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An Introduction To
Canadian Parliamentary Divorces, 1826 - 1946

Scope History
Information Available How To Read The Names Index
How to Get The Details Of Any Canadian Parliamentary Divorce


Scope
The areas and times covered are:
a. Upper and Lower Canada to 1841
b. Canada West and Canada East, 1841 - 1867
c. The Dominion of Canada, 1867 - 1946

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History

To 1791 the region along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes was the Province of Quebec. The Constitution Act of 1791 divided this province into Upper Canada and Lower Canada and established Legislative Assemblies to govern each area under the authority of a Governor. The Constitutional Act laid out responsibilities and powers of the Governor and the Assemblies but made no mention of marriage or divorce. The Colonial Office sent the Governor of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, Lord Dorchester, instructions detailing the administrative process that would be followed in the provinces. These included divorce powers: INSTRUCTIONS TO LORD DORCHESTER AS GOVERNOR OF LOWER AND UPPER CANADA - 16 Sep 1791

'17. Whereas We have thought fit by Our Orders in Our Privy Council to disallow certain Laws passed in some of Our Colonies and Plantations in America, for conferring the Privileges of Naturalization on Persons being Aliens, and for divorcing Persons who have been legally joined together in Holy Marriage - And Whereas Acts have been passed in others of Our Colonies, to enable Persons who are Our liege Subjects by Birth or Naturalization,.. ..... It is Our Will and Pleasure, that you do not upon any pretence whatsoever give your Assent to any Bill or Bills that may hereafter be passed by the Legislative Council and Assembly of the Province under your Government for the Naturalization of Aliens, nor for the Divorce of Persons joined together in Holy Marriage ....'

The Colonies that had passed acts that allowed divorces were most provinces in what by 1791 were the United States, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

The first known request for a parliamentary divorce came from Margaret Daverne in a letter to the Lieutenant-Governor's secretary, Major George Hillier, requesting information on how to proceed with a divorce action. Hillier replied that he could not give an opinion or advice because no divorce bills had been passed by the Legislature of Upper Canada and if such a bill were to pass, Royal Assent would not be given. The matter seems to have ended there.

A bill 'to enable married people to obtain divorce in certain cases' was presented to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada in the 1833-34 session but was dropped before being given a second reading. In 1836 two petitions for bills of divorce were presented to the same House but no action was taken upon them.

In 1839 a petition for divorce was presented to the legislature of Upper Canada by John Stuart. Stuart and his wife, Elizabeth Powell, were well connected to the rich and powerful of Upper Canada and a divorce bill was passed, after a long struggle, in 1841. This was the first Parliamentary Divorce in Canada.

Rules of procedure were established for those wanting a divorce but few were successful. The procedure was long, complicated and expensive. Also the grounds for divorce were narrow and met with a great deal of resistance in the Assemblies. After the Stuart divorce and before Confederation (1867) there were 20 other petitions for divorce but only 5 bills of divorce were passed. One of the bills that was passed, in 1845, did not get the necessary Royal Assent because the couple, who were married in Canada in 1832, no longer lived in Canada.

In 1867 four provinces (Canada West, Canada East, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) were united into one country under the British North America Act (BNA). Under this Act marriage and divorce became the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada. However section 129 of that Act allowed provinces that had established divorce courts before Confederation to continue their jurisdiction over divorces. This meant that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick continued to allow divorces through their courts while residents of Quebec (formerly Canada East) and Ontario (Canada West) were required to obtain divorces by an Act of Parliament. As other provinces entered Confederation their laws concerning divorce would remain in force.

When Prince Edward Island joined Canada in 1873, it had an established divorce process however only one court divorce was granted in Prince Edward Island between 1868 and 1930. In 1930 this Court was dissolved and Prince Edward Island residents then had to resort to an Act of Parliament for a divorce.

In England a Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes had been established in 1858 that had the power to grant a divorce for certain specific reasons. Several of the colonies in Canada administered under England's laws were to be affected by this.

Previous to entering Confederation in 1870 Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench exercised the jurisdiction and powers of the English Court of Chancery and had jurisdiction to deal with the validity of the marriage contract. Similarly before Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905 the Supreme Court of the Territories had jurisdiction to deal with the validity of the marriage in the North West Territories. When these territories became provinces residents requiring divorces had to do so by an Act of Parliament. This was later challenged and in consequence of a decision of the British Privy Council, divorces in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have, since 1918, been granted by courts of these provinces.

British Columbia had originally been two colonies, Mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, that united in 1866. After the union an ordinance passed by the Legislature of British Columbia enacted that the civil and criminal laws of England that existed on the 19th of November 1858 should be in force in all parts of B.C. except for those laws that were modified in B.C. between 1858 and 1867. The Supreme Court of British Columbia assumed the jurisdiction to excerise all the relief and powers given under the English Divorce Act. When British Columbia entered confederation in 1871 the Supreme Court of B.C. continued to have jurisdiction to grant divorces. The first divorce granted by the B.C. Supreme Court was in 1877 and to 1900 a total of 47 were granted.

In 1930 the Supreme Court of Ontario was given jurisdiction in divorce cases of Ontario residents.

The Divorce Act of 1968 allowed provincial Supreme Courts to hear divorce cases and ended Parliamentary Divorces in Canada.

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Information Available

This list includes anyone whose marriage was ended by a Parliamentary Divorce from the Legislature of Upper Canada or the Parliament of Canada. Also included in the list are those who were named in a divorce petition that was not completed. The years covered are from 1826 to 1946. Many started this divorce process but either did not follow through or were not granted a divorce. Those not following through found many barriers in the way - lack of proof or lack of money, frustration at the long and complicated process or a Senate that was unwilling to grant any divorces, while some couples did reconcile.

Two main sources of factual information were the Government Gazettes (e.g. Canada Gazette) and the Statutes of Canada. Petitioners for divorces were required to advertise, for six months, their intent in two newspapers that were published in the District where the applicant usually resided and the Gazette. The usual information was the names of the parties (women's maiden names were generally included), the date and place of marriage, occupation of the husband and the place of residence of at least one party.

A Typical Gazette Advertizement




For all divorces I have recorded all the information from the Gazette and from the Acts of Divorce as published in the Statutes of Canada. I have also collected information on divorcing couples that married before 1902. This includes marriage registrations, censuses, directory listings, biographies, cemetery information, birth registrations and death registrations. For some individuals there is a huge amount of data but for others there is only the official documents.

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How To Read The Names Index

The first name is that of one of the divorcing people or another person that was mentioned in the Act of Parliament. The second name is the other half of the divorcing couple. Wives are entered under both their married and maiden names, when known. An entry such as SMITH John UNKNOWN Mary means that the wife's maiden name is not known at present. Names with an asterisk are people mentioned an Act of Parliament as third parties or relatives. Please contact me to find out which divorce that they are connected to and why they are mentioned.




In the above example of a divorce through an Act of Parliament the following names appear in the index:
AMBLARD* Emile Julien - a third party
DORAN James Frederick WOOD Mary Augusta - indexed under the husband
DORAN Mary Augusta DORAN James Frederick - indexed under the wife's married name
WOOD Mary Augusta DORAN James Frederick - indexed under the wife's maiden name


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How to Get The Details Of Any Canadian Parliamentary Divorce

FEES

I will supply copies of the Act of Divorce and the notice that appear in the Canada Gazette for $5.00 Cdn. If there is further information, such as census returns, marriage, birth or death registrations, etc. I will inform you of what I have and the fee for supplying all or part of this information.

TO CONTACT ME

E-mail your request to: hughlarmstrong@shaw.ca Please include your name, your e-mail address and the names of the persons listed in the divorce index. If possible include some further identifying information to ensure that these are your ancestors. I will confirm your request and inform you what other information I have and include an itemized cost. I would be pleased to respond to any questions.
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