Old tourist guides can help us learn about our ancestors

To learn more about our ancestors and gain a better understanding of how they lived, we often need to think outside the box of traditional resources. One set of unusual genealogy resources are tourist guides, almanacs, and street guides. If you plan to write your family history, these books can be a goldmine.

Trolley Trips in and about Montreal, c1915, P98,S01,D054, Archives de Montréal.

Trolley Trips in and about Montreal, c1915, P98,S01,D054, Archives de Montréal.

In Visiter Montréal au passé, Anick Forest Bonin of the Montreal Archives writes about several types of guides, published between 1852 and 1948, that are part of the Archives’ collection and available online. These publications include tourist guides, almanacs, street guides, souvenir books, and pamphlets. Most provide us with a portrait of Montreal, and some include information about Quebec City and other cities in the province.

One such guide is The Stranger’s Guide to the Cities of Montreal and Quebec, published in 1852, which just so happens to be only three years before my Scottish ancestors arrived in Montreal. The guide paints a picture of what the city was like during that period. It describes each of the city’s ten parishes, the churches and the number of people they could seat, public buildings, major hotels, transportation providers, and associations and societies. The statistics tell us how many houses were in the city, the number of families, and the number of French Canadians and British Canadians.

Visit the Montreal Archives website to see the entire online collection of tourist guides, street guides, and almanacs.

Tip: Do not be daunted by Montreal Archives’ website if your French is weak. While sipping your café au lait, you will quickly figure out the English equivalent of the four series listed in the left-hand margin: Guides touristiques (Tourist Guides), Guides des rues de Montréal (Montreal Street Guides), Almanachs, and Albums souvenirs de Montréal (Montreal Souvenir Albums). Click on these links and see the additional links to the publications that appear in the left-hand margin. (If you do not understand French, do not worry about reading the text in the centre of the screen.) You will soon discover that many of the publications are available in English.

A good example of a 20th-century tourist guide is Montreal’s Guest Book that was published in 1937.

In the Albums souvenirs de Montréal section, I discovered the early 20th-century book, Winter in Canada.

Tip: After you click on one of the main categories, such as Guides touristiques, six titles will appear underneath. To see more publications in this category, click on the small gray rectangle with “…” on it.

Winter in Canada, c1905, P098,4,D001, Archives de Montréal.

Winter in Canada, c1905, P098,4,D001, Archives de Montréal.


About Gail Dever

Gail Dever is a Montreal-based genealogist and blogger and a webmaster for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
This entry was posted in Montreal, Quebec and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Old tourist guides can help us learn about our ancestors

  1. kanadario says:

    Reblogged this on Ours To Discover and commented:
    Sure it’s not about Ontario, which is the focus of my blog. But this post highlights something I love about this whole region of North America – quite a rich cultural history! These fascinating artifacts and fantastic old buildings add to the diversity of our wonderful region. Not to mention the French language, which is unique to Quebec and found everywhere in Ontario, and is the result of our distinct history here.

  2. Jana Last says:


    I want to let you know that two of your blog posts are listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/06/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-june-6-2014.html

    Have a great weekend!

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