From 1840 to 1968, divorces in Canada were granted by private acts of the Parliament of Canada. Before 1867, only five divorce acts were passed and published either in the Statutes of the Province of Canada or in the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. The first divorce that occurred in Canada was between John Stuart and Elizabeth Van Reneselaer Powell in 1841.
From 1867 to 1968, a person wishing to obtain a divorce was first required to place a notice of intent to petition the government for an Act of Divorce in the Canada Gazette and in two newspapers in the district or county where the petitioner resided. It was to appear for a six-month period.
The petition would contain details such as the date and place of the marriage and events surrounding the demise of the marriage. In the case of adultery or bigamy, a co-respondent was often named. If, after consideration, the petition was allowed, Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce nullifying the marriage. Between 1867 and 1963, a transcript of the Act was published in the Statutes of Canada for the current year. Then, between 1964 and 1968, the transcript was published in the Journals of the Senate of Canada.
The transcripts include information from the petition:
Library and Archives Canada holds copies of official publications of the Government of Canada in which the divorce acts were published.
Our Divorce in Canada (1841-1968) database includes references to divorce acts published in:
Research in Published Sources
Many libraries in Canada hold copies of these official publications. Use the AMICUS database to find references for these official publications and locations of libraries which hold copies of that publication as explained in the Online Help of the Divorce in Canada database.
Research in Other Institutions
For divorces granted by the Parliament of Canada or the Senate of Canada for the years 1867 to 1968, you can obtain a certified copy of a divorce act for legal purposes from the Senate of Canada. Write to:
Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel
40 Elgin Street
People who need information about where to obtain copies of their own divorce cases, from 1968 to the present, can contact the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings 613-957-4519. Please note that privacy legislation prevents the release of information to persons other that the two parties involved.
Research in Provincial Sources
Divorce records can also be found in Provincial archives or in provincial courts. Access restrictions apply for recent divorce records according to provincial privacy acts.
The Provincial Archives holds divorce records from ca. 1918 to ca. 1975 for several judicial districts from around the Province. Indices are available for most of the records. Files less than about 30 years old will still be in the custody of the Court. To locate a particular file, it is necessary to know where in Alberta someone was divorced.
Court Locations and Addresses [www.justice.gov.ab.ca/courts/default.aspx?id=1262]
The first divorce in British Columbia was granted in 1877. Divorce records up to 1990 for the larger Supreme Court registries are in the custody of the British Columbia Archives. Divorce records not held by the British Columbia Archives are in the custody of the individual Supreme Court Registries [www.courts.gov.bc.ca/supreme_court/court_locations_and_contacts.aspx].
From 1935 to 1985 the Division of Vital Statistics collected final divorce orders. Those from 1935 to 1983 are available on microfilm at the British Columbia Archives as well as an index to these orders. The index also includes references to divorces from 1901 to 1935, providing date and court location. A guide to these records is available. [www.bcarchives.bc.ca/BC_Research_Guide/BC_Divorce_Rcrd.aspx].
Orders Issued in Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, 1877-1931 [www.rootsweb.com/~canbc/vic_divorce/vic_div.htm?o_xid=0039580444&o_lid =0039580444&o_xt=41383748] Online index for the district of Victoria
The Archives of Manitoba [www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/genealogy/gen_text/ court_rec_div.html] holds divorce records up to 1978 for the districts of Brandon, Portage and Winnipeg. Other files are still in the custody of regional courts.
Manitoba Courts [www.manitobacourts.mb.ca/]
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick holds divorces records from 1796 to 1987. An index by name is available for 1847 to 1979. Later divorce records are in the custody of the Justice and Attorney General department [http://app.infoaa.7700.gnb.ca/gnb/pub/DetailOrgEng1.asp?OrgID1=2104 &DeptID1=45].
Divorce records are in the custody of the different offices of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (Trial Division) [www.justice.gov.nl.ca/just/LAWCOURT/trial.htm].
Divorce records created after July 1968 are in the custody of the:
Northwest Territories Courts
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management holds divorce records from 1759 to 1960. Consult the online database Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes case files, 1759-1960 [www.gov.ns.ca/nsarm/virtual/rg39/divorce/] to find references to divorce records.
Later divorce records are in the custody of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
Courts of Nova Scotia [www.courts.ns.ca/]
Divorce records from 1968 to 1999 are in the custody of the:
Northwest Territories Courts
Inquiries for later divorce records should be addressed to Nunavut Archives.
The Archives of Ontario holds divorce files from 1931 to 1978. Records from 1979 to the present are in the custody of the local courthouse of the Superior Court of Justice where the divorce was filed. Consult Research Guide 210: Finding Divorce Files in Ontario [www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/guides/rg_210_divorce-ontario.aspx] for more information.
A Court of Divorce was established in 1835. The Public Archives and Records Office holds records from 1835 to 1976. Later records and finding aids fro the complete series are held at Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts [www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=16623&PHPSESSID= f7510e2d8d36170d0173a305ffce3c05]
Before 1968, the Quebec civil code made no provision for divorce. Divorce could be obtained only from a private act of the Parliament of the Government of Canada.
However, legal separations between spouses were made by notaries and are accessible through the same process as Notarial Records.
Starting in 1867, a judgement in Separation from bed and board could be obtained from the Cour supérieure du Québec. A notice of action was published in the Gazette officielle du Québec. This notice includes:
Divorce records created after 1968 are in the custody of the greffe des divorces in each district of the Cour supérieure du Québec.
Addresses of Courthouses and Judicial Service Centres [www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/francais/joindre/palais/palais.htm]
Divorce records from 1920 to 1950 have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. Use their online catalogue to identify microfilm reel numbers. Later divorce records are in the custody of the Court of Queen's Bench.
Courts of Saskatchewan [www.saskjustice.gov.sk.ca/courts/default.shtml]
Yukon Archives holds divorce records prior to 1950. Consult the Inventory to the Records of the Yukon Government, YRG1, Series 11, Territorial Court Records, 1897-1950 held at the Yukon Archives [www.btc.gov.yk.ca/archives/findingaids/YRG_1_Series_11.pdf]. Later records are still in the custody of the Court Services [www.justice.gov.yk.ca/prog/cs/index.html].
An Introduction To Canadian Parliamentary Divorces, 1826-1946 [www.afhs.ab.ca/data/divorces/index.html]