Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Empress of Ireland: "Canada's Titanic"

I recently came across the author Steve Robinson. He writes a series of books that are "genealogical murder mysteries". I have to tell you, I have tore through the first four of his books in less than two months. There are five total, with a new one coming out in May. His fourth book, The Lost Empress, centers around whether a passenger who was believed to have died in the sinking of the HMS Empress of Ireland actually survived. Though I had heard of the name of the ship in passing, I did not know any of the actual details. After reading his book, I just had to find out more.


The sinking of the HMS Empress of Ireland on 29 May 1914 was one of Canada's worst maritime disasters. Over 1,000 people died when the ship sank in the St.Lawrence River. It took less than 15 minutes for the ship to sink. Sandwiched between the sinking of the HMS Titanic two years earlier and the infamous sinking of the HMS Lusitania in 1915, most people have never heard of it.

The ship was owned by Canadian Pacific Steamships, and was a major part of the immigration of Canada. Launched in 1906, she made  95 trips back and forth between Liverpool and Quebec City. Estimates go from 1 in 35 to 1 in 60 Canadians that can trace their immigrant ancestor to the ship. In total, around 120,00 Europeans made the trip to Canada on her. In my researching of family lines, I found my in-laws' ancestors had sailed on her sister ship the HMS Empress of Britain. Built in Scotland, the Empress of Ireland could carry 1542 passengers and 373 crew.

It was on the 96th voyage on a foggy night in May 1914 that she sank. On the way to Liverpool, the Empress was going out to sea down the Saint Lawrence River. Coming the opposite direction was the Norwegian collier Storstad. Both ships had seen each other before the fog settled in, but soon they were relying on whistle blasts to find each other's location. It's unsure who and where the errors in navigation were, but the Norwegian ship drove directly into the side of the Empress. Of the 1,477 on board, only 465 people survived. Sadly, only 4 of  the 138 children aboard ship were among the survivors. Also among the passengers were 170 members of the Salvation Army, on their way to a rally in England. The organization lost 141 of the 170.

Unlike the Titanic, the Empress of Ireland only sits 130 feet under water. Because of the extreme cold of the water, it is remarkably well preserved. It lies just off the coast of Rimouski, Quebec. However, strong currents makes this a dive site for only experienced divers. Around half a dozen people have lost their lives diving the wreck. Because of the damage done by wreck scavengers, both the government of  Quebec and the federal government have declared it a historic site to prevent further damage.

In 2014 Canada Post released two stamps to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking. There are several memorials in Quebec to it. The Salvation erected it's own memorial in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, as a tribute to its lost members. The Royal Canadian Mint also issued a commemorative coin.

You can find out more about the HMS Empress of Ireland and her final resting place at the following sites:


National Film Board

Historica Canada

Globe and Mail


Pier 21

If you're interested in Steve Robinson and his books his website is here.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Vital Statistics Part 6 - Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut

In the first 5 parts, we've traveled across the Provinces from the Maritimes to British Columbia. In the final installment of the series, we're going to look at the Canadian Territories.


Yukon was originally part of the Northwest Territories. The first non native person to reach the Yukon was Sir John Franklin in 1825. Though the Hudson's Bay Company kept contacts in the area, we didn't really see a boom in population until the 1890's during the Gold Rush. Some civil registration records go back to this time period, but they are very scarce. Records did not become more complete until the 1930s and 1940s. All records are held by Yukon Health and Social Services. Fees for documents are only $10.00, which is nice to see. These are their guidelines on access:

Birth Certificates:

  • The person named on the certificate
  • The recorded parents
  • Written authorization of one of the above
  • Guardian of the person named (proof required)
  • Executor of the Estate ( copy of death certificate required)
Marriage Certificates:
  • Either party of the marriage
  • Written authorization of one of the above
Death Certificates:
  • You must show valid reason for obtaining the certificate

This series of articles is about civil registration. However, from the initial research that I've done so far, someone researching here is definitely going to have to think "outside the box". The records are just too new and incomplete to go about it the same way as you would for other areas of Canada. So I'm including links to the Yukon Genealogy website and their PDF download "Genealogical Research at the Yukon Archives". If you have an ancestor that was in the Yukon, you'll need these links.

The FamilySearch wiki on Yukon civil registration is here

Ancestry has a very small Yukon BMD collection here

Cyndi's List has BMD links for all three Territories together here


Northwest Territories
This area has been a part of Canada since 1870. Before this it was owned by the Hudson's Bay Company and the British Government. At various points it has included parts or all of the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario, and Quebec. Vital Statistics go back to 1925, but as with Yukon they are incomplete. All records are kept by Health and Social Services. Fees are $20.00. Here are the guidelines for access:

Birth Certificates:

  • Person named on the certificate
  • Recorded parents
  • Written authorization of one of the above
  • Legal representative of the child or parents
  • Child or grandchild of the person named
  • A person who needs it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee who needs it in the official duties
Marriage certificates:
  • Either party of the marriage
  • Legal representative of either party
  • Parents or guardian if the party was under 18 at the time of marriage
  • Children of the marriage, for legal purposes
  • Written authorization of either party
  • A person who needs it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee who needs it in the official duties
Death certificates:
  • Member of the immediate family or next of kin
  • A person who needs it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee who needs it in the official duties

The Northwest Territories looks to be another area where you will have to be creative for BMDs. I looked, but there does not seem to be any genealogy information or links on any of the government websites. I would suggest looking at for helpful links.

The FamilySearch wiki on civil registration of the NWT is here.

Ancestry has no collection unique to the Northwest Territories. However, they suggest you look at the broader collections that are here.

Cyndi's List's Territorial collection of BMD links is in the above Yukon collection.


Our newest area of Canada, Nunavut came into existence in 1999. For records before then, researchers will have to look at the Northwest Territories. Nunavut records are held by Registrar General. I went onto the Government of Nunavut website. It is very difficult to navigate. It was only by typing in "Birth Certificates" in the search box was I able to find out information. Here's the guidelines:

Birth Certificates (fee is $10.00):

  • Person named on the certificate
  • The recorded parents
  • Written authorization of one of the above
  • Legal representative of the person named
  • Spouse of the named person
  • A person requiring it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee needing it in their official duties
Marriage certificates (fee is $25.00):
  • Either party of the marriage
  • Legal representative of either party
  • Parent or guardian of either party if they were under 18 at the time of marriage
  • Children of the marriage if needed for legal purposes
  • Written authorization of either party
  • A person needing it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee requiring it in the official duties
Death Certificates (fee is $10.00):
  • Immediate family or next of kin
  • A person needing it for legal purposes
  • An officer of the Crown or government employee needing it in their official duties
A search using the word "genealogy" had no results. Like the NWT, I would look at for helpful links.

There is no wiki on Nunavut on FamilySearch.

As with the Northwest Territories, there are no unique Nunavut collections on Ancestry. They suggest using the collections listed here

The Cyndi's List links on civil registration in the Territories is in the Yukon section.

As this series of posts has shown, navigating Canadian records depends a great deal on provincial legislation. Some areas are more "genealogist friendly" than others. Happy searching!

Friday, 17 February 2017

This Week in History 12-18 February 2017 - Mr. Dressup Premieres


American kids had Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. In Canada, we had Ernie Coombs aka Mr. Dressup. The show premiered 13 February 1967, and was one of the longest running children's shows in Canada. Every weekday morning he would lead his preschool viewers through songs, stories and games. He was aided by puppets Casey and Finnegan the dog, who lived in a tree house in Mr. Dressup's back yard.

Another mainstay of Mr.Dressup's show was the tickle trunk, where he would get his costumes to act out skits. Sometimes the costume would need an accessory like a hat for his costume. Then he would lead his audience in making a craft.

Casey was voiced by puppeteer Judith Lawrence, who retired in 1989. They gradually lessened the appearance of Casey and Finnegan before her official retirement. They then announced that Casey and Finnegan were no longer there because they had started kindergarten. New characters were introduced. Among them were Chester the Crow, Granny and Annie.

The last new episode aired in 1996. Ernie Coombs then spent a few years taking Mr.Dressup on the road to various towns. By this time he had become an icon for a few generations of Canadian children, as well as northern American children who could get CBC's signal. I remember taking my daughter to his show when he came to our town. I have to admit I enjoyed it as much as she did, getting to relive a part of my own early childhood.

The show was broadcast daily in reruns for another 10 years, when CBC moved it to Sunday mornings for another few months. The final airing was in September 2006.

Sadly Ernie died of on a stroke in Toronto 18 September 2001.

Casey and Finnegan's tree house can be seen just outside the CBC Museum in Toronto. Inside the museum is Mr.Dressup's tickle trunk.

On November 26 2012, the Canadian honored Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan with a Google Doodle to honor what would have been Ernie Coomb's 85th birthday.

You can look at CBC's digital archives on Mr.Dressup here

Amazingly enough, you can see episodes of Mr. Dressup on YouTube, if you're feeling nostalgic.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Vital Statistics Part 5 - Alberta and British Columbia

In the next to last installment of the series, we're looking at Alberta and British Columbia.


Alberta became a province in 1905. However, there are some civil registration records that go back to 1898, when it was still considered part of the Northwest Territories. Older record are in the custody of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. they hold live births older than 120 years old, still births over 75 years, marriages over 75 years, and deaths over 50 years.

One of the great things about the PAA's website is that clicking on the "How to" link for genealogy, it will explain in detail what they have and where to find it. Unlike other sites I've examined, they also have a PDF download on various indexes right on their website. I clicked on the first link "Marriage Registrations 1898-1902 (GR1983.0236)", and on the index it gives the following information:

  • PAA no.
  • Name of the couple
  • Collection it comes from
  • Year of marriage
  • Access code
  • Use conditions
  • Container number
  • Remarks
  • Description on the status of the record
Copies of the record are $10.50. You will not get a photocopy. You will get a typed transcript instead. Also take note that you do not get same day service by going to the Archives in person. All requests can take up to 10 days.

If you are looking for records more recent than the above guidelines, then you need to go through Service Alberta. Here are their requirements to access:

Birth Certificates:
  • Yourself (if over 14 years old), or the parent of the person on the document
  • Guardian, trustee or legal representative (proof required)
  • Person with a court order (proof required)
  • If the person is deceased, only adult next of kin or legal representatives of the deceased's estate can apply. A death certificate, proof of relationship, and/or proof of representation must be supplied. Next of kin is defined as parent, sibling, child, spouse, or "adult interdependent partner". If there are none of the above eligible, then an adult relative may apply. 
Marriage Certificates:
  • Either party of the marriage
  • Guardian, trustee, or legal representative (proof required)
  • A person with a court order (proof required)
  • If deceased, the adult next of kin or legal representatives can apply. Next of kin qualification is the same as with birth certificates, as is the requirement of proof. If there is no eligible next of kin, then an adult relative can apply.
Death Certificates
  • Adult next of kin. Same requirements apply as for birth and marriage certificates. As well, if there are no eligible next of kin, then an adult relative may apply.
  • Legal representative of the estate (proof required)
  • Guardian of the deceased (proof required)
  • A person with a court order (proof required)
  • A person who had joint tenancy with the deceased (proof required)
  • Funeral home representative
There are no eligibility requirements for a search. They will tell you if a record was found, but they will not provide you with any other information.

The FamilySearch wiki on BMD's is here

You can access Ancestry's BMD collection here

Cyndi's List of links for Alberta Vital Statistics is here

UPDATE March 1, 2017: See Shannon Switzer Cherkowski's tip on the Provincial Archives of Alberta below in the comments section. By getting photocopies from them, you can save yourself some money on fees.

UPDATE March 22, 2017: The Provincial Archives of Alberta now has indexes online for vital statistics. You will not see the actual record, or a transcription. What you will get is name, location and registration number and year . Use this information when you submit a request to the Archives. Note that the same restrictions apply for access as before. The indexes can also be downloaded to your computer.

Births 1870-1879:
The indexes are organized alphabetically by surname.

Marriages 1870-1942
There are three indexes. The first is by Bride's name, the second is by Groom's name, and the third is Indigenous Marriages. Each index is then further broken down alphabetically by surname.

Deaths 1870-1967
There are four sets of indexes for deaths. The first two are Deaths 1877-1950, and Deaths 1925-1966. They are both further broken down alphabetically by surname. The third is Indigenous Deaths. 
It is broken down alphabetically, but there is also a sub index labelled "Inuit". The last set is called Overseas Deaths.  

British Columbia
British Columbia became a province in 1871. Civil Registration officially began in 1872. Some records are from earlier than that but not all records have survived. Older records are at British Columbia Archives. They have births 1854-1903, marriages in two databases that together go from 1859-1940, and deaths from 1872-1995. I searched under their genealogy database for the last name BOUTILIER. One of my distant Nova Scotia Boutilier relatives came up under marriages. By clicking on the link, I was able to see the digital image of his marriage registration. I could then save it to my computer by right clicking on the image. I did notice however that not all results had digital images attached. 

Record requests go through the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency. After some navigating of the site I was able to find out how to get certificates for genealogical purposes. The fee is $50.00. They will do a search, and if there is a record then you will get a copy. If there is no record, then the $50.00 is considered a search fee.

Here are their access requirements:

Birth Certificates:
  • Person named or parents named on the certificate
  • Guardian (proof required)
  • Person with written consent of any of the above.
  • If the person is deceased for less than 20 years, then a relative may apply (proof of relationship required).
  • If the person has been deceased more than 20 years, and if the record is more than 120 years old, then anyone may apply. You will need to provide proof of death if the record is less than 120 years old.
Marriage Certificates:
  • Persons named on the certificate
  • Written authorization from either marriage party
  • If one of the parties is deceased, then a relative may apply. You will have to show both proof of death and proof of relationship.
  • If BOTH parties are deceased more than 20 years then anyone can apply as long as they show proof of death.
  • If they record was created more than 75 years ago then anyone can apply.
Death Certificates:
  • A relative of the deceased. Proof of relationship is required.
  • Written consent of the above
  • If the death is more than 20 years old, then anyone may apply.
In all three types the definition of relative is parent, child, sibling, spouse, grandparent or grandchild. 

Family Search wiki on BMDs is here

Ancestry's BC BMD page is here

Cyndi's List collection of BC links is here

Part 6 will be the last post of the series. In it we'll take a look at Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Vital Statistics Part 4 - Manitoba and Saskatchwan

Well, we've made it through the Maritimes, Ontario, and Quebec. Now we're going to start across the Prairies and look at Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


Although Manitoba became a province in 1870, civil registration did not begin until 1882. However, compliance was an issue until around 1920. Therefore the records before 1920 are sporadic.

Unlike the other provinces we've looked at so far, all records are held at the Vital Statistics Agency. They do not transfer older records to the Provincial Archives.

If you click on the website's "genealogy" link, it says that certain records are not restricted. They are;
  • Births 100 years or older
  • Marriages 80 years or older
  • Deaths 70 years or older
Search and document fees are $30.00. 

All other records are restricted. These records have the following criteria for access:

Birth certificates:

  • Person named on the certificate
  • Parents named on the certificate, or the child's legal guardian (proof of guardianship required)
  • Representative of one of the above (written proof must accompany the application)
Marriage certificates:
  • Either party of the marriage
  • Parents or children of the parties if both are deceased
  • Representative of one of the above (written proof must accompany the request)
Death certificates:

Anyone with a valid reason can get a death certificate. Only next of kin of the deceased can get a copy of a death registration.

The FamilySearch Wiki link for Manitoba is here

Ancestry's BMD collection for Manitoba is here

Cyndi's List's Manitoba BMD links are here

Even though Saskatchewan didn't become a province until 1905, there are records of civil registration that go back as far as 1878. Like Manitoba though, they were not strictly enforced until around 1920.
Again like Manitoba, there are no BMDs transferred to Provincial Archives. All records are kept at Vital Statistics eHealth Saskatchewan.

Under the "genealogy" tab, it states that you can access their Genealogy Index for:
  • Births more than 100 years old
  • Marriages more than 75 years old
  • Deaths more than 70 years old
Take note: This is a new work in progress from the looks of things. Births are indexed. Deaths are available up to 1916. Marriages are NOT available yet.

Once you have located the record in the index, you can then order a genealogical copy for $50.00. It will be stamped on it "for genealogical purposes only". I don't have any Saskatchewan ancestors that I know of, but I put in "John McDonald". He's my biggest brick wall ancestor. I know he wasn't born in Saskatchewan. Trust me though, that has got to be one of the most common names in early Canada, so I knew I would get lots of hits. I got 17 results in births, and 23 in deaths.

Now, Saskatchewan seems to have much stricter policies than other provinces to access to copies of records. These guidelines apply no matter if the record falls into the time frames above or not:

Birth certificates:
  • Person named on the certificate if they are over 15 years old
  • Parents listed on the certificate if the person is under 18 years old
  • Legal guardian (proof must be submitted with application)
  • Representative of one of the above (proof must be submitted with application)
  • A person who needs it to prove Metis or Treaty Status (proof must be provided with application)
  • Court appointed Guardian or Trustee of the person named
  • Representative of Social Services of First Nations Child and Family Services acting on the person's behalf
  • A Saskatchewan court order or subpoena (copy of order must be submitted)
  • A spouse ONLY if the person is deceased
Marriage certificates:
  • Either party of the marriage
  • An adult child of the marriage
  • A representative of any of the above (written authorization required)
  • Legal custodian of one of the above (proof required)
  • A person needing to prove Metis or Treaty Status (proof required)
  • Representative of one of the parties' estate (proof required)
  • Saskatchewan court order or subpoena (copy of order must be submitted)
Death certificates;
  • Spouse if married at time of death. I assume this means the divorced spouse cannot apply.
  • The parent named on the registered birth of the deceased
  • An adult child of the deceased (18 years or older)
  • Legal custodian of one of the deceased (proof required)
  • Representative of the estate (proof required)
  • A person needing to prove Metis or Treaty Status (proof required)
  • Saskatchewan court order or subpoena (copy of order must be submitted)
  • A person who is a joint tenant and needs to prove death for land title purposes (proof of joint tenancy required)
  • Death registrations can only be given to professionals either involved in the death registration, or needing it in the course of their duties
As well, for any of the above, you will also need to submit one piece of government ID as proof of who you are. Or, you can submit two pieces of non photo ID, but one of them must have your signature. 

FamilySearch wiki on Saskatchewan BMD is here

Ancestry's Saskatchewan BMD collection is here

Cyndi's Lists's Saskatchewan civil registration links are here

In Part 5 we will look at Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Black History Month

February is Black History Month in Canada. All month long, many Provincial Archives have exhibits both on line and off line celebrating the experiences of Black Canadians.

While the Underground Railroad is probably the most well known part of Black History, there are several other events and stories to tell.

Did you know:

  • The first recorded Black person in Canada was in 1605. Mathieu Da Costa was a translator for Samuel de Champlain.
  • Ten percent of United Empire Loyalists were Black. The British offered freedom to enslaved African Americans to fight for them during the Revolutionary War
  •  We tend to turn our noses up at the Americans and their history of slavery. But Canada had slavery until 1793 in Ontario. It was completely abolished in the rest of Canada in 1833, when the Act on the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire was passed.
  • There was a unit called the Coloured Corps in the War of 1812.
  • In 1858, at the invitation of Governor James Douglas, about 800 free Black people became pioneers in British Columbia.
  • In the late 1700's between 500-600 Jamaican Maroons were deported by the British to Nova Scotia. They were later taken to Sierra Leone.  
Black History Canada is a great website devoted to the Black experience in Canada. Along with timelines and the history of immigration and settlement, they also have biographies of noteworthy Black Canadians.

To learn what's going on in your province for Black History Month, look at these websites: 

Ontario Black History Society

Government of Canada

Maroons of Nova Scotia-Canadian Encyclopedia

Nova Scotia Archives

BC Black History Awareness Society

National Black Coalition Society of Canada (Edmonton)

Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan

Manitoba Government

moishistoiredesnoirs (Quebec)