The Canadian Necrology database is a unique source of obituary and death information for both prominent and lesser-known Canadians, covering a time span from the late 18th century to 1977. The sources for these records fall into four major categories:
Canadian Obituaries | William Henry Pearson Records | William Stewart Wallace Records | Other Records
The majority of records in Canadian Necrology index obituaries for distinguished Canadians whose death notices appeared in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Daily Star, Gazette, Globe, and Mail and Empire between 1934 and 1977. Throughout these years, various staff members of the Reference Department, University of Toronto Library, clipped and pasted these obituaries and newspaper articles into scrapbooks entitled Canadian Obituaries. For each individual, staff created an index card providing the volume and page of the scrapbooks where the obituary clipping could be found. Only at a later date did staff add a reference to the source newspaper, if known, which explains why so many entries include question marks next to the citations provided. In 1977, the Canadian Newspaper Index began, eliminating the need to continue indexing Canadian newspaper obituaries in house.The original paper volumes of Canadian Obituaries are available in the Reference Room, Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
William Henry Pearson Records
The second set of records in Canadian Necrology contains death information for over 4,000 inhabitants of Toronto and the surrounding areas, from 1853 to 1920. This collection is the result of a lifetime hobby of William Henry Pearson (1831-1920). Pearson's employment as a clerk in the Toronto Post Office from 1847 to 1854, followed by 54 years of service at Consumers' Gas,(1) allowed him to meet many of the business and professional residents of the city. As a long time member and Sabbath school teacher at Toronto's Metropolitan Wesleyan Methodist Church, Pearson met working men and women as well as many leading preachers and temperance speakers of the day. Beginning in 1853 and until his own death in 1920, Pearson maintained a ledger where he recorded the deaths of friends, acquaintances, and prominent members of Toronto society. He admitted himself that
It seems a very strange thing to have done, and I hardly know why I commenced keeping it-possibly because the keeping of statistics and records is one of my hobbies. However, it certainly has been admonitory…(2)
In each entry, Pearson recorded the deceased's age, occupation, location of residence, cause and date of death. In addition, he did not hesitate to add his own comments on the life just past, and his observations were shaped by his strong Methodist faith and commitment to the cause of temperance.
Pearson recalls that the Toronto of his boyhood in the late 1830's stretched from the Don River to Spadina Avenue and from Front Street to Crookshank Street (now part of Dundas Street). He estimated that the population then was approximately 12,000 souls (3). By the time of his death in 1920, the city population had grown to 512, 812 (4). Within the Pearson records in Canadian Necrology, you can observe this growth of Toronto into a modern city as the frequency of typhoid, cholera, and consumption as a cause of death gives way to heart disease and cancer.
This section of the database will be useful to anyone interested in the early history of Toronto, the history of the Methodist Church, the temperance movement, and genealogists. Pearson's manuscript now resides in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. You can view a digitized version of the manuscript here.
William Stewart Wallace Records
William Stewart Wallace (1884-1970) transcribed these death and a few marriage notices for a large number of nineteenth century and early twentieth century Canadians distinguished in politics, business, the arts and sciences. Wallace was an historian, librarian, and author of many Canadian history books including The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, first published in 1926.
A small number of records are from various other sources, primarily University of Toronto alumni publications from the 1950s.
1. W. H. Pearson, Recollections and Records of Toronto of Old: With References to Brantford, Kingston and Other Canadian Towns (Toronto: William Briggs, 1914), 4.
2. Ibid., 6.
3. Ibid., 22.
4. Clerk, City of Toronto, Municipal Handbook, 1922 (Toronto: United Press, 1922), 70.