Tips for aviation accident research, part 2

By Mathieu Sabourin

In our previous blog post on civilian aviation accidents, we covered the main search principles for finding files on this topic in our archives. We showed you that records could generally be found in four record groups:

  • Department of National Defence fonds: R112 (1923–1936)
  • Department of Transport fonds: R184 (1936–1984)
  • Canadian Aviation Safety Board fonds: R13086 (1984–1989)
  • Transportation Safety Board of Canada fonds: R1009 (1990–present)

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of the first two record groups so you can better focus your searches.

Department of National Defence fonds

After the First World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force served as a civilian airline for the government and was therefore responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. The Civil Aviation Branch was created for this purpose in 1923.

At the time, the Department used a subject-block numeric classification system. Blocks 1021 and 1100 (all the files starting with these numbers) were reserved for aviation accident records. For example:

Screenshot of the results of an archives search. A big red arrow indicates the reference to Block 1021.

Example of a file from Block 1021.

The records in Block 1021 are generally found in the Royal Canadian Air Force First Central Registry (RG24-E-1-a) sub-series. If you don’t find your file online, it might not have a description yet. See finding aid 24-99, available in the Reference Services Room at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa.

The records in Block 1100 are in the Aircraft Accident Investigation Files from the First RCAF Central Registry (RG24-E-14) sub-series. This sub-series also contains some records from Block 1021. Finding aid 24-103 could help you with your searches.

Department of Transport fonds

The Department of Transport was created in 1936. Its role was to develop and operate a safe and efficient national transportation system. It was therefore given responsibility for the management of aviation accidents.

Depending on the date of the accident, the information you are seeking may be found in different places in the Department of Transport fonds. For 1936 to 1970, you should focus on Air Services, which was called Air Services Branch at the time. For 1970 to 1985, you’ll need to look at the Canadian Air Transportation Administration for the records you want.

Air Services (Air Services Branch)

The Department of Transport records are also archived according to a subject-block numeric classification system. Blocks 5002 and 5004 are especially important: the first deals with civilian aircraft, the second with aircraft registered abroad.

When searching the Air Services Branch, you should keep in mind the Aircraft accident investigation files (RG12-A-1-c) sub-series. It is divided into two sub-sub-series: one for 5002 files and the other for 5004 files. We suggest exploring them in our database or consulting the finding aids in the Reference Services Room.

Also be aware of these two points:

  • These sub-sub-series contain many accessions, that is, records held but not yet processed by Library and Archives Canada. Using the finding aids for these accessions may be difficult.
  • Access restrictions are still in effect for most of the records in these sub-sub-series. You may have to file an access request under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. For more information, see the “Conditions of access” section in each online description.

Canadian Air Transportation Administration

Most of the relevant records in this series can be found in the sub-series entitled Central Registry Files of the Canadian Air Transportation Administration (RG12-A-2-d). Finding aids 12-23, 12-29 and 12-182 are particularly useful.

This sub-series also contains many accessions, and access to many of the records is restricted.

Finding aid 12-186 may be very useful if you are searching for information on an accident that occurred between 1949 and 1974. This aid, associated with accession 1995-96/312 entitled Central Registry of Regional Aircraft Accident Files, is sorted by years and geographic regions (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, Pacific).


Mathieu Sabourin is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

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