not online is because the copyright has not expired. A secondary reason is that the modern directories are enormous—thousands of pages. It would be a very major project for any institution to take on. If you are in or near Toronto, the directories are available at the Toronto Reference Library. Otherwise, check with major public libraries or university libraries in your area.

  • Elizabeth

    I just finished viewing the 1935 and 1940 directories and have a question regarding the star next to certain people’s names. Can someone please tell me what they mean?

  • Ruth Smith

    Thank you so much for these directories…they are much appreciated. I have been able to find the family I have been looking for and followed them from 1882 onward. Great site!

  • Leslie

    Hello, I am trying to find a concession and lot number in Thames Centre, ON. Could anyone assist me with an online resource.

  • Carolyn Wright

    Hello – I’m trying to trace someone who lived at an address in Toronto in 1946 and wondered when the phone books would be available online?

    I’m trying to trace a friend’s possible Canadian father and have an address for him in 1946 but can’t find him on the available voters’ lists.

    I am in the UK and so can only access records online.

    Is a trip to the Toronto Reference Library the only solution?


    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Carolyn. As far as I know, Toronto telephone directories for the 1940s have not been digitized. However, they were published for libraries and archives on microfiche by Bell Canada, so I suggest you check university libraries in your area of the UK. You could also contact the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society ( They do that sort of research for a small fee. All that said, if you are using the Voters Lists on Ancestry, you should know that they are very badly indexed with many sections missed entirely. Try browsing through, page by page, particularly if you have an address. Good luck with your research!

  • Cindy Katch

    Great site ….. Reference Library will also do a free city directory look up for you via email….only 3 /wk allowed….have used Reference Library Services for times when I cannot get to Toronto……

  • Mary

    These Toronto directories used to be online years ago and easily accessed but then were gone. Thank you for this site it is excellent except I will now spend hours tracking my ancestor’s movements. They moved far too often!

  • Denise Brennan

    This is a great resource. Thank you so much. I am actually looking for Meadowood in Clarkson. Do you know if it is in any of the editions that you have posted? Thank you in advance.

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Denise. Clarkson, once a small settlement with a post office was located in Toronto Township (rather than the City of Toronto). Toronto Township was part of Peel County and now is a community in the modern City of Mississauga. The directory links I’ve provided are for the City of Toronto, however the 1837, 1846-47, and 1850-51 directories in my list include Peel County and therefore Toronto Township.

      The Toronto Public Library has digitized several Peel County Directories. Go to Use the search words “Peel County directory” (with no quotes). From the Type list on the left, select eBooks and online content. You should also look at the Missisauga Public Library:

  • Suzanne Burns

    Yesterday I was so surprised and thankful to see the directories on this site up to 1969! Thank you so much. A big convenience to my family research!

  • madeleine okladek

    I live in New York City. Can I access online the Toronto city directories for the years 1912 and 1913 for Gelbart. How can I do that?

  • Roma

    Help.just trying to find address of grandmothers house in TO in 1960. Name. Ernest Grygar

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Roma. Use the link I’ve supplied to go to the 1960 directory. Look up Ernest Grygar in the alphabetical list of names. That will give you the address. (Be a bit flexible with spelling.)

  • Tanya

    How does the search work. Does it only search the page you are looking at or the whole directory? The book itself is too blurry for me to read. So I will have to search

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Tanya. Depending on the year you choose, the directory link will take you to either the Toronto Public Library (TPL) site or Internet Archive ( The TPL directories are PDFs, so should be searchable with your browser. The ones on have a search box which may or may not work with your browser. However, city directories are arranged alphabetically by design, so the best way is to use the directory as it was intended by the compilers, by turning pages until you get to the right letter. The directory scans are crisp. If you find one that is blurry, please write to the site that hosts the volume.

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