A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: Services for the Public Available in Ottawa

Colour photograph of stacks. There is an aisle down the middle with rows of books on either side.

Stacks of published material at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many buildings across Canada, two of which we introduced you to in A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: The Preservation Centre in Gatineau and A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: The Nitrate Film Preservation Facility.

Another LAC building, located at 395 Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, is a popular destination for researchers who come regularly to consult the archival and published collections. This facility is home to collections management, public services, description and cataloguing, and administrative functions. There are countless stacks of published material housed on the various floors of the building; however, only the main lobby, and the second, third, and fifth floors are accessible to the public.

Public admission to the research rooms is restricted to registered researchers. Because of the vast amount of material in the collections, researchers must request what they need in advance of their visit so that LAC staff have sufficient time to retrieve it on their behalf.*

If you’re wondering why researchers themselves cannot browse the countless stacks of published material, it is for reasons of safety for both the researchers and the collections. In addition, the sheer volume of material makes it virtually impossible for someone to locate what they need without a good understanding of the collections and how they are organized.

Close to Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada, the 395 Wellington Street facility first opened its doors on June 20, 1967. It cost roughly $13 million to build and features granite and marble finishes, complete with golden mosaic pillars in the main lobby. The building showcases a variety of artwork, such as a sculpture of Italian poet Dante Alighieri by Angelo Biancini and a Henry Moore bronze sculpture entitled “Three Way Piece-Points,” located near the main marble stairwell. The Moore sculpture was presented by the British Government to the people of Canada, along with 10,000 books, to mark this country’s Centennial in 1967.

Glass-engraved panels by artist John Hutton, depicting five themes, can be seen throughout the building. They represent the written word, the spoken word, important writers, Apollo and the Muses, and the birth of Canada. You can also view them on our Facebook page!

A series of murals adorns the research rooms on the second floor. The Comfort Murals contain two works known as “Heritage” and “Legacy.” They were commissioned more than 25 years ago by Charles Fraser Comfort, a past Director of the National Gallery of Canada. The Pellan Murals are the work of Quebec artist Alfred Pellan, completed in 1968. Each of these abstract paintings features a kaleidoscope of colour presented in a collage-style interpretation. “The Alphabets” is displayed on the western wall, and “Knowledge” is displayed on the eastern wall.

The history of this Government of Canada building is recorded in the CBC Digital Archives soundtrack 1967: The National Library of Canada opens new HQ.

*Please note that our core services are offered from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. To learn more about all of our services, please consult the previous article “What can you do at 395 Wellington Street before your appointment?

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: Services for the Public Available in Ottawa

  1. I could not open the picture of the stacks on my computer (a recently purchased Windows 7 notebook) even after right cliicking on it and selecting Show Picture.

    Similarly, I could not see the CBC archives footage of the history of the building on my computer but could only hear the sound track. Or is it only a sound track? If so, why call it footage?
    There is something distinctly non-archival about this sound track, as it refers to Library and Archives Canada, which didn’t exist in 1967. The building at 395 Wellington opened as The National Library of Canada. I know: I was at the opening. Sounds like there has been a bit of after-the-fact tweaking of history here.

    Finally, I find it odd that fundamental information on the building and its history should be recorded in a blog rather than on the institution’s department’s main website. A blog sounds so temporary and in the moment. Or perhaps that is the point, given the current uncertaintly of LAC’s direction and future.

    • Thank you for your comment. Regarding the CBC archives footage, after verification, you are right about the fact that it is only a sound track without images. As you can see, the wording used in the blog has been changed to reflect this. Regarding the picture, you should be able to view it without having to take any further actions.

  2. Thank you for the interesting historical information about the building. I agree with Barry Burns about the ahistorical nomenclature. The same problem exists with the photographs of the heads of the institution(s) on the third floor. All are labelled with the present incumbent’s position title. I daresay that Dominion Archivists and National Librarians would be horrified at this distortion of history in an institution which is dedicated to preserving our history.
    When is the name of the building going to be re-installed? It is at present nameless, yet you seem to be quite proud of the building, its history and its collections.
    I too could not view the photograph, using much older technology.

    • Good afternoon Ms. Hoad and thank you for your comments.

      To begin, Public Works Government Services Canada (PWGSC) owns the 395 Wellington Street facilities and LAC has rented those since the building’s construction in 1967.

      With regards to the use of the title found on the photographs, sections 2 and 5 of our legislation stipulate that the title of ‘librarian and archivist’ is a qualification of the deputy head position and not the other way around.

      Moreover, the title of deputy head (‘administrateur général’ in French) has been part of the vocabulary of the Westminster system of government, and therefore of the Canadian federal public service, for a very long time.

      According to the Guide fédéral de jurilinguistique législative française, this term denotes that: [TRANSLATION]

      … in a department, …the deputy minister, that is, the highest ranking public servant, is in charge of the management and smooth functioning of all services, under the direct responsibility of the Minister, who holds a political position. …Beyond the departmental position, legislators broadened the concept to include the chief executives of public bodies such as Crown corporations, councils, offices, and commissions, to the point that it has lost the notion of “assistant” or “deputy” that was originally part of “deputy head” at departments (however, it could be argued that the idea has not been entirely lost, as the deputy head of an organization generally reports to a minister). In any case, this broadened meaning clearly shows that, in this case again, it is much more an issue of duty and rank than of title, as the position of organization head has become part of the hierarchy of public administration through the notion of the deputy head of a department, that is, the deputy minister. In deciding on the French rendering of this concept, it was decided not to use the traditional equivalent of “sous chef.” While this term appears to be appropriate in the strict sense, as it designates the deputy minister, usage clearly limits it to subordinate positions, such as “sous chef de gare” or “sous chef de bureau,” which are not appropriate for the prestige and authority of the position in question. Moreover, the meaning of “sous chef” would not apply to the position of chief executive of an organization, not only because of the contradiction but also because the minister responsible for the organization would never head the organization. The selected term, “administrateur général,” is based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations (revised edition, 1968) of the International Labour Office, which includes a detailed description of the responsibilities of an administrator in the public sector.

      It is therefore completely appropriate and correct to use “deputy head” and “administrateur général” for the various heads of our institution and its many parent institutions.

      From a practical point of view, this enables us to assign a single title to various individuals and provides a reminder that they are all Crown servants.

      Best regards.


      • I wondered about the comment that the building is owned by PWGSC, then I realised that this was intended as an explanation for not restoring the title of the institution to the façade. Is this a new Public Works policy that all government-owned buildings shall be anonymous? The building at 395 Wellington was purpose-built for the Public Archives and National Library. When it was opened the names of the two institutions to which it was home were prominently displayed above the entrance. In the LAC Flickr posting on Prime Minister Pearson you have a picture of Pearson “entering the new Public Archives and National Library” at the time of the official opening in 1967. You have identified the building correctly in the caption. Surely you should be eager to put the institution’s current name above the entrance.
        I believe the original intention was that eventually this building would house only the National Library and a home for the Public Archives would be erected on the land next to it, then occupied by a temporary building and now used for a parking lot. Unfortunately this never happened.

  3. I had the same problem of being unable to view the picture of the stacks until yesterday when, suddenly, the picture appeared. I see you are still trying to justify the mis-labelling of the pictures of former Dominion (later National) Archivists and National Librarians, with the same excuses. Why should they all be given the same title retroactively? And I do not see how using the title “Deputy Head” provides a reminder that they were (not are) all Crown servants. And LAC is not consistent in this. In your series of hockey cards you describe Dr. Lanctot as “Dominion Archivist” which was the title he had.

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