NOTE: One should not confuse Simcoe County with the town of Simcoe in the former Norfolk County.
Simcoe County is located in south-central Ontario. It stretches from the shores of Lake Simcoe in the east to Georgian Bay in the west and north. Its southern boundary is the one it shares with York Region (formerly York County). Its northern land boundary is Muskoka District. The land area of the county is 4,859.16 square kilometres or 1,876.13 square miles. The census of 2011 yielded a total population of just under 450,000. The county administrative centre is located in Midhurst, just outside of the City of Barrie which is separated from the county administration.
Ontario GenWeb has a sketchmap of the original townships of Simcoe County.
The map of Simcoe County circa 1951 from Ontario Archives locates the former townships and the cities, towns and villages of the county. (Click at the bottom of the page to see the map enlarged.)
Simcoe County, in particular the former Wendake area near Nottawasaga Bay, was the site of the earliest non-First Nations exploration and settlement of Ontario. Several historic sites, including Carhagouha and Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, mark the earliest known contacts between the area's traditional Huron population and European missionaries. The first actual settlers, mostly fur traders, arrived in the late 1700's.
In 1798 the area in Northern Simcoe, including the three islands, was purchased from the Indians by the Canadian government. The southern part of the area was taken by the government in 1815 and prepared for settlers, mostly military veterans and descendants of Loyalists who had been granted land. Later that year several Scottish settlers arrived from Lord Selkirk's failed Red River Settlement.
Most of the county didn't see settlers until the 1830's. Until then the area was inhabited by its original native inhabitants.
In the 1850's Simcoe County was quite large and included areas that are now part of Grey County, Dufferin County, Muskoka District and Parry Sound District. By 1881 Simcoe County had 'shrunk' to its current size.
Simcoe County's population was around 27,000 in 1852 compared with a 2011 population of approximately 450,000.
The area was originally established as Simcoe District in 1843 by the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. Settlement in the area had occurred before that time when the county was under the jurisdiction of The Home District of Upper Canada. The original 19 townships in 1843 were: Adjala, Essa, Flos, West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, Mara, Matchedash, Medonte, Nottawasaga, Orillia (North Division), Orillia (South Division), Oro, Rama, Sunnidale, Tay, Tecumseth, Tiny, Tosorontio and Vespra.
The District was restructured in 1845, changing its composition to the following 24 townships (Source: Statutory Chronology of Canada):
Effective January 1, 1850, An Act for abolishing the Territorial Divisions of Upper Canada into Districts abolished Simcoe "District" in favour of the Simcoe "County", still composed of the Townships noted in the Act of 1845.
The most recent restructurings took place in 1991 and 1994 which resulted in the current 16 local municipalities.
Two sketchmaps illustrating Simcoe County before and after the municipal boundary changes. (source:Simcoe GenWeb)
Simcoe County's sixteen local municipalities are:
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Websites with more local information on Simcoe County