Open Data: Providing access to historical Government of Canada studies

Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government details how the federal government is promoting transparency and accountability and encouraging citizen engagement by releasing unrestricted government data and information. Releasable information falls under two categories: structured data (machine readable) and open information (unstructured documents and multimedia assets). To make this information easily discoverable and reusable, it will be located on the Open Government website and made available under the unrestricted Open Government Licence. Structured data is made available through the Open Data portal of the website and unstructured information through the Open Information portal.

Library and Archives Canada is in the process of extracting and preserving datasets from outdated storage devices that are related to studies undertaken by federal departments. The studies cover a wide range of topics, such as the environment, health and immigration. The digital content from these studies, acquired since the early 1970s, is being converted from its outdated file structures and encoding schemes so it can be used by contemporary computers that are based on the ASCII encoding scheme.

Once the datasets are migrated, they will be made available on the Open Data portal. Codebooks that describe the file structure of the data and define the variables contained in each field will also be supplied. These migrated datasets will be in the form of raw data. To interpret and analyze the content in each file, you will require specialized software, such as a spreadsheet or a statistical tool. Raw data preserves the integrity of this archival content and will allow you to perform your own interpretation and analysis.

Stay tuned in the coming months for news about dataset releases.

Oscar Peterson

These photographs of Oscar Peterson and his family were taken in 1944. He was in his late teens and already an experienced professional musician. He had been playing regularly with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra since 1942, a popular swing band that played to the dance crowd in and around Montreal. Oscar left the orchestra in 1947 and began a residency at the Alberta Lounge, a club near Windsor Station, leading a trio there for two years.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson playing the piano in a lounge.

Oscar Peterson, photographed by D.C. Langford [1944] (MIKAN 4167283)

Given the vibrant jazz scene in the city, Oscar had lots of opportunities to play: he performed professionally, played live for CBC Radio broadcasts, attended jam sessions, and met and jammed with visiting musicians performing in town. He earned praise from Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Oscar was based in Canada until 1949 when Norman Granz convinced him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series in Los Angeles. This marked the beginning of his international career.

Oscar’s parents were immigrants to Canada. Daniel Peterson, Oscar’s father, was from the British Virgin Islands and worked as a boatswain on a merchant ship. His mother, Kathleen Olivia John, was from St. Kitts, British West Indies, and worked as a cook and housekeeper. They met and married in Montreal, settling in Little Burgundy/St-Henri, a predominately black neighbourhood. Like many men living there, Daniel got a job at Windsor Station as a porter on passenger trains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson with his father, Daniel. Both men are sitting at a piano, with their hands on the keyboard, smiling and looking up at the camera.

Oscar Peterson and his father, Daniel, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542845)

With instruction and encouragement from their parents, the Peterson children became accomplished musicians.

Fred, the eldest child, introduced Oscar to ragtime and jazz when he played it on the family piano. Fred died in the 1930s while still a teenager. Oscar said Fred was the most talented musician of the family.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson seated, playing piano. His brother Charles, dressed in the uniform of the Canadian Army, stands next to him playing the trumpet.

Oscar Peterson on piano, with his brother, Chuck, accompanying him on trumpet [1944] (MIKAN 4542843)


Another brother, Charles, who served with an artillery battery in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, played in the regimental band. After the war, he continued as a professional trumpet player, doing studio work and performing at various Montreal nightclubs through the 1950s and 1960s. Like his siblings, he also played the piano, but was forced to give it up after suffering an industrial accident while working in a factory in Montreal after the war.

A black-and-white photograph of Oscar Peterson and his sister Daisy seated at the piano with their hands on the keyboard. They are looking at the camera and smiling.

Oscar Peterson with his sister, Daisy, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542840)

Daisy, Oscar’s oldest sister, was also a virtuoso pianist. She earned a degree in music from McGill University and had a lengthy and influential career as a music teacher in Montreal. She was her siblings’ first piano teacher and introduced Oscar to her own piano teacher, Paul de Marky, a concert pianist who played in the Franz Liszt tradition. Daisy taught for many years in Montreal; her students included future jazz musicians Milton Sealey, Oliver Jones, Reg Wilson and Joe Sealy.

Related Resources

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Western Canada – Visit to Jasper National Park

On June 11, 1914, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife travelled via the Grand Trunk Pacific railway to the town of Jasper within Alberta’s Jasper National Park. Of the place, the author later wrote:

“Jasper Park is one of the great national playgrounds and health resorts which the Canadian Government with great wisdom has laid out for the benefit of the citizens. When Canada has filled up and carries a large population, she will bless the foresight of the administrators who took possession of broad tracts of the most picturesque land and put them forever out of the power of the speculative dealer.”

This statement proved to be pure gold for government travel marketers! During Conan Doyle’s visit, the commissioner for Canada’s national parks, J.B. Harkin, created his own promotional campaign for national parks, releasing the booklet entitled “Just a Sprig of Mountain Heather.”

The Jasper Park trip lasted eight days. Conan Doyle was the guest of an old friend, Colonel Rogers, who was the park’s superintendent. The author noted: “For a week we lived the life of simplicity and nature.”

A black-and-white photograph showing a veranda with seating to take advantage of the view. The architectural style is rustic, with river stones and rough-hewn beams.

The veranda of the Administration Building in Jasper Park, Alberta, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587685)

Conan Doyle wrote of his experience in the town of Jasper as follows: “Life in Jasper interested me as an experience of the first stage of a raw Canadian town. It will certainly grow into a considerable place, but at that time, bar Colonel Rogers’ house and the station, there were only log-huts and small wooden dwellings.” He and his wife visited many now-famous locations, such as Pyramid Lake, Lake Edith, and the Maligne River and Canyon.

A black-and-white photograph showing a man and a woman with a horse by a lake. The man is seated and the woman is holding the lead to the horse. There are tall coniferous trees behind them.

A couple with a horse at Pyramid Lake, Alberta, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587697)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people outside a rustic log cabin.

The Conan Doyle party preparing lunch outside (MIKAN 3587725)

A black-and-white photograph showing one person walking and five people on horseback, on a log bridge crossing a river, with mountains in the background.

The Conan Doyle party crossing the Athabasca River in Alberta (MIKAN 3303264)

A special train was organized to take Conan Doyle, his wife, and friends to visit the area near Mount Robson. The mountain, located just over the Alberta border in British Columbia, is one of the highest and most iconic mountains in the Canadian Rockies. William Topley, the celebrated Ottawa photographer, dutifully took these photos.

A black-and-white photograph showing a train stopped beside a river.

The train near Lucerne, British Columbia, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587749)

A black-and-white photograph showing a man walking along train tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the distance.A black-and-white photograph showing a man walking along train tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the distance.

A man walking along the railway tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the background, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587770)

Today, a century later, the landscape looks much the same. Mount Robson is notoriously difficult to photograph without clouds obscuring its peak, so Topley was extremely lucky to get such clear shots. After this excursion, Conan Doyle would survey the layout for the first golf course in Jasper (as noted in the 1914 edition of “Golf Illustrated”) and take part in a baseball game between teams from the towns of Jasper and Edson, making sure to pitch the first ball! Although Topley missed capturing the moment, another local photographer was lucky enough to get this shot.

Conan Doyle’s Return Journey East

We do not have any images of the return trip back East, perhaps because the point of the expedition was to promote the Canadian West and its newly minted national park. We do know that the couple left Jasper on June 19 and that the return journey meandered through Winnipeg, along the north shore of Lake Superior, through Algonquin Park, down to Niagara Falls, and finally back to Ottawa for Dominion Day (Canada Day). They headed back to England on July 4. The visit resonated deeply with them as they would take their children to Jasper Park in the 1920s.

The First World War would begin one month later, giving Conan Doyle’s daydream poem The Athabasca Trail an even greater poignancy.

In the last article in this Blog series, we will take a closer look at the photo album associated with Conan Doyle’s trip, and explore some of the mysteries surrounding the images it contains. Why, for example, are there photos of places in British Columbia that Conan Doyle never visited?

When a landscape is more than a setting: Library and Archives Canada’s The Red River Expedition at Kakabeka Falls exhibited

Painting showing various activities of the men of Colonel Garnet Wolseley’s Red River Expedition (1870), as they portage canoes and supplies at Kakabeka Falls, on the Kaministiquia River, Ontario, including a sweeping view of the Kaministiquia gorge with white water and mountains in the background.

The Red River Expedition at Kakabeka Falls, by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1877 (MIKAN 2836614)

In 1870, British Colonel Garnet Wolseley (1833–1913) landed with his men at Kakabeka Falls (Ontario), a major canoe portage along the voyageur network of rivers and lakes to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg, Manitoba). Charged with putting down the Métis rebellion (Métis resistance) at the Red River Colony, over 1,000 men created corduroy roads to transport provisions, equipment, and even cannons over portages like Kakabeka. Wolseley’s able command, throughout one of the most daunting and difficult treks in military history, was recognized as an impressive feat of tactical leadership in early Canada.

A large-scale and richly detailed painting documenting the achievement, by an artist known for her astonishing technical realism, is one of the showpieces of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection. Commissioned by Wolseley himself in 1877, the painting represents the only occasion on which British painter Frances Anne Hopkins (1838–1919) represented an actual historical event.

Yet the Wolseley Expedition portrait remains, in the words of Georgiana Uhlyarik, Associate Curator of Canadian Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), “insightfully reimagined.”

Uhlyarik is the Canadian co-curator of an ambitious new show which opens at the AGO today. The first exhibition to exclusively examine 19th- and early 20th-century Pan-American landscape painting, Picturing the Americas considers ways in which paintings featuring North American scenery, such as this one by Hopkins, may have worked as symbols for the development of national identities. The subject of Hopkins’s painting is, after all, a military action undertaken largely to counter potential American expansionism.

It’s long been recognized that Hopkins deliberately changed details of the Kakabeka landscape, in order to make her composition stronger. She probably never intended to include the entirety of the rather overwhelming waterfall, as this would have detracted from a focus on Wolseley’s men. The river rapids are a product of Hopkins’s imagination, together with background hills that are almost extended into mountains.

Detail of hills, in the Kaministiquia gorge, which the artist has portrayed as mountain-like Detail of rapids on the Kaministiquia River, invented by the artist for this painting

Would 19th-century viewers have read the mastery of one section of difficult territory as a stand in for the larger-scale mastery of the Canadian west? If so, Hopkins’s manipulation of the true landscape of the area may have served, in part, to reinforce this message.

Picturing the Americas remains at the AGO until September 7, 2015. It will then travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (USA), and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (Brazil)—opening just in time for the start of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro.

Did your ancestors come from Iceland?

Do you want to know who your first Icelandic ancestor was and when he or she left Iceland and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your Icelandic origins?

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the Icelanders. This page provides you with historical information, archival documents and published material from the Library and Archives Canada collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of June 2015

As of today, 162,570 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. The latest digitized box is #3655, which corresponds to the surname “Gore”. Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients: Lieutenant Frederick William Campbell, VC

Frederick William Campbell, a lieutenant in the 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on June 15 1915, 100 years ago today. This also happened to be Campbell’s 48th birthday.

Black and white photograph of a man in uniform looking directly at the camera

Portrait of Lieutenant Frederick William Campbell, VC, undated. Note the superimposition of another photograph in the lower right corner (MIKAN 3213625)

Stationed at the front line near Givenchy, France, Lieutenant Campbell led an assault on a heavily fortified German trench line. Under heavy fire, he held his place in the assault as nearly all of his men became casualties. Intent on covering the withdrawal of those men still able to escape, Campbell and another soldier moved up with two Colt machine guns to an exposed position and successfully held back a German counter-attack.

Black and white copy of a handwritten page describing the events of June 15, 1915

Page from the war diaries of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion on June 15, 1915 (MIKAN 1883204)

His citation in the London Gazette tells of how Campbell:

“… arrived at the German first line with one gun, and maintained his position there, under very heavy rifle, machine-gun, and bomb fire, notwithstanding the fact that almost the whole of his detachment had then been killed or wounded.

When our supply of bombs had become exhausted, this Officer advanced his gun still further to an exposed position, and, by firing about 1,000 rounds, succeeded in holding back the enemy’s counter-attack” (London Gazette, no. 29272, August 23, 1915).

As he retreated, Lieutenant Campbell’s right thigh bone was hit and shattered. He died in hospital from an infection of his wound four days later.

Frederick William Campbell was born in Mount Forest, Ontario on June 15, 1869. He also served in both the Canadian Militia and the Machine Gun section of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, during the South African War. He is buried at Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Boulogne, France.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Frederick William Campbell.

Aboriginal syllabic scripts

Before the development of syllabic writing systems, Aboriginal peoples transmitted cultural knowledge orally, through wampum belts and totem poles, through rock engravings and paintings, and through hieroglyphs (symbols etched on birch bark or hides to represent a word or concept). Syllabic scripts were the first form of Aboriginal writing whereby anything that could be spoken in an Aboriginal language could be transcribed.

Reverend James Evans, a Methodist missionary, has often been credited with developing the first Aboriginal syllabic script in 1839 or 1840 at Norway House in what is now Manitoba. Before the use of syllabics, missionaries and linguists translated religious texts into Aboriginal languages using the Roman alphabet. Evans wanted his Cree parishioners to learn how to read and write, but he found the Roman alphabet limiting. As a result, he set out to develop a writing system that more accurately represented the sounds and words of the Cree language.

A colour photograph showing a hand holding the lower left corner of a book. The book is opened to the frontispiece showing a drawn portrait of Methodist missionary James Evans, wearing typical 19th century clothing and looking directly at the viewer.

A portrait of James Evans, creator of Cree syllabic, taken from the 1890 book, James Evans: Inventor of the Syllabic System of the Cree Language (AMICUS 6941574)

Evans derived his syllabic script from Pitman’s shorthand (a shorthand phonetic system that used symbols to represent sounds) and Braille (an embossed writing system for the visually impaired). He used nine geometric shapes to denote consonants, and their orientation suggests the vowels that follow. In addition to being the first Aboriginal syllabic script, Evans’ syllabic is also the first Canadian script and the first typeface created in Canada. He recycled metal for typecasting from the linings of Hudson’s Bay tea chests and modified a fur press (for flattening pelts) to use as a printing press. Evans and his parishioners used the script to print religious texts on birch bark, deer hide and paper.

A colour photograph of two pages of a book on Cree syllabic providing examples of syllabic characters. The first page shows syllabic initials or primals, as well as examples of syllables. The second page shows finals or terminals and examples of word formation.

Images from the 1890 book, James Evans: Inventor of the Syllabic System of the Cree Language (AMICUS 6941574) showing the syllabic geometric shapes denoting consonants and their various orientations denoting vowels.

Although originally developed to write religious materials, syllabic scripts were used by the Cree people for their own purposes. Syllabics became an important part of Cree identity, despite having been developed by a non-Aboriginal missionary, and is still used in Canada today.

Evans’ syllabic script was adapted for other Aboriginal languages, notably Inuktitut. First introduced by the missionary Edmund Peck, syllabic is still used today by thousands of fluent Inuktitut speakers.

When Nunavut was established in 1999, the territorial government commissioned William Ross Mills of Tiro Typeworks to develop digital syllabic fonts. The results included the Pigiarniq and Euphemia fonts. Euphemia, which includes the entire range of Canadian syllabics in several different Aboriginal languages, was licensed by Microsoft and Apple and is now standard on computers. This effectively enables Inuktitut speakers to sit down at virtually any computer around the world and start typing in their own language.

A colour image of a book written in Inuktitut syllabic script open to the first and second pages. The left page features the Inuktitut syllabary; the right page is text written in Inuktitut syllabic.

The first book in Inuktitut to be printed using syllabic characters, Selections from the Gospels in the Dialect of the Inuit of Little Whale River, printed by John Horden between 1855 and 1856 at Moose Factory, Ontario (AMICUS 13853827)

For more information on Canadian Aboriginal syllabic scripts, please check out the following resources. Most are available in libraries or online.

  1. Banks, Joyce M. (2004). “‘And not hearers only’: Books in Native Languages,” History of the Book in Canada, Volume 1, edited by Patricia Lockhart Fleming et al. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (AMICUS 29599541)
  2. Bringhurst, Robert. (2008). “The Invisible Book,” The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada. Vancouver: Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing Press (AMICUS 33832941).
  3. Cree Syllabics,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (2015).
  4. Edwards, Brendan Frederick. (2005). “‘To put the talk upon paper’: Aboriginal Communities,” History of the Book in Canada, Volume 2, edited by Patricia Lockhart Fleming et al. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (AMICUS 29599541)
  5. McLean, John. (1890). James Evans: Inventor of the Syllabic System of the Cree Language. Toronto: Methodist Mission Rooms. (AMICUS 6941574).
  6. Pirurvik Centre for Inuit Language, Culture, and Wellbeing.

Self-serve photography

It used to be that the only way of getting copies of archival documents was a bit of a tedious process. Flagging the pages you wanted copied, filling out the form, handing in the information to the Consultation staff, and then waiting the 30 business days for the copies to be made. If you were not someone who was from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, you would then have to wait for the copies to be mailed out to you. If you were in the National Capital Region, but not a regular visitor, you might have to make a special trip to 395 Wellington Street to pick up your copies. Now the process can be much quicker if you choose. If you have a camera or a smartphone, you can now take digital images of our collection, rights and restrictions permitting. Once you have the material you wish to copy, simply check in with the Consultation staff, who will provide you with a quick form to fill out. You will need to provide the full reference number for the box or volume, along with your user card number and your name. The staff will verify restrictions of the documents and provide you with a green copy of the approved form. Here are some of the key points to remember about what is required from a technical standpoint of your camera or smartphone.

  • You must have a wrist strap, neck strap or tripod.
  • No flash can be used.
  • Photos cannot be taken before permission is given.
  • Your green permission slip must be visible at all times.
  • You can request a weight or book wedges to help you photograph larger items instead of forcing the items open.

There are also a few tripods available with either a camera mount or a smartphone mount, but they are loaned out on a first-come, first-served basis. You can see the Consultation staff for these as well. If you cannot come in during service hours and still wish to take photos, you can either fax in your filled out form (613-992-5921) or scan and email it to the following address: consultationtext@bac-lac.gc.ca, indicating your date of visit and which lockers have been assigned to you. You can get a copy of the form in person during service hours or by contacting the Consultation staff at the above mentioned email address. This service is also available in Genealogy and Reference Services during their service hours.