Nova Scotia Archives

'Let Your Fingers Do the Walking'

Using City, Provincial, Telephone and Business Directories


City and Town Directories

If the directory in question is a city, town, county or provincial listing, you can expect to find some or all of the following information included:

  • business advertisements and an index to advertisers

  • a separate business directory for advertisers and corporate subscribers, by occupation

  • historical sketches of the province, county, city or town

  • an alphabetical listing of residents by surname, followed by their occupation or business, their business address and/or their home address

  • at the beginning of the surname index, a key to all abbreviations used in the directory (for example: h = house; b = boards at; OAS = On Active Service [First World War]

City directories also contain a street directory--normally but not always at the back of the book. These street listings are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the street; both sides of the street are listed (separated into east side, west side, north or south); and then each structure on the street is entered, by house number and giving its principal occupant or occupants. If read in sequential order over a number of publication years, this street directory will provide significant clues to first appearance of a specific structure, in-fill construction and developmental history of the street. Be warned, however, that there's no consistent pattern, rhyme or reason for individual house numbering!

To use city directories effectively, it's worthwhile to work with both the surname and street listings. Below are examples from the Halifax City Directory for 1875/76 and 1886/87 for the surname Hesslein.

What can you learn from these two sets of entries, a decade apart?


Halifax City Directory for 1875/76 Halifax City Directory for 1886/87
click to explore          click to explore

From the earlier one, that Henry Hesslein's sons are adults and partners in the firm and don't live at home; both sons have apartments at the hotel. From the later one, that Henry has died, his widow's name is Elizabeth, and Mary A. Hall, also a widow, lives with her. (With a little more genealogical sleuthing, you will find that Mary is Elizabeth's daughter.)

Major city and/or provincial directories will also carry some or all of the following appendices:

  • Royal Family

  • Government, Great Britain and Ireland

  • Government, Dominion of Canada

  • Dominion of Canada Government in Nova Scotia, Offices and Officers

  • Government of the Province of Nova Scotia

  • Law and Justice Department (including a list of barristers and attorneys in Nova Scotia)

  • Staff of the Army in Nova Scotia

  • Staff of the Navy in Nova Scotia

  • Consuls and Consular Agents

  • Lloyd's Agents and Veritas International Registry of Shipping Agents

  • Post Office Department, Canada, and Nova Scotia Postal Division

  • City of Halifax, Offices and Officers

  • Merchants' Private Signals (shipping)

  • Municipality of Dartmouth, Offices and Officers


  • County of Halifax, Offices and Officers

  • Educational Institutions (provincial)

  • Ecclesiastical Establishment (provincial)

  • Masonic Order, Masonic Templars, Independent Order of Oddfellows (provincial)

  • Libraries (local)

  • Banking Companies (provincial)

  • Charitable Institutions (local)

  • Societies, Associations and Clubs (local; sometimes with current executive)

  • Newspapers (provincial)

We are frequently asked when the annual Halifax City Directories were compiled. To the best of our knowledge, the necessary information was collected during the spring and summer of the preceding year; thus information published in, for example, the 1885/86 directory, was probably gathered during the middle of 1884.