The act of voting is one of the key elements of a democracy and a fundamental right of citizens. It is the principal means by which Canadians participate in choosing their representatives and governments at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels.
The election of the first assembly of representatives took place in 1758 in Nova Scotia. It was followed by elections in Prince Edward Island in 1773, New Brunswick in 1785, Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1792.
In 1867, at the time of Confederation, nomination of candidates for the House of Commons was public, voting was open and oral and elections were held over several weeks. The Dominion Elections Act of 1874 abolished public nominations, instituted voting by secret ballot and provided for elections to be held on the same day.
Women gained the right to vote in 1918. The Dominion Elections Act of 1920 granted the responsibility for the electoral process to a Chief Electoral Officer who oversaw the conduct of federal elections, including control of the voting process, election expenses and registration of political parties. To vote in a federal election today, persons must be Canadian citizens 18 years of age or older and listed by name on the voters list. The lists bear the names and addresses of eligible voters within a particular polling station.
Before 1935, municipal voters lists were used in federal elections. Starting with the election of 1935, federal voters lists were created.
Important Note: If you are looking for someone who lived in a city, search city directories instead of voters lists because the names of individuals are listed alphabetically.
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada holds federal voters lists of the Office of the Electoral Officer for Canada (RG 113) from 1935 to 1983. The voters lists are arranged alphabetically by the name of the electoral district within each province and territory. Within the electoral districts the lists are further arranged by polling station.
How to find a voters list
- Find the name of the electoral district for the election year of interest to you:
- The annual Canadian Almanac & Directory includes an alphabetical list of places (post offices) that show electoral districts.
- The Library of Parliament Web site includes a searchable database for place names. You can search by the name of a town, township, city or county to identify the electoral district for each election year. If you do not get any results for a particular village or town, search by township or county instead. Be sure to read the text carefully, as there are places and streets with the same names.
- You can also consult the book version of this database, History of the Federal Electoral Ridings, 1867-1992, published by the Library of Parliament in seven volumes.
- For the 1972 and 1979 general elections, you can obtain the name of the electoral district by consulting the publication Guide to Electoral Districts.
- For Western Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories), Federal Voters Lists in Western Canada, 1935-1979, A Finding Aid by David Obee can help you in your research. A similar book was published for Ontario by the same author: Federal Voters Lists in Ontario, 1935-1979: A Finding Aid.
- Starting in 1966, the Chief Electoral Officer published a series of volumes called Street Index for major cities in Canada. It provides house numbers and street names by electoral district. Search in AMICUS using "street index" as a title keyword.
- Consult the following lists of microfilm reel numbers for each election.
Research in Other Institutions
Many Provincial and Territorial Archives hold voters lists for provincial elections.
Many municipal archives also hold voters lists. Use the Directory of Archives to find local archives.
Search for other voters lists in CAIN, using the keyword term "listes électorales", "voters lists" or "voting registers".
Research in Published Sources
A History of the Vote in Canada published by the Chief Electoral Officer contains detailed information about the evolution of the right to vote in Canada from 1758 to 1997.
Many voters lists have been transcribed and published. Search for books on voters lists in AMICUS using the following titles or subject keywords:
- Voters lists
- Voters List
- Voting Registers
- List of electors
The following Web sites provide additional information on the electoral system in Canada:
Use AVITUS and Archives Search to find other voters lists (use the wild card character $, e.g. voter$ list$).