How did one get divorced in Canada before the 60s?

How did divorce work in Canada before the Divorce Act, 1961? I’ve read that a private act of parliament was needed to dissolve a marriage, but I’ve also head that some provinces had their own divorce courts. Isn’t marriage and divorce a federal matter in Canada?

Some info here. It apparently varied from province to province.

Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to legislate on marriage and divorce: Constitution Act, 1867, s. 91(26). However, it’s not required to do so.

Another provision of the Constitution Act, 1867 provides that laws in force prior to Confederation continued in force until repealed or amended by Parliament (if the pre-Confederation law related to a matter that was now under federal jurisdiction): section 129.

At the time of Confederation in 1867, the Maritime colonies already had their own divorce laws, passed by the colonial legislatures. It was thought that Ontario had inherited the English law of divorce, prior to 1867. Quebec didn’t have a divorce law, and being heavily Roman Catholic, didn’t want one.

So Parliament didn’t touch the issue, preferring to leave it to the pre-existing laws from each of the colonies.

When the western provinces joined (Manitoba 1870; B.C. 1871; Saskatchewan and Alberta 1905) they had also inherited the English divorce law, so divorces were available in those provinces under that pre-existing law, and again Parliament did not need to pass any laws.

There was a spanner in the works when the courts ruled that the assumption that Ontario had the English divorce law was incorrect, and that there was no divorce law in force in Ontario. So Parliament passed a divorce law that only applied to Ontario, around 1930.

However, even in those provinces that didn’t have a divorce law, it was possible for an individual who wanted a divorce to ask Parliament to pass a divorce law just for him/her, dissolving his/her marriage. These divorces by private bill were handled primarily by the Senate, which had a divorce committee to conduct a hearing to determine if there were reasonable grounds for a divorce (adultery, cruelty, desertion, etc.). If the committee reported in favour of the bill, the Senate and the House of Commons would pass it as a matter of course, the GovGen would give royal assent to the divorce of Joe Smith from Jane Smith, and poof - eligible to re-marry.

The reason that divorce is handled by the provincial courts is that our court system is much more unified than in the U.S. Our Federal Court is a specialised tribunal that only handles some aspects of federal law. Parliament has assigned jurisdiction to hear divorce cases to the provincial superior courts: Divorce Act, s. 3. The only time the Federal Court has jurisdiction to hear a divorce application is if the two spouses both file for a divorce in the courts of two different provinces on the same day; don’t konw if that’s ever actually happened.