GUIDE TO ONLINE TORONTO HISTORICAL NEWSPAPER RESOURCES
Let’s say you’re a historical writer/researcher. You have some Toronto-related projects on the go, or are taking your enforced stay at home as an opportunity to work on those ideas you’ve had on the backburner. You determine you’re going to need to do some newspaper research for your project.
In many cases, this isn’t a problem.
The shutdown of physical research sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic stirred an idea that had floated in my brain for awhile: creating guides for Toronto-centric historical resources. This one will show you where you can (or can't) find old Toronto papers online. If there's anything missing in the following list, send a message and I’ll add it.
TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY
If you have a TPL account, you have full access to the following newspaper archives:
Globe and Mail
Covers the Globe (1844-1936) and the Globe and Mail (1936-2015).
Covers the paper from 1894 to 2016. Note that the early issues (1892-1893) are missing.
To access these, go to “A to Z List of Databases” page.
Tip: If you’re in either of these databases and want results from both of them at the same time, click on “ProQuest” in the top left corner, then conduct your search. This will also provide one-stop-shop access to the rest of the ProQuest databases the TPL offers, which opens up stories from the National Post, some Metroland community papers (from the late 1990s on), post-2015 G&M and Star stories, magazines, academic journals, and so on.
The TPL also has digitized copies of the British Colonist between 1838 and 1846. Using the normal library search function, type in “British Colonist,” the month and the year you are looking for.
A short-lived project to digitize papers. There’s useful material here, but it’s a pain to work with. You can’t directly download pages as files (leading to workarounds such as screen captures), the papers are poorly organized and full of gaps, and the search function is useless. Toronto-based papers available on here include:
British Colonist (1843-1854)
WARNING: from 1848 on issues are mixed in with a Halifax paper of the same name.
Colonial Advocate (1824-1834)
Financial Post (1907-1986)
Scattered missing issues. If you're willing to pay, see the entry below for Newspapers.com and save some brain cells.
The Irish Canadian (1863-1866, 1868-1875, 1877-1890, 1892)
Mail and Empire (1895-1900)
Listed under “Daily Mail and Empire.” Large gaps within this time period.
Mackenzie’s Weekly Message (1852-1853)
Toronto Daily Mail (1881-1885, 1887-1895)
Large gaps within these two time periods.
Toronto World (1885-1886, 1890, 1911-1921)
Large gaps. Some of the missing weekday issues between 1911 and 1915 are filed under the Toronto Sunday World. The uploaders were not paying close attention. Use Canadiana instead.
ONTARIO COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS PORTAL
Hosted by OurDigitalWorld, lots of material covering the GTA. While some communities on the portal only have indexes, the following have pages you can view and download:
Clarington (including Bowmanville and Orono)
Halton Hills (including Acton and Georgetown)
The site also links to Italian-Canadian newspapers, primarily published in the 1930s, that have been uploaded by York University.
As for what’s coming in the future, OurDigitalWorld’s March 2021 newsletter reported that work is progressing on adding papers from Port Perry and Scugog.
Canadiana (part of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network) has a growing selection of Ontario newspapers. Current holdings include:
Toronto Patriot (1843-1848)
Issues lumped into three files.
Weekly Mail (1873-1880)
The weekly edition of the Toronto Daily Mail.
The Varsity (1880-1912)
Individually posted issues of U of T’s main newspaper.
Toronto World (1881-1921)
The majority of issues are now available. Missing issues are from the paper’s first year of existence, as are most editions of the Sunday World (though some have been uploaded).
The Public Collections section of the site includes a variety of community papers published in present-day Mississauga between 1927 and 1980, including the following:
Mississauga News (1965-70)
Mississauga Times (1969-80)
Port Credit News (1927-37)
Port Credit Weekly/The Weekly/South Peel Weekly (1938-69)
The Student Voice section of the site includes the following post-secondary papers:
Excalibur (York University) (1966-1992)
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY
SFU has digitized numerous ethnic papers across the country, including the following Toronto-based titles:
Canadian India Times
Canadian Jewish News
Canadian Jewish Review
Hung Chung She Po
Modern Times Weekly
Shing Wah Daily News
Zhyttia I Slovo
The main draw here is The Varsity, covering all issues from 1880 to 2010 (files are collected by academic year). Other U of T papers uploaded include an assortment of Erindale campus papers and some issues of Toike Oike. U of T has a full list of its digitized archival publications, which also includes alumni magazines, course calendars, and yearbooks.
The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has uploaded a selection of editions of the Toronto Sunday World published between 1912 and 1920. More on their collection here.
Saturday Night magazine began as a weekly Toronto-based newspaper, and issues published between its launch in 1887 and 1911, as well as a handful from 1945 and 1946, are available. It appears excellent microfilm copies were used – almost every microfilm I’ve used from this era transforms images and large headlines into black blobs.
PAMA (Peel Art Gallery, Museum, and Archives) has started uploading editions of the Malton Pilot community paper from the 1970s.
There are pieces of random issues of Star Weekly (primarily the photo sections and literary excerpts), but none of the excerpts give a full picture of what a complete edition looked like.
While the resources listed above will cover many of your needs, there are plenty of papers that haven’t been digitized yet. Here are several key publications that are missing in action:
The Leader (1852-1878)
For a time the city’s leading conservative rival of the Globe, until it fell out of favour with the Tories, which led to the creation of the Mail. Left a physical legacy in Leader Lane, a small street near St. Lawrence Market.
The Telegraph (1866-1872)
John Ross Robertson’s first daily, which gained attention across North America for its coverage of the Red River Rebellion in 1869-1870. Increasing disagreements with the Tories, combined with the establishment of the Mail, led to the paper’s demise. Robertson would launch the Telegram four years later. Canadiana has posted a pamphlet of letters to the paper regarding the transcontinental railway.
The Mail/Mail and Empire (1872-1936)
One of the city’s first papers to make use of columnists, including pioneering female journalist Kit Coleman. There were periods where it was an exciting paper to read, other times the dullest waste of newsprint imaginable. Also interesting to see its evolution during the 1880s from a near-official Conservative party organ into a paper with an independent mind, before returning to the Tory fold. Canadiana has posted some materials related to the paper, including a promotional pamphlet from the late 1890s and an early 20th century guide to the value of its want ads.
The Telegram (1876-1971)
While portions of the paper’s photo archive have been digitized by York University, no issues are currently available (I was once told by somebody at York the cost to do so would be prohibitive, given it was published for nearly a century). Given the paper’s strong influence, for better or worse, on City Hall politics, its long circulation and philosophical war with the Star, and overall excellence during the late 1960s (the “After Four” section is fantastic for tracking the city’s youth culture), its lack of availability is unfortunate.
The Toronto Sunday World (1880-1924)
The haphazard selection on Google News gives a good hint of the perennially underfunded World, whose “Sunday” edition (actually published late Saturday night) is a great early 20th century weekend paper. The paper’s final period (1921-1924), when it was published by the Mail and Empire, is difficult to find even on microfilm.
The News (1881-1919)
The News had several personality shifts over its existence, and, thanks to a labour action, spawned the Star. When it was good, it was really good, especially under E.E. Sheppard in the 1880s and John Willison in the early 1900s. Canadiana has posted a promotional pamphlet for the paper from the Willison era, circa 1904-1905.
The Empire (1887-1895)
While many newspapers in the late Victorian era had close ties to major political parties, it was rare for one to be owned outright by a party. The Empire was an exception, launched by the Conservatives when the Mail developed an independent streak. Despite obvious signs of political hackery, the Empire did produce some decent investigative reporting.
Star Weekly (1910-1968)
A weekend spin-off of the Toronto Star, which evolved from a weekly compilation of stories into a magazine-style publication full of features, fiction, and colour comics. Merged with Southam’s The Canadian weekend supplement in 1968, resulting in the name gradually being phased out. While The Canadian and its successors can be found intermittently in the online Star archives (as well as the online archives of other Southam-owned papers), the Star Weekly isn’t included.
Harbinger (1968-1970) and Guerilla (1970-1973)
Toronto’s main contributions to the underground press scene of the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The Sun (1971-)
For all its self-mythologizing, the Sun has not been kind to its online archives, nor has any digitization appear to have taken place. Some people might count this as a blessing, but it is a valuable record of editorial opinion.
Eye/The Grid (1991-2014)
Stories are available here and there if you know where to look in the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, but the removal of its archive was a lousy move on Torstar’s part, making plenty of valuable coverage of Toronto’s cultural and political scene vanish.