First World War photographs in private fonds at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

A.F. Duguid, an early Canadian military historian, noted as he researched the First World War in its aftermath, “It is remarkable how much of the most useful historical material is still held in private possession.” (Clio’s Warriors by Tim Cook, page 79)

The photographs of the Canadian War Records Office photographic collection (accession 1964-114) are illustrative of the life and work of soldiers during the First World War. As many of the photographs are digitized and available online, they are heavily used by researchers.

That said, many researchers come to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) wanting to see images of the conflict that aren’t part of the official government records. This is a great example of when our private holdings—archival documents donated to LAC by individuals or organizations—can serve as an excellent complement to government holdings by providing an alternative view of an historic event.

This blog post highlights three fonds within our holdings, but there are many more. Please note that the complete references are provided below (in italics) to allow researchers to easily order the material for consultation, as not all of the items are digitized.

W. L. Kidd collection, accession 1974-137

Extent: 405 photos

Content Description: Personnel and activities of No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Etaples, France (KIDD, W. L. 1974-137 SC 0333); examples of various types of wounds suffered by Canadian soldiers during the First World War (KIDD, W.L. 1974-137 06221). (1916–1918)

Comments: Search using the keyword “1974-137” in Archives Search to see descriptions and digitized images for a portion of the collection.

A black and white photograph of a group of soldiers and nursing sisters in a tent.

“Nursing sisters attending to soldiers in the dressing tent at the No. 7 Canadian General Hospital” (1917). Credit: W.L. Kidd (MIKAN 3603386)

Margaret D. Cooke collection, accession 1989-248

Extent: 57 photos

Content Description: Canadian Army Medical Corps in England during the First World War, including 21st Battalion personnel; Saltwood Castle; soldiers at outdoor kitchen; Duchess of Connaught Red Cross Hospital at Cliveden, Taplon; No. 2 New Zealand Hospital at Walton-on-Thames; Moore Barrack, Shorncliffe, Kent; Mount Felix, Walton-on-Thames. War photographs: destroyed tank; trench; destroyed town (COOKE, MARGARET D. 1989-248 04147).

A black and white photograph of a woman in a nursing sister uniform with the cape, pin, hat and white gloves.

Nursing Sister Beatrice Baker, 1916 (MIKAN 3596850)

Anne E. Ross fonds, accessions 1982-174 and 1965-041

Extent: 1588 photographs

Content Description: Photographic material depicting […] activities and personnel of No. 3 Stationary Hospital, C.A.M.C., in Canada, England, and in the Mediterranean theatre of operations while based on the island of Lemmos, 1915–1917; photographs by E.R Owen of staff, patients, faculties, major events and visitors at the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Taplow, England, 1915–1916; photographs from the First World War (ROSS, ANNE E. 1982-174 05618, ROSS, ANNE E. 1965-041 05680A).

A black-and-white photograph of a group of four women sitting on deck chairs with blankets. Three of the sisters are wearing the dark overcoat while one is wearing a lighter coloured jacket. A soldier can be seen slightly in the middle of the group.

Nursing sisters sitting on deck of ship with a soldier (1916). Credit: Anne E. Ross (MIKAN 3195179)

If you’re interested in discovering these or other photographs held in private fonds at LAC, please contact us using our online form.


Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

3 thoughts on “First World War photographs in private fonds at Library and Archives Canada

  1. While the CWRO photographs are considered, by virtue of their source, as being official or government photography it should not be overlooked that the war was well underway before an official photographer was assigned. Photographs for the period prior to the assigning of an official photographer were acquired from a variety of non-governmental sources, including professional studios, individuals in the army and possibly other sources. Unfortunately these sources are not identified, although on occasion they are identifiable.

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