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Genealogy and Family History

Explore your roots at VPL and beyond: resources and services for genealogists

Introduction

Level 6 of the Central Library has a collection of illustrated historical county atlases covering much of Ontario, as well as parts of Quebec and the Maritime provinces. These atlases contain a great deal of information of interest to genealogists.

Historical Atlases

The idea of county atlases originated in the United States, where about 500 county atlases were produced between 1864-1875. In due course, a few enterprising publishers sought a new market in Canada. From 1875-1881, thirty-two atlases were published covering forty Ontario counties. Only Haliburton, Peterborough and Leeds & Grenville counties were not covered. There was also no atlas produced for Dufferin, since the county was not constituted until 1879. Information relating to what became the Dufferin area is included in atlases for three adjacent counties.

The atlases had several publishers: Belden, Page, Miles and Meacham. These four published 20 Ontario county atlases, which were the best in the series. They included county history, biographies, subscribers' directory, portraits and views, and detailed topographical maps showing lots and their owners' names.

In 1880, Page and Miles left the field to Belden (Meacham had published only one atlas) and in the next two years, 10 more books were produced (a single volume was produced by Parsell). However, these later atlases were not as thorough or complete as the earlier atlases. In particular, they only published subscribers' names on the rural maps

After this initial burst of publishing, no more atlases were produced until 1903 (Wentworth County) and 1906 (Wellington County).

Reprinting of the historical county atlases began in 1969. Several publishers produced the reprint series, with some variation in regard to maintaining faithfulness to the originals. In some cases, additional material was added. In the case of Perth, there are two different reprints produced by two different publishers.

Remarkably, in the cases of two counties for which no original atlas was produced, modern versions were compiled, reflecting the style and content of the 19th-century series. These two counties are Leeds & Grenville and Peterborough.

The collection of illustrated historical county atlases covering Ontario comprises too many volumes to be listed individually in this guide. To find them in the Library catalogue, enter the name of the county and the word maps, e.g. Kent maps. The following Ontario counties are included:

  • Addington
  • Brant
  • Bruce
  • Carleton
  • Dundas
  • Durham
  • Elgin
  • Essex
  • Frontenac
  • Glengarry
  • Grenville
  • Grey
  • Haldimand
  • Halton
  • Hastings
  • Huron
  • Kent
  • Lambton
  • Leeds
  • Lennox
  • Lincoln
  • Middlesex
  • Norfolk
  • Northumberland
  • Ontario
  • Oxford
  • Peel
  • Perth
  • Prince Edward
  • Russell
  • Simcoe
  • Stormont
  • Waterloo
  • Welland
  • Wellington
  • Wentworth
  • York

The Ontario county atlases are indexed in The Central Canadians, 1600-1900.

They can also be searched and viewed online: In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

OTHER PROVINCES

The Vancouver Public Library owns a series of facsimile reprints of Canadian county atlases originally published in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. These atlases provide a great deal of information about individual counties, townships and villages. Many include directories. The directories usually only list the names of patrons - individuals who financially supported the publication of the atlas. These atlases are not indexed.

Historical Atlas of York County, N.B. and St. John, N.B.
Mika Publishing Company
Ref. 911.715 H67
Reprints two atlases: Atlas of York County, New Brunswick, first published in 1878, and Atlas of Saint John, City and County, New Brunswick, first published in 1875.

Illustrated Atlas of the Eastern Townships and South Western Quebec
Richardson, Bond & Wright,
Ref. 911.714 B42i
First published in 1881.

Illustrated Historical Atlas of Pictou County Nova Scotia
Mika Publishing Company
Ref. 911.716 I29
First published in 1879.

Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island
J.H. Meacham & Company
Ref. 911.717 M47i
Originally published in 1880.

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