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Is there a street index for the larger cities in the 1921 Canadian census?

(When I first asked this question, the 1921 census (on Ancestry) was images only, with no name index. Although a name index now exists, a street index is still useful, especially to find known addresses where the name may have been mistranscribed.)

A city like Toronto is divided into districts (north, west etc) and then by 50-100 subdistricts, each of maybe five street sections and twenty images.

Many of the subdistricts have a full list of the parts of the streets in the polling subdivision they cover:

Sub-District 48 - Ward 3 Polling Subdivision no. 80. Comprising Charles Street, both sides, from Church to Jarvis Street; Hayden Street, both sides, from Church Street to east end; Bloor Street, south side, from Church toJrvis Street; Church Street, both sides, from Isabella to Bloor Street, Jarvis Street, west side, from Isabella to Bloor Street.

If a subdivision has more than one polling subdivision in it, there is no description of the streets included. This may be something that is being worked on, to add later.

I was able to copy and paste the descriptions for several districts of Toronto and find the street I wanted by searching the resulting text. Luckily, the people I looked for hadn't moved since their last known address in 1917, were in a subdistrict where the streets were listed, and were in a short street.

But it would be easier if there was a simple index (street, or section of street, giving district and subdistrict). Does such a thing exist? Even better if it includes the streets that are currently missing from the Ancestry listings (the cases where there is more than one polling district in a subdivision).

(update)

Drawing boxes on a map from the subdivision descripions doesn't help, because (in Toronto at least) each street segment in a subdivision is named (there are no further named streets within the area, so nothing else to find). I've drawn Toronto Centre, ward 3, subdistrict 48 (described above), using geojson.io on a modern day map of Toronto, and published it on gist (and now also embedded an image below:). Toronto subdistrict 48

Note it's not really a box, just a walking route, with only one side of some streets, both sides of others. All the street segments are listed in the description. Looking at other cities, most like Montreal and Vancouver don't have any street descriptions at all, and some like London ONT do have bounding boxes in the description, for that latter case drawing on a map would help.

Using directories to find the ward does really help in a big city, but in the case of Toronto Centre for example there are perhaps 40 subdistricts in a ward, so up to 800 images.

What's needed is a source for the street listings in the cases where Ancestry doesn't list them (usually because it consists of multiple polling subdivisions, see Toronto North for many cases like this). If that information was available, a simple text file search is enough to locate all the segments of a street.

It would also be possible to generate an index from these descriptions, there are typos ("toJrvis") and inconsistent punctuation which make it tricky but using the "sides", "from" and "to" words could get a maybe 90% good-enough index. But it's still working from partial data.

(further update) The 1895 electoral maps at LAC may help narrow down the search for a place if the names are unfamiliar (and unchanged by 1921), and the parlimentary ridings history will give the actual boundaries and a history of the changes.

  • 1
    anglo-celtic-connections.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/… has some suggestions that might help. – user104 Aug 9 '13 at 9:24
  • Sorry, I logged into Gist and your map comes up blank. – lkessler Aug 10 '13 at 13:14
  • Strange, the gist works for me using Chrome, Safari and Firefox (including when I'm not logged in, as it's public). I don't have a way to check with Internet Explorer. Try just gist.github.com/robhoare – Rob Hoare Aug 10 '13 at 18:36
  • You're right. Gist maps do not seem to work in IE9. – lkessler Aug 11 '13 at 3:18
  • Thanks for these helpful posts. I'm currently marking up an old street map of Toronto and drawing in the subdistricts for Toronto (as boxes wherever possible). So far I've completed Toronto South/North/West/East and now I'm starting on the York districts that are still part of Toronto city. – user897 Aug 26 '13 at 12:25
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To compile a full street index, a list of the streets (or hamlets etc) within each electoral subdivision in Canada in 1921 is needed. I'm not aware of a source for this (other than reading each image in turn!).

Ancestry has added some street information for some subdivisions within Toronto. Where this is present (in about half the subdivisions), it lists every street segment, rather than a boundary.

So, I've now taken the five electoral districts (ridings) for Toronto, and extracted the street names from the descriptions, and sorted the results in street name order. I've also added Toronto City streets (only) within the York ridings.

The results are shown in my census1921 project on github.

The most useful file is the combined listing of Toronto streets in 1921 - over 1300 street segments, giving their subdivision and electoral division.

Example:

Abbott avenue, both sides, from Western avenue to easterly limit of Ward 7: Sub-District 60 - Toronto (City, part)  Ward 7,  : York West
Aberdeen avenue, both sides: Sub-District 59 - Ward 2   : Toronto East
Albert Street, north side, from Teraulay to Chestnut Street,: Sub-District 25 - Ward 3   : Toronto Centre
Albert Street, south side, from Terauley to Chesnut Street: Sub-District 21 - Ward 3   : Toronto Centre
Alcorn avenue, both sides: Sub-District 19 - Ward 3   : Toronto North

It's important to note it's a partial index, as around half of the Toronto subdivisions do not have street descriptions.

That's about as far as it needs to go, as it should be replaced in the next few months with an official person name index, but may help a few people in the meantime. Corrections are welcome.

Unfortunately these detailed street-by-street descriptions are very much the exception (and even in Toronto they are mostly missing for North Toronto).

Many other places, like London, Ontario only have a boundary of streets listed for a subdivision. In these cases, drawing the box on a map, as Louis Kessler has suggested, will help identify the part of the city covered. Other places like Peel only have land title descriptions (concessions, lots). It would be hard to relate these to modern maps.

Yet more places, probably the majority, have no description at all. Examples are Vancouver Centre, and Montreal. It may help with the many electoral boundaries in Montreal to read the descriptions in the parlimentary ridings history, but that just narrows it down to electoral district, not subdivision. Street directories are another option, as they sometimes mention the ward (part of an electoral division).

(update October 2013)

I should have understood from one of the earlier comments, but I've only recently become aware there are a lot of Toronto streets within the Parkdale electoral district, as well as York. That took a bit more work (adding about 500 semicolons in the right places by hand...) but my full street index on Github has now been updated to include Parkdale. This adds more than 500 hundred street segments, taking the total to over 1,800. As in previous areas, there are a few streets missing, but in Parkdale it's not many, the descriptions were mostly complete. Are there any other electoral districts around Toronto that include Toronto city streets?

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Collections Canada says:

In the case of cities, particularly the larger centres, it is very helpful to know the ward in which the person lived. The ward can often be determined by consulting the street index at the front of published City Directories.

with City Directories linking to their page on information about city directories.

My experience is that these directories are available in most Canadian libraries, but only certain directories for certain cities are available online.

Bill Gladstone wrote a blog post about doing what you are trying to do for the 1911 census, which included an index to the Toronto streets in Jewish areas of Toronto.

In his post he says:

Search the 1911 census by address. Use the index below to determine what Ward, subdistrict and sheet the family will be on, depending on where they lived. If you subscribe to Ancestry, you may easily do the search on Ancestry. It is not complicated and it works. You may also do the same search on the Library and Archives Canada website, on which researchers may search by location but not by name (it’s free — no subscription necessary). Below are the basic instructions for conducting the search on Ancestry; if you try it on the Library and Archives Canada website, enter the same selections there.

Unfortunately, what you will find is that these indexes are much less than adequate. Often the ward boundaries run down the middle of a street, so odd numbered homes are in one ward and even in another, and then it only lasts for a couple of blocks and shifts. And the sub-districts within the ward are seldom given.

What I do and what I recommend you do for the cities of interest, is to use the drop down ward definitions that give exact definitions of the wards. Find the possible wards that may be of interest to you. There is a good chance they contain street names you recognize.

Then use a street map of the city and draw the ward and sub-district boundaries on them. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have these maps online either, so you will have to do this yourself. It's really not that bad an exercise as it will get you very familiar with the areas your ancestor had lived.

Now the trick. You really need to know what streets bound each side of the address you are looking up. So go to Google maps, and look up the addresses you are interested in and find the streets or avenues that are at each end of the block. Also not the side of the street your address is on. And for an added bonus, you can use Google's street view to see what the property looks like today, which is something you should be doing anyway for all your ancestors' residences and important locations (work, church, school, etc).

Using the bounding streets and side of the street, you should be able to identify the location on the street map, and if you've drawn the boundaries, you should see which ward/sub-district it is in.

Sorry. Until someone puts together a full reverse index, manual labor is required. But true genealogists willing to get their information early are happy to do it.


Update - So for your example, here is the boundary of Sub-District 48 - Ward 3 Polling Subdivision no. 80:

enter image description here

Now do the next step and check your address on Google Maps to see whether your ancestors location is within the bounds.

Yes, I agree with you that it would be nice to have that index. It would make the job easy.

But there isn't such a beast. Either you or someone else will have to go through this work and then publish the street index so that everyone can benefit.

The fact is that this census has just been released. Ancestry is initially allowing people to browse through it for free, and in such a situation, a street index would be wonderful.

But Ancestry's priority is to index the names in the census. Once they complete that, the value of a street index diminishes rapidly - which is why street indexes for other census years have not been made. If they had, using the 1916 street index would probably have been pretty good because the wards and sub-districts seldom change.

I've given you one method that would take you a few days to find the right wards for your ancestors. That may or may not be better than hunt and peck, but the former is rigorous and more satisfying and the latter is haphazard and more frustrating. The choice is yours.

  • Boxes on maps don't really help, see my update to the question. Searching the Ancestry street-by-street descriptions (as a text file) does work, but only for those areas where all the streets are listed - in Toronto North for example, most are not. So a source for the missing subdivision street segment listings is needed. If/when those are available, a text search (of the right ward) would be enough. – Rob Hoare Aug 10 '13 at 5:47
  • @RobHoare - Not sure why you say boxes don't work. Using your example, I can easily outline the area that Sub-District 48 Ward 3 contains. If I know the street my ancestor is on and I know the bounding streets, I'll be able to see easily if it is in that Sub-District and if not, outline a nearby one (with some of the same streets mentioned) until I get it. Once you try it, you'll get the hang of it. – lkessler Aug 10 '13 at 13:10
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    I've become aware that the Toronto street data is very much the exception: most of the 1921 census (for Vancouver, Montreal, etc) does not give streets for each subdistrict. However, there are some places like London, ONT that do describe areas in boxes where mapping as you suggest would be very useful. But, to clarify, I don't think it's of value for Toronto because the subdistrict descriptions already list every street (segment) within them, drawing the box does not reveal any extra information. – Rob Hoare Aug 10 '13 at 18:42
  • Rob, do you know the One-Step Web Pages created by Stephen P. Morse? stevemorse.org He has a tool to create your own One-Step Web Pages. (Also, if you look at the FAQs for the various Census Tools he describes how he and Dr. Weintraub and the volunteers assembled the information used in all the tools.) Might this be useful to you, to create a search form for your index? – Jan Murphy Nov 29 '13 at 21:49

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