Prior to 1968 divorces in Canada were granted only by private acts of the Government of Canada. Although there are records of these private acts back to 1840, just five divorces were granted by the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada prior to Confederation in 1867.
Between 1867 and 1968, a person who wished to obtain a divorce was required to place a notice of intent to petition the government for an Act of Divorce in the Canada Gazette, Part I and in two newspapers in the district or county where the petitioner resided. The notice had to appear for a six-month period.
Divorce notices were published weekly in the Canada Gazette, Part I, which is available at the Vancouver Public Library .
To search for a divorce notice in the Gazette, first request the relevant annual index on Level 6. When you receive the index, look under ADVERTISEMENTS - APPLICATIONS TO PARLIAMENT. Divorce notices are listed with corresponding page numbers, e.g. Banfield, Eric 3438
Once the index has confirmed that a divorce notice was published during the corresponding year, you can request the annual volume(s) of the Gazette and look up the notice on the page cited.
Petitions to the government for Acts of Divorce included details such as the date and place of the marriage and events which had caused it to founder. In cases of adultery or bigamy, a co-respondent was often named. If the petition was eventually allowed, Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce nullifying the marriage. Between 1867 and 1963, a transcript of the Act was published in the annual Statutes of Canada. Between 1964 and 1968, details were published in the Journals of the Senate of Canada. Both the Statutes and the Journals are available at the Vancouver Public Library.
Information from the transcripts published in the annual Statutes of Canada and later in the Journals of the Senate of Canada has been compiled into a database under the title Acts of Divorce, 1841-1968. The database is available free of charge on the Library and Archives Canada's website. Each divorce listed in the database includes Name of Petitioner and Name of Spouse as well as a Source, Reference and Citation to one of four sources.
In most cases, the source is available at the Vancouver Public Library. Usually, it is the annual volume of the Statutes of Canada in which the divorce act was published. To locate the act, ask for the relevant annual volume of the Statutes of Canada at the Central Library. When you receive it, refer to the Citation for the number of the specific chapter (act) within the volume. For example, Reference 1889, Citation 110 refers to Chap.110 in the annual statutes for 1889. The same process can be used to locate divorce acts published in the earlier Statutes of the Province of Canada.
If the source was the Journals of the Senate of Canada, these can be consulted at the Vancouver Public Library, although the information published in the Journals is much briefer than what appears in the Statutes. To locate divorce records in the Journals of the Senate, ask for the relevant annual volume of the Journals of the Senate of Canada at the Central Library. When you receive the annual volume, look at the table of contents at the front to locate the index to “Annulments and Dissolutions of Marriages.” Search the index to find the person in whom you are interested (in the case of women, look for both the maiden and married surname). The following is an example of a reference from the 1964-1965 Journals of the Senate:
Walker, Murray Hutchison
- Petition, 636; – reported, 644; adopted, 659.
- Resolution 521; – presented, 659; adopted, 665
In the above example, 636 and 521 are numbers assigned to the Petition and Resolution. The remaining numbers represent the page numbers in the Journal on which the information relevant to the divorce appears.
If the source is the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, these are not available at the Vancouver Public Library but can be consulted at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. Divorce acts listed in the Journals or in the other three sources cited above can also be ordered from Library and Archives Canada.
Microfilm copies of indexes to B.C. divorce records are available at the Vancouver Public Library and cover the period from 1901-1983:
Indexes to Certified Copies of Divorce Orders, 1901-1983
Level 6 Ref. Genealogy Microfilm 929.3711 B862di
The indexes are located on Level 6 at the Central Library. There are six reels, comprising two separate index series:
Indexes to divorce orders, 1901-1983 (4 reels)
The indexes are divided into sections covering 5 consecutive periods as follows.
Within each time period, orders are arranged alphabetically by the name of the husband.
Consolidated index to divorces, 1901-1977 (2 reels)
These films comprise a single alphabetical index to divorce orders from 1901-1983. Orders are arranged alphabetically.
For more information about the B.C. divorce indexes, refer to the B.C.Archives' online Finding Aid for GR-3254.
It is important to note that actual divorce orders are not available at the Vancouver Public Library. To obtain a copy of a divorce order take the following steps after locating an index entry:
Hugh Armstrong’s Genealogy Site includes a section with the Index to Canadian Parliamentary Divorces, 1826-1946 that includes a detailed overview of the history of divorce in Canada (see the Introduction). The site also has an Index to surnames (bottom of the page), mainly based on the Canada Gazette and Statutes of Canada, but it is only a nominal listing, with no further references or information.
British Columbia GenWeb includes summaries of Orders Issued in Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, 1877-1931 by the Victoria [B.C.] Supreme Court Registry.