Find Toronto city directories
About Toronto city directories
Published for almost 170 years, Toronto city directories are an invaluable research tool to:
- research the history of a house or other buildings in Toronto
- trace people that have lived in the city including family members, missing persons, birth parents
- discover the development of a neighbourhood or a street
- learn about services, products and entertainments that were available to Torontonians over time
- find out about local businesses and other organizations
Toronto Public Library holds a complete set of Toronto city directories from the first in 1833 (published in 180 pages when the municipality was known as York) until the last in 2001 (in five separate volumes covering Toronto Central East and East York, Toronto Central West and York, North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough). In addition, the Library has separate directories for places such as Yorkville, Weston and Willowdale that are now within the city of Toronto.
Initially Toronto city directories were published about every five years, in 1833, 1837, 1843, 1846, 1850, 1856 and 1859. From 1861, when the city had grown enough to support an annual publication, directories were published almost every year. By the time the last Toronto city directory was published in 2001, directory information had become increasingly available through a variety of online databases.
Almost all of the 19th- and early 20th-century directories have been digitized, and are universally available over the Internet. The entire run of print directories may be viewed on open shelves in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department on the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library.
City directories of Toronto may contain the following information that could help you in your research:
An alphabetical list of inhabitants
- Included in most directories
- Surname, followed by personal name(s) and/or initials, occupation, employer, and home address.
- The head of the household is listed and sometimes other family members (usually males over 18 years)
- Only occupants of the property are listed. These people may or may not be the owner.
- Only single, working women and widows were usually included in 19th- and early 20th-century directories
- A key to the abbreviations used for occupations and personal names is often near the front of the directory. Guide to City Directories of Toronto: Decoding Abbreviations
An alphabetical directory of streets in the city
- Included in the Toronto directories in 1833, 1856, and from 1861 on
- Entries arranged by the side of the street (east or west, north or south) and between cross-street intersections. Starting with the 1861 directory, the east and south sides of streets are given odd numbers while the west and north sides are given even numbers
- Street name and number, and name of occupant are usually included
- Changes in street names are recorded
A classified list of businesses and professions
- Included in most directories
- Usually arranged alphabetically by the type of business
- Name and address of business is given
- Businesses are also included in the alphabetical list of inhabitants
- Some are illustrated
- An index to advertisers is usually provided
- On municipal, provincial and federal levels of government
- Lists of institutions such as post offices, churches, courts, banks, hospitals and schools
- Lists of benevolent, literary and scientific societies, associations, social clubs, military personnel
- Lists of periodicals and newspapers
- Historical information about the city and descriptions of local industries and resources
- Photographs, illustrations and maps are also included in many directories. The Toronto city directories of the 1920s, for example, contain many photographs of city buildings
A directory of places in the vicinity of the city
- A separate section for the Home District was included in the Toronto directories of 1837 and 1846-47, the County of York in 1850-51 and the Counties of York and Peel in 1866.
- Yorkville had its own listing in 1868-69.
- Toronto suburbs and outlying neighbourhoods were listed as appendices to Toronto directories continuously from 1874 to 1929. Starting in 1930, city directories combined the City of Toronto and suburban areas in one street list. However, a separate alphabetical list of suburban streets, grouped by individual suburb, continued to be provided from 1930 until 1969.
- Information in each directory was usually compiled the previous year. This means that data contained in a directory predates the directory's publication date by one year. For example, the directory for 1900 reflects the status of the site in 1899.
- Information is valid only for the time the directory was compiled. Directories give a snapshot of the property and its occupants for a single point in time.
- Of street name changes. For further information, consult:
- Finding aid to former and present Toronto street names prepared by the City of Toronto Archives. An electronic copy is available at the Reference Desk, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, 2nd floor, Toronto Reference Library.
- Fire insurance plans for Toronto
- Street section in the city directories
- Online Street name changes in Toronto recording the 1901 census.
- Of street number changes. Toronto streets have been renumbered several times. To avoid confusion:
- Compare directory listings with maps. Fire insurance plans are especially useful for locating specific buildings and for providing the street number of buildings, usually indicated on the street in front of the building.
- Always keep a record of the occupant's name for each year, as well as the names of the occupants on either side. If all three names or numbers change, then the street has been renumbered. Search the street until you find the same sequence again.
- If the first year your property appears is not described as "unfinished house" or "vacant," you may have simply come up with a re-numbering of the street.
- Of infill. Sometimes a directory will indicate that a building, which is now located in mid-block, as being at the corner if no closer buildings to the corner have yet been built Maps should be consulted to avoid confusion.
- That information about occupants or use of buildings may be in other sections of the directory, e.g., advertisements, alphabetical directory, suburban directory, business directory, miscellaneous directory.
- Of inaccuracies and incompleteness. Most directory publishers used the door-to-door canvas to gather data. Information was given to a canvasser on a voluntary basis. If the resident was not at home, an information slip was left, which the resident may or may not have chosen to complete and return to the publisher.