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.
For some time, I’ve thought about creating a series of guides for Toronto-centric historical resources. The current situation surrounding COVID-19 feels like an appropriate time to show where you can find old Toronto papers online for free—which titles are available, and which aren’t. If there’s anything I miss 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 (H/T to Jane MacNamara).
A short-lived project to digitize papers. There’s useful material here, but it’s a pain to work with. You can’t download pages (I use screen captures to preserve material for later use), 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 are a paid subscriber to Newspapers.com, save your brain cells and search for FP (and its successor, the National Post) there.
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.
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)
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
Canadiana (updated July 27, 2020)
Weekly Mail (1873-1880)
The weekly edition of the Toronto Daily Mail.
Toronto World (1881-1915, 1918-1919)
The majority of issues from these periods.
Internet Archive (updated June 15, 2020)
The main draw here is The Varsity, covering all issues from 1880 to 2010. Other U of T papers uploaded include an assortment of Erindale campus papers and some issues of Toike Oike.
The entire back issue archive. Registration required.
While these resources 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 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.
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.
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 other online archives of Southam-owned papers), the Star Weekly isn’t included.
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, 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.