1946 toronto phonebook

Woman using phonebook from 1946 to help find homes of old ancestors in Toronto

Jill Lawrence, who actually worked for Bell Canada for 16 years, didn't hesitate when she saw a Toronto phonebook, by the Bell Telephone Company and dating all the way back to 1946, for sale on a Facebook marketplace.

"This book popped up because the Mission Thrift Shop in Belleville went to an online store and the manager posted the book," Lawrence told blogTO. "I got [to Belleville] about two days later and I really couldn't resist opening it as soon as I got in the car."

The vintage phonebook in Lawrence's possession was printed about 70 years after the very first in 1879. What used to be found in nearly every home across the city, now serves as an interesting piece of history.

1946 toronto phonebook

Jill Lawrence obtained the old Toronto phonebook, which dates back to 1946, from a thrift store in Belleville.

"This phonebook is so new in telephone technology that it even instructs you how to make a phone call. It goes through how to lift the receiver, put your finger in the hole, bring the dial clockwise and let it go," says Lawrence.

"There's been so many exciting discoveries, a lot of different little shops and businesses." 

Lawrence has been able to find the shared home address of her grandparents and great-grandparents in the Beaches neighbourhood.

"I had grandparents that took a really big risk and left the rental market and put their money into a piece of real estate. And my great grandparents lived above them to be able to make ends meet," she says.

"I always assumed that they bought it in the 1950s, but they're already in this house in this book in '46."

She's also been able to track down long-forgotten information on her husband's side.

"My father-in-law who hasn't heard his childhood phone number for about 70 years got to hear it again for the first time." 

Lawrence has also taken to Facebook to help others find old family member's homes using the phonebook. She's now used the physical directory to help about 20 individuals who have directly reached out to her.

1946 toronto phonebook

An old photograph of Lawrence's great-grandparents' mothers sitting out front of the house on Pape Avenue.

"This woman reached out to me and said, 'If you could, could you just check and see if my last name is in it,'" Lawrence says.

"I did and there was one listing. I sent [a photo of the page] back to her. She wrote me back about 10 minutes later and said, 'Thanks to you, I googled that address. The home is currently on the market for rent and I just got to take a virtual tour of my family home.'"

Lawrence says she's enjoyed sharing the information with whoever she can in hopes that they'll be able to connect with a piece of their family past.

"It's a deeply personal thing and if it has meaning and it provides a smile in their day, it's worth it," she says.

"This type of experience really fills me with glee and I just think that might happen for others too, so that's really the only motivator. That's all there is to it." 

Photos by

Jill Lawrence

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