Library and Archives Canada to Digitize 640,000 First World War Service Files

As part of the commemoration of the centennial of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced in its News section that it is undertaking the digitization of 640,000 personnel service files of the First World War’s Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) members with a view to ensuring the long-term preservation of these frail paper documents.

Transferred to LAC about 20 years ago, CEF service files represent LAC’s most heavily consulted collection. A victim of its own success, the high number of transactions to which the collection has been subjected is putting strains on the mostly paper-based documents and is hastening their deterioration.

Many readers who have had the opportunity to hold these precious historical documents in their hands in recent years will certainly remember how some of the sheets are beginning to crumble. If LAC does not undertake action to preserve these files now, they are at risk. Once lost, they are lost forever.

To be able to perform this important undertaking, LAC will temporarily close portions of the service files. The first quarter, beginning with the letter A through D, will be closed as of March 2014 and will be available on-line as of Summer 2014.

While 75% of the collections will always be open, LAC will not be able to accept requests to consult documents in person, nor take orders for copies for a period of up to 4 months on the portion of the collection being digitized.

The files to be digitized will complement the approximately 13,500 service files and the more than 620,000 attestation papers already available on LAC’s website. At the end of the project, expected in 2015, Canadians will be able to research high-quality digital copies of the 640,000 newly digitized service files from the comfort of their own home and will no longer have to pay reprography fees.

LAC is pleased to contribute to the Commemorative Initiatives of the Government of Canada to honour the contributions and sacrifices made by Canadian men and women during the First World War. We wish to recognize Public Works and Government Services Canada’s support in this endeavour.

LAC appreciates your understanding and patience during the course of this extensive project.

For more information on this initiative, please consult the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files.

4 thoughts on “Library and Archives Canada to Digitize 640,000 First World War Service Files

  1. This is great news and I look forward to seeing my grandfather’s files come on-line. I will have to wait for a bit since his last name is Payne, but it will be well worth the wait I am sure. Thanks to LAAC for making this possible and making sure that these and other valuable treasures are preserved for future generations.
    Sandra Chester

  2. Congratulations on this project. Better late than never. These records will be of interest and use to many people once they are available on the internet. The timing of the project, however, shows a lack of forward planning. Other institutions are making digitized versions of resources related to WWI available to the public now – the material has been scanned and annotated some time ago. The excellent website created by The Rooms several years ago to commemorate the service of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in WWI includes the service records of all the members of the regiment. It is unfortunate that such a large proportion of these CEF records will be unavailable for public consultation just when the interest in them will be the greatest. Would it not be possible to remove from circulation only say 10% of the records in preparation for scanning at a time?

  3. Looking forward to the project, my grandfathers Royal Newfoundland Regiment WW1 Service Records were misfiled and have never been relocated in the Library and Archives of Canada, or The Rooms in Newfoundland. Hoping a renewed project will find the missing file.

  4. Pingback: 52 Ancestors…Military records… – writing my past

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