In North America, Civil Registrations are called Vital Statistics, a term that should not be used in any other part of the world.
Ontario civil registration started in 1869, but should not be regarded as complete until about 1920. Births, marriages, and deaths were required to be registered but in the early years many people ignored the law. These records are regarded as private for a number of years: 97 years for births, 82 years for marriages, and 72 years for deaths. Each year another year of records is released to the public (in May 2009, 1912 birth records, 1927 marriage records and 1937 death records were released). Later birth, marriage and death registrations must be obtained from the Office of the Registrar General of Ontario. Check the Registrar General's website for more information.
Older records are released by the Registrar General to the Archives of Ontario and so become public documents. One year of each of births, marriages, and deaths are released each year. These records are on microfilm and consist of index films and record films. Many libraries hold the index films. Index and record films can be purchased from Achives of Ontario via OGS although most individuals would not wish to. The films can be borrowed using interlibrary loan or through Family History Centers.
Using these records is a two-part process. First consult the index films to find the registration number; note if the year of registration differs from the year of the event. The films of the original records for each year of registration are arranged by registration year and number.
Birth registrations give the date and the names of both parents. Marriage registrations give the date and the names of the parties and of both sets of parents. Death registrations give the date, cause of death, and the age or birthdate, if known. See the birth, marriage and death pathfinders in the Ontario Vital Statistics: Registrations of Births, Marriages and Deaths of the Archives of Ontario website.
There are some earlier registrations, in particular the District and County Marriage Registers (which contain some birth records). These are discussed under religious records.