Canadian Newspapers (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections  by Michelle LaBrosse-Purcell, B.Sc., MLIS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Newspapers have a great deal of information in them, if you take the time to actually sit and read through all of them. Besides the news of the world, older newspapers also had ‘society’ pages, where the news of the city or town was written. Daily, or weekly, there was usually a society column with entries such as:

Mrs. Alice McMaster, wife of John McMaster, of St. Catherines, is visiting our fair town, staying at the York Hotel, visiting her daughter, Mrs. Victoria Thomas, her husband James, and family. While in town, Mrs. McMaster also attended the wedding of her niece, Miss Annie McRae. Mrs. McMaster plans to return to St. Catherines on Sunday.


Reading these types of entries can be like hitting a goldmine of genealogical information. If we are to take the above entry as an example, we learn a lot about the McMaster genealogy. First of all, you know that Mrs. McMaster’s husband is (or was) John. They had a daughter - Victoria - and that daughter married James Thomas, and had at least one child. You also know that Mrs. McMaster has a niece named Annie McRae, so either Mrs. McMaster’s maiden name was McRae, or she had a sister who married a McRae and had a daughter Annie. From here, you can go back in the vital statistics registers, looking for:

  • The marriage of Victoria McMaster to James Thomas
  • Birth of at least one child to James and Victoria Thomas
  • Birth of Victoria McMaster to Mr. and Mrs. John McMaster
  • Marriage of Alice (McRae?) to John McMaster


There are other relationships you could also research, just based on this example. You know Alice has either a sister (who married a McRae), or Alice has a brother, and their last name was McRae. So, going back to the vital statistics registers, you could likely figure out which of the above scenarios was correct.

The marriage of Annie McRae is likely to also be written up in the newspaper, so it’s important to read that as well. Likely all out of town guests will be mentioned, as well as the name of the parents of the bride. It’s amazing how the family tree can be filled out by just a few simple lines in a newspaper!

Of course, you’ll not always be so lucky. For my mother’s birth, all that was written in the newspaper was:

“Born last Wednesday to Mr. and Mrs. William Carr, a girl.”


My grandparents had 5 girls and 2 boys, so unless you were fortunate enough to know the order in which they were born, the above information would be pretty much useless. Fortunately, there is more information given in more modern birth announcements; these often include siblings’ and grandparents’ names. On the other hand, most recently (and perhaps since friends and family are more connected with social media), birth announcements in the newspaper have fallen out of fashion, at least in some areas of Canada. Often, nowadays, everyone who matters has been informed over the Internet of a birth within minutes of the event, and these announcements are frequently accompanied by a picture of the new baby and proud parents. Moreover, such announcements are free as opposed to the price charged by the newspaper for publishing “old” news.

The society pages are not the only pages you should check. Any occurrence—a fire, theft, or stray cow - was usually enough to make it into some small town papers.

My great-grandfather’s death was an unusual one in North Bay, Ontario, and fortunately we have a copy of the newspaper article chronicling his last adventure. This article from the North Bay Nugget from April of 1936, not only tells us the circumstances under which my great-grandfather died, but also gives the name of his son, nephew, doctor and friends:

MAKE PERILOUS TRIP TO REACH SICK MAN

N. LaBrosse Dies While Being Moved: Corpse Immersed as Sled Sinks
A perilous and thrilling journey, with their lives actually in danger at times, was made Wednesday of this week when three North Bay men battled their way up the Jocko lake and river to bring succor to 85 year old Napoleon LaBrosse. The aged man, who was stricken with pneumonia, died while he was being brought down the river by boat. J. J. Saya, a nephew; Philip LaBrosse, a son, and Dr. E. J. Brennan were the men who made the hazardous trip over land, ice, slush and water to bring help to Mr. LaBrosse. The distance from Jocko to the aged man’s cabin is eight miles. The men walked a little more than a mile on the railway tracks, and then took to the lake. It was impossible to walk through the bush because of the soft snow.... Arriving at Mr. LaBrosse’s cabin, they found the sick man in a very weakened condition. Dr. Brennan treated him on the spot, and then the journey, through which they hoped Mr. LaBrosse would live so that he could be brought to a hospital here, was started. The return trip was just as perilous and when they had finished the journey by boat they discovered that Mr. LaBrosse had died. His body was placed on the sled for the remainder of the trip on the ice. The men found the going extremely hard, and one time Mr. Saya got a soaking when he fell through the soft ice. The corpse was completely submerged in water when the party was doing the difficult task of reaching the shore from the slushy ice on the lake. Mr. LaBrosse was buried here today.


It’s nice to think that from this article, even more information might be found in the doctor’s medical records, or from finding out more about the recollections of the nephew and son who were mentioned in this article. So, how do you find out what newspapers exist out there? Until recently, researching in newspapers was very tedious. Before the days of digital imaging, optical character recognition (OCR), and indexing, it was necessary to read through every page of every day on reel after reel of microfilm searching for some relevant details. Today, many current newspapers have archived past editions online and they are mostly completely searchable by any word in the newspaper. Many historical newspapers have also been scanned by genealogical groups and are also online and browsable if not searchable.

Finding Newspapers Not on the Internet[edit | edit source]

However, not all newspapers can be researched online. Sometimes it is still necessary to visit a library, book a microfilm machine and roll through the reels, particularly if you are searching in an area that was not served by one of the bigger newspapers. The National Library of Canada produced a Union List of Newspapers Held by Canadian Libraries in 1977. This book is still available in many of the major libraries across the country and, although it was published over 35 years ago, it is still relevant for historic newspapers published prior to then. It will let you know what newspapers were available at that time, and which archives or libraries in Canada hold copies of them.

The list of Canadian Newspapers on Microfilmheld by the Library and Archives Canada is also now available online, so there is no need to seek out a paper copy of the union list to see if a newspaper is available at the Library and Archives Canada (the book will still be useful in determining what other libraries have copies of a particular newspaper). Also, at the Library and Archives Canada site is the Checklist of Indexesto Canadian Newspapers] held by the National Library of Canada. This listing tells you of all the indexes relating to newspapers, by province, that the Library and Archives Canada has.

If you’re interested in just Ontario newspapers, check out J. Brian Gilchrist’s Inventory of Ontario Newspapers 1793-1986. If you are interested in Quebec, André Beaulieu’s La presse québécoise: des origins à nos jours is a list of all Quebec published newspapers. The Provincial Archives of Alberta and the Legislature Library of Alberta both hold a list of all newspapers available for Alberta, along with information as to where those newspapers can be viewed. Check with your local archives or library for other provincial lists of newspapers.

If you are lucky enough to be associated with, or live near to, certain universities, colleges or other large libraries, you may have access to a wide variety of newspapers. For example, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec) has access to images of the Globe and Mail from 1844-2009 and the Toronto Star newspaper from 1894-2011. They also have a connection to The Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies, consisting of the full text almost 300 Canadian newspapers dating from the late 1970s sometimes to the current day and Paper of Record, an Internet archive of full-page, historical newspaper images from over 80 Canadian newspapers (including Canada Gazette) some dating from as far back as mid-1800s.[1] Other universities have similar newspaper listings in their libraries. Many of these university libraries make such resources available to members of the public who visit in person, but be sure to contact the library of your choice before making your visit.

Finding Newspapers on the Internet[edit | edit source]

Now, to the online sources of newspaper indexes and images. The number of digitized newspapers is growing. The advantage of the online digital image is that the searched word is usually highlighted so the article containing it can be found more easily. Wikipedia has a list of online newspaper archives, including links to many of their searchable databases.

The University of Toronto Library lists both subscription databases and open-access holdings on their site. Some of these holdings are searchable online; however, other holdings must be used on-site. The University of British Columbia collection of British Columbia Historical Newspapers covers over thirty digital papers which are searchable by keyword either individually or collectively.

Other sites that have digitized newspaper records include Ancestry.com and WorldVitalRecords which are two big pay-for-use sites. For example, WorldVitalRecords claims to have more than 100 million pages of newspapers from 1739 to the present. Major libraries and FamilySearch Centers may have library subscriptions to some of these sites; if the one near you does, you will likely be able to access the site or sites there for free.

Google News also has a number of historic newspapers archived. For example, if you have ancestors from Nova Scotia, you might be interested to know that there are 414 editions of The Halifax Gazette from March 1752 to December 1780 available for browsing. Although there is no searchable database or index for The Halifax Gazette, the fact that these images are now available for browsing in your home wherever you live is a huge advantage. The complete listing of the historic newspapers on this site, including the number of editions and the range of dates, is available.

The above is not intended to be an exhaustive list of online historical newspaper resources but will give you an idea of what types of collections are available. Because of the speed with which the online resources are growing, it is impossible to list reliably all of the sites containing historical newspapers. However, if you enter “historical newspapers” plus a location into an Internet search engine you will likely find online sources for your area of interest. Remember that these sources change rapidly, so check back on a regular basis to see if something has been added for the location of your interest.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Paper of Record is also available online for a fee.



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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.