Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Gazetteers in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Gazetteers. The French word gazette (adapted from the Italian gazzetta) and its derivative gazettier or gazetier have been anglicized for some three hundred years. In England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the term "gazetteer" might equally well have applied to a newssheet, or to a newswriter. It has, however, another connotation, namely, the geographical index or dictionary, and it is with this that we are here concerned.


Henry Scadding, in an article on Canadian gazetteers entitled First gazetteer of Upper Canada, with annotations (Toronto, 1876), states that the earliest gazetteer he had seen relating to Canada was The North American and the West Indian gazetteer, published in London "soon after the conquest of Canada in 1759". The second edition of this, issued in 1778, contained "an authentic description of the colonies and islands in that part of the globe, shewing their situation, climate, soil, produce and trade . . ." Scadding's pamphlet is a useful source of reference in regard to early Canadian gazetteers, and, in particular, Sir David William Smith (or Smyth)'s Short topographical description of His Majesty's province of Upper Canada in North America, to which is added a provincial gazetteer (London, 1799). An "advertisement" on the verso of Smith's title-page states that "the accompanying notes and gazetteer were drawn up by David William Smyth, Esq., the very able Surveyor-General of the Province of Upper Canada, at the desire of Major-General Simcoe, on the plan of those of the late Capt. Hutchins, for the River Ohio and Countries adjacent." Scadding considered Smith's work so authoritative and valuable that he republished the gazetteer with annotations in the Canadian journal, n.s., vol. xiv, 1875. A second edition, revised by Francis Gore, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, was issued by Faden in 1813, and in this same year the New York firm of Prior and Dunning issued A gazetteer of the province of Upper Canada, to which is added an appendix describing the principal towns, fortifications, and rivers in Lower Canada, which was based on Smith's gazetteer. Some thirty years later William Henry Smith (fl 1849) was engaged in the compilation of Smith's Canadian gazetteer, comprising statistical and general information respecting all parts of the Upper Province, or Canada West . . with a mass of other desirable and useful information for the man of business, traveller, or emigrant (Toronto, 1846 and 1849), the material for which, according to the interesting and amusing preface, was most painstakingly collected by the compiler in the course of his peregrinations throughout the province. In 1851, the firm of John Lovell of Montreal issued the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland gazetteer and classified business directory, which still continues; title and publisher have varied, and Toronto has been the place of publication since 1915. This is a useful compilation, though in its present form, from the reference point of view, it is probably more frequently consulted as a directory than as a gazetteer. Another interesting series, also from the firm of Lovell, is Lovell's gazetteer of British North America, of which the first volume, edited by P. A. Crossby (or Crosby), appeared in 1873; a second edition followed in 1881, a third in 1895, and a fourth, entitled Lovell's gazetteer of the Dominion of Canada, edited by G. Mercer Adam, in 1908. A comparison of the 1873 edition, which lists over 6,000 cities, towns, and villages, with the 1908 edition dealing with more than 14,850 cities, towns, and villages, indicates the rapid growth of population during the thirty-five years which followed the publication of the first volume. Prior to the above, Lovell had published a Dominion directory in 1871 that might also be classed as a gazetteer, for not only did it contain geographical descriptions of villages, towns, and cities, but it had for cover title: Lovell's pocket gazetteer. As the volume in question was anything but small, the cover title appears to be somewhat paradoxical. In the twentieth century, the most up-to-date and authoritative gazetteer information is contained in the Reports (1898-1927) of the Geographic Board of Canada.


Two years after Confederation the Province of Ontario gazetteer and directory (Toronto, 1869) appeared. In 1884 the first volume of a biennial publication entitled the Ontario gazetteer and business directory was issued in Toronto. The fifth volume (1892-3) also contained information regarding British Columbia, Manitoba, and the North West Territories. The sixth and last volume (1895) had for title Province of Ontario gazetteer and business directory, including the city of Montreal, P.Q. Another compilation of similar title, the Ontario gazetteer and directory, was published in Ingersoll, Ontario, for the years 1903-4, 1905-6, and 1910-11, the last volume being entitled the Province of Ontario gazetteer and directory. The Ontario county gazetteer and Canadian cyclopaedia, containing historical sketches of Ontario and of the Dominion of Canada (Toronto, 1885) subordinates the geographical interest to the historical.


Several Ontario county gazetteers were published in the last half of the nineteenth century, namely, the Gazetteer and directory of the county of Grey (Toronto, 1865); Gazetteer and directory of the, counties of Kent, Lambton, and Essex (Toronto, 1866); Gazetteer and directory the county of Simcoe (Toronto, 1866); Gazetteer and directory of the city of Brantford and county of Brant (Hamilton, 1883); and the firm of Sutherland. of Woodstock, C.W., issued a Gazetteer and general business directory for the united counties of Northumberland and Durham for 1865-6, and the Oxford and Norfolk gazetteer in 1867.


So far only two nineteenth-century gazetteers have been located for western Canada-Henderson's British Columbia gazetteer and directory (Vancouver, 1891), and Henderson's Manitoba and Northwest Territories gazetteer and directory (Winnipeg, 1894)-and in both of these the gazetteer has been submerged by the directory.


For the Maritime provinces the firm of McAlpine has published a Gazetteer of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland (Halifax); the sub-title of the volume issued in 1911 describes it as "a geographical and historical data [sic] of provinces and cities-location of towns, villages and hamlets-barristers, hotels, express offices and banks".


Two specialized gazetteers are worth mentioning: William White's Post office gazetteer of the Dominion of Canada (Montreal, 1872), and the Gazetteer and directory of the Great Western Railway (Toronto, 1874).


The total output of Canadian gazetteers is not large, but the titles listed in this article are sufficiently comprehensive to show that, from Smith's compilation in 1799 onward through the nineteenth century, the study of such publications is of exceptional interest in reflecting the successive and rapid stages of the development of the Dominion.

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. III, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., pp. 13-15.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College