The Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Recipient of the 2012 Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award

July 18, 2013
Canada's History speaks to John English speaks about the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Toronto (Ontario)

If you were to gather a compilation of every Canadian who played a pivotal role in shaping the history and heritage of this country it would probably take you five hundred years to complete. Fortunately you don’t have to because it already exists with the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Founded in 1959 as a joint venture between the University of Toronto and Université Laval, this fully bilingual historical reference features close to 8,500 alphabetized biographies from Aatsista-Mahkan (the 19th century Blackfoot chief) to Sebastian Zouberbuhler (an early magistrate of Lunenburg).

For their stories about Canadians who have significantly contributed to the shaping of our history, Canada’s History Society is awarding this year’s Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award to John English from Toronto and Réal Bélanger from Québec City. The most definitive reference in Canadian biographies, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, spans 15 volumes, covering Canadians who died prior to 1931. The 16th volume will showcase significant Canadians from 1931 to 1940. Each volume covers ten years and takes almost seven years to produce.

Among the most notable figures featured in the DCB are Canada’s prime ministers, from Macdonald to Trudeau. However, there are plenty of not-so-famous Canadians including Richard Pierpoint, a West African taken as a British slave who fought as a free Loyalist in the American Revolution. Pierpoint recruited an army of black soldiers who fought in the War of 1812. After the war, Pierpoint settled near Fergus, Ontario.

“The DCB’s rigorous research standards make it the most authoritative source for Canadian history in the country,” noted Deborah Morrison, President & CEO of Canada’s History Society. “Notwithstanding this, what we found most commendable has been their continuous efforts to make the resource more accessible by making it available online for free, and working in partnerships with others to create smaller collections of biographies such as their recent books on Prime Ministers and Canadian Entrepreneurs.”