Know Your Place: Finding Local Communities in Toronto's Online City Directories, 1837 to 1969

April 16, 2019 | Barbara Myrvold

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Toronto city directories are invaluable for researching local history, genealogy and other topics. Now, for the first time, there is an online guide – Places in Digital Toronto City Directories, 1837-1969 – to help researchers quickly find directory information about more than 100 former hamlets, villages, small towns, townships and boroughs that now are part of the amalgamated city of Toronto. 


Map 1953
Municipalities forming Metropolitan Toronto showing dates of incorporation, 1953. All of these places became part of the amalgamated City of Toronto on 1 January 1998


Each place either had a separate listing in directories for Toronto and the surrounding area or their own directories, 1837 to 1969. Many of the place names survive as communities, neighbourhoods and streets in the city. 

Places are listed alphabetically by the the name used in the directory itself and then chronologically by the year the name appeared. There are approximately 1,750 entries altogether. Researchers are directly linked to the starting page for a place in an online directory. 

It's important to know that the online directories are large files which may be difficult to load on mobile devices or computers with a slow internet connection. Although it might take several seconds to load the starting page, having the direct links is a huge time-saver compared to locating places using manual or even digital searches. Suburban sections were not consistently placed within the directories, and searching through individual directories one at a time is time-consuming. 

The 1837 Toronto city directory was the first to have separate listings for places outside of the city limits. Etobicoke, Scarborough and York townships were included in the section, “Home District, or the Counties of York and Simcoe” (along with many other places that are not now part of Toronto).


Surrounding places went on to be listed separately in some Toronto city directories (1846-47, 1850-51, 1866 and 1868) and then continuously in directories from 1874 to 1929. Separate listings for a place ceased once it diminished in importance or was annexed to the city. Examples can be seen in these Toronto Annexation Maps from 1915 and 1967.





Starting in 1930, Toronto city directories combined the listings for the City of Toronto and the suburban areas in the main lists for names, streets and businesses. However, a separate alphabetical list of suburban streets, grouped by individual suburb, continued to be provided. 

The guide also links to places included in historical directories of York County (1870, 1871, 1876, 1881, 1935) and York Township (1909) as well as to directories for individual communities. Separate directories have been digitized for East Toronto (1907), Long Branch (1927), North Toronto (1908), Parkdale (1881), Toronto Junction (1906) and Yorkville (1876).

Parkdale reeve Parkdale register 1881
Illustration of John Gray, first reeve of the Village of Parkdale, The Parkdale register (1881).

Directory entries often included a description of a place, ranging from a few sentences to a mini-history. These have are provided in the guide, transcribed exactly as they were published originally.

Scarborough description 1871
Description of "Township of Scarboro" in Nason's east and west ridings of the county of York ... (1871).


In addition, the guide features descriptions from Places with Toronto, prepared by the Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society and links to City of Toronto Archives authority records, which provide key historical dates about a place.