Ghost towns, roads less travelled, and even lesser known places—how to find them, how to research them

By Marthe Séguin-Muntz

With the summer season here, many of us anticipate road trips, family reunions or exploring areas of interest—some destinations may be quite secluded while others are better known.

Are you wondering about that old mill, church or schoolhouse on the recreational trail that you recently discovered? Perhaps your daily commute takes you by a vacant old house, or maybe a small hamlet on your way to the cottage piques your curiosity. Or are you trying to locate the residence where your ancestor lived in 1905, but have been unable to find it?

A black-and-white photograph showing a boarded-up church with construction material scattered around it

A boarded and abandoned St. Andrew’s Church, 1901, Dawson City, Yukon Territory—a reminder of the Klondike Gold Rush (MIKAN 3407583)

Ghost towns are villages, towns or cities that experience a considerable population decrease and show signs of abandonment and decay. One might think of ghost towns as “geographical ancestors”—predecessors that no longer exist.

A black-and-white photograph showing a river with a heavy current, trees on both sides, and an old mill to the left in the background

Habitant series: the old mill at Val-Jalbert (MIKAN 3349504)

Where to begin?

Library and Archives Canada holds many archival resources and publications to help you find out more about that lesser-known place.

Census records list the residents of a location and in many cases provide details such as the year of birth, occupation and religious denomination of the residents. You can find more information about Canadian provinces and territories on our Places page. The Post Offices and Postmasters database documents the establishment and closing of post offices and gives helpful timeline information. The Search Help pages accompanying each database will help you understand the records and how to search them.

A black-and-white photograph showing a long wooden dock by the shore and grain elevators in the background

Depot Harbour, Ontario (MIKAN 3309998)

Discover what has been written about ghost towns (such as Val-Jalbert or Depot Harbour) and abandoned places using the Library Search function in our AMICUS library catalogue to research a specific area using the location’s name, or subject keywords such as “ghost town” or “abandoned.”

A black-and-white photograph showing two small abandoned buildings, one possibly a school, behind a white picket fence

Abandoned mission at [Fort] Norman, N.W.T. (MIKAN 3327910)

Photographs, illustrations and information in archival fonds

Our archival collections may contain some photos or illustrations of former communities. Consult our blog articles on how to find photographs online and how to find photographs that are not yet available online.

Safe travels and happy discoveries on your road trip!

A black-and-white photograph of an abandoned wooden church

The Presbyterian Church on the shores of Lake Bennett, B.C. (MIKAN 3383929)

 


Marthe Séguin-Muntz is a Project Officer in the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

One thought on “Ghost towns, roads less travelled, and even lesser known places—how to find them, how to research them

  1. Pingback: This week’s crème de la crème — August 13, 2016 | Genealogy à la carte

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