D-I-V-O-R-C-E Part 1 – Before 1968

We all like to think that our ancestors met, fell in love, married, and only parted through death. Truth is, divorce has always been around in Canada, although rare. According to The Canadian Encycolpedia:

\”…while most Canadians married, divorce was extremely uncommon until after the Second World War. In fact, until that time, Canada had one of the lowest divorce rates in the Western world…\”

Today getting a divorce is a fairly straight forward matter through the provincial courts, though if you\’ve gone through one you may not think so. Up until the late 1960s though, the ability to obtain a divorce was extremely difficult. As a result, you may come across in your tree couples that just stop living together. In some cases they go on to have new families. I have one such example in my own family history.

Before 1968, your ancestor may have only been able to obtain a divorce through a Private Act of the Parliament of Canada. There are some exceptions, which I\’ll explain later on in the post. According to the Parliament of Canada\’s website,

\”..A private bill could only be introduced by a Senator or a Member who is not a member of Cabinet…\”
This was expensive and lengthy. First the petitioner would have to first put a \”notice of intent\” to petition the government for an Act of Divorce in the Canada Gazette. They also had to put notices in two newspapers local to where they live. This notice had to run for six months.
Then they would petition the government. The petition would have to include the following information:
  • names of the husband and wife
  • place of residence
  • date and place of marriage
  • details of the marriage breakdown
  • if the reason for divorce was adultery or bigamy, then you might find the name of the third person in the love triangle  

If the petition was allowed, then the Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce and nullify the marriage. A transcript of the Act of Divorce would be published in that year\’s publication of Statutes. The publication changed names several times from 1841- 1868:

  • 1841-1866 Statutes of the Province of Canada and Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada 
  • 1867-1872 Statutes of Canada
  • 1873-1951 Acts of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada (Statutes of Canada)
  • 1952-1963 Acts of the Parliament of Canada (Statutes of Canada)
  • 1963-1968 Journals of the Senate of Canada

As with most other research avenues when searching Canadian records, each province is different. For divorce, the two main questions are WHEN and WHERE.

Newfoundland
1949-1968: Required an Act of Divorce
1969 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Prince Edward Island
1867-1946: Required an Act of Divorce
1947 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

New Brunswick
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Nova Scotia
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Quebec
1867-1968: Required an Act of Divorce
1969 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Ontario
1867-1930: Required an Act of Divorce
1931 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Manitoba
1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Saskatchewan
1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Alberta
1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

British Columbia
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Searching for Acts of Divorce
So, if you\’re looking for a divorce requiring an Act of Divorce, you should look at newspapers, the Canada Gazette, and either the Statutes of Canada, or  Journals of the Senate of Canada. For newspapers, your ancestor needed to publish in two newspapers in the County or District they resided. If the area only had one newspaper, then check adjoining counties and districts for a notice to fill the required second newspaper.

Source: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/canada-gazette/093/001060-119.01-e.php?image_id_nbr=6005&document_id_nbr=2015&f=g&PHPSESSID=8i2g20bsfvmevairlhl5rhkci5

The Canada Gazette is commonly referred to as \”the official newspaper of the Canadian Government\”. It\’s a fascinating read all by itself. I may have to devote a whole blog post to this in the future. It contains public notices of every shape and variety. It was published only in print from 1941 to 1998. From 1998 to 2014 there was both a print and online version. From 2014 on wards it is only available digitally. For divorces pre 1968 you\’ll want to go to Collections Canada\’s issues from 1841 to 1998. They have a searchable database. I typed \”divorce McDonald\’ in the keyword search and there are 407 results. The earliest was in 1843. Now keep in mind though that the search will look for your search terms on a whole page, not just a specific notice. For instance, one of my page results had a notice for a petition to divorce, but the name \”McDonald\” had to do with a completely different notice on the same page that had nothing to do with divorce.

Now, if the Act of Divorce was granted, you\’ll next want to look for a transcript of the Act in the yearly Statutes publications. Thankfully Library and Archives Canada has a searchable index here. I typed in McDonald and got 10 hits. The index gives the following information:

  • Name of Petitioner
  • Name of Spouse
  • Which publication it\’s in
  • The year published
  • The reference number, or Act number
With this information, you can then get a copy of the Act. Check your local library to see if they have copies in their holdings. The link above to Library and Archives Canada\’s database also has links to help you find which libraries has copies of the publications. Internet Archive, my new best friend, also has digitized copies here. If you are unable to find it online or in your local library, you can apply to Library and Archives Canada for a copy. Information on reproduction requests can be found here.

Next post we\’ll take a look at sources from 1968 and later.

2 thoughts on “D-I-V-O-R-C-E Part 1 – Before 1968

  1. In 1911 my grandfather established residency in Detroit and after one year could file for divorce and remarry there. I remember when the law changed in the 60's and made it TOO easy (and relatively cheap)to get a divorce. Many people getting married went in with the idea that \”if it doesn't work out, we'll just get a divorce\” !!Those who said that, did.

    Like

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