Top 5 topics addressed by our Reference Archivists

By Rebecca Murray

Reference archivists receive a lot of questions. In 2018 alone, our reference archivists responded to over 1,200 written reference requests about archival records held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Here are the top five subjects that we address on a regular basis.

A black-and-white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Train cars off the tracks at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph by John Boyd. a070106

1. Transport accident reports

Our country’s vast expanses require frequent transportation from A to Z and points in between. Occasionally, civil or military aircraft, trains and ships are involved in accidents that range from minor occurrences to major wrecks that make the national news. LAC holds the archival fonds of the federal departments, agencies and boards that are tasked with investigating and reporting on transportation accidents.

Check out previous blog posts: Railway Accident Records at LAC, Tips for Aviation Accident Research part 1 and part 2.

If you’re interested in a marine accidents, use Collection Search and various combinations of keywords to narrow down potentially relevant records within the Department of Transport fonds (RG12). Type in RG12, the name of the boat, the location of the accident, and then filter your results by date.

You can also find published material on accidents. For aircraft accidents, check out Published Sources for Aviation Accident Reports. To find other published reports about transportation accidents, enter relevant keywords in Collection Search and select “library” from the dropdown menu.

A panoramic photograph showing the soldiers of the 91st Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, standing and sitting in three rows. The soldiers are dressed in uniform, some are holding drums and other musical instruments.

91st Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, April 7, 1916. e010932335

2. Military operations and units

Many researchers ask for information regarding specific military operations or units. It is helpful to have a date range to narrow the scope of the request. Start with a keyword search in Collection Search for records within the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112) and choose “archives” from the dropdown menu to narrow your search.

For example, if you are interested in Operation Overlord, the codename for the Second World War Battle of Normandy (1944), you could try “RG24 operation overlord” and then filter results to archival material from the 1940s. Use the same steps if you’re interested in a specific military unit. Perform a keyword search for the unit’s name or number along with archival reference number “RG24.”

A black-and-white image of an official Province of Canada document describing the exact location and size of a land grant.

Land patent confirming title to land, granted to David Patterson in Haldimand County, June 8, 1856. (RG68 volume 231, file EO, page 172)

3. Land sales and holdings

This is a very popular topic—especially interesting as our country’s land use has changed and evolved over time. Record keeping and shifting government responsibilities have made this type of research a challenge. There are several blog posts to guide researchers through the preliminary phases of their research:

LAC also maintains numerous databases related to land holdings including:

Most researchers inquire about land they currently own or that was granted to their ancestors. The following information helps us respond to your request more efficiently:

  • Date of grant (or sale/transfer)
  • Location of land (specific legal description or general)
  • Name of patentee (group, corporation or individual)
A blurry black-and-white photograph of a building taken from the side, showing the main entrance and the front of the building.

St. Eugene Indian Residential School—Kootenay, main building looking south, Cranbrook, B.C., September 11, 1948. (e011080318)

4. Residential or day school attendance

Our reference services receive many requests related to attendance at residential or day schools. Most residential school records are in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds (RG10/R216).

In Collection Search, type in various combinations of the following terms for a broad search: the name of the school, archival reference number RG10, and keywords such as pupil, student, nominal, attendance, admission or discharge.

Refine your search results using the tabs across the top of the results page or the filters in the left menu. For example, you can limit your results to Archives (unpublished materials) and a specific date range. The goal is to identify and compile a list of complete references for potentially relevant files.

For links to digitized records organized by school, refer to School Files Series—1879–1953.

A black-and-white photograph of a large stone building. In front of the building, there are men walking on the sidewalk. The sign on the building next door reads “The Mercury Newspaper.”

Post Office, Renfrew, Ontario, 1910. a055863

5. Information about historic federal buildings

Are you an architecture buff? Maybe you live or work in a historic building (train station, post office, customs house)? There are many reasons for researching historic buildings.

In Collection Search, start with the building type and location (e.g. Post Office Renfrew). Filter your results as needed—perhaps you are looking for photographs or contract specifications for a mid-century renovation. Filtering by date or type of document (e.g. maps) is often the best first step.

Use clues from the results page to conduct further keyword searches, perhaps using more specific terminology (like street names). Or widen your search using broader geographical terms (like the name of the province or region).

We love getting your questions and will always help you while following our Reference Services Charter. While we cannot do your research for you, Ask Us a Question and we will do our best to help you advance your research on any topic!


Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division.

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “A Look inside the Preservation Centre

A colour photograph of a large modern building made out of glass with metal pillars.Ever wonder where Library and Archives Canada stores, protects and preserves Canada’s diverse and rich documentary heritage? Join us for this episode as we take you on a walking tour of LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec. This state-of-the-art facility is the crown jewel of documentary heritage preservation in Canada and we are celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017. In this episode, we will guide you through the Preservation Centre, discussing its award-winning architecture and offering insight into how we store and preserve our national treasures.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Newly digitized images of the construction of 395 Wellington

By Andrew Elliott

Located on a site overlooking the Ottawa River, the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) building (known more fondly as 395 Wellington or, even more archaically, as PANL—Public Archives National Library) is an iconic structure that is highly visible from many vantage points on both sides of the Ottawa River. The building embodies the preservation of the national collective documentary memory, which Library and Archives Canada gathers and disseminates.

The history of the design and construction of this Classified Federal Heritage Building is an interesting one. While the original proposal targeted a site near the intersection of Bank and Wellington streets, in November 1952, the National Planning Committee of the Federal District Commission (now the National Capital Commission) approved the 395 Wellington Street address as the most appropriate location for the new National Library and Archives building. At the suggestion of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, Cabinet agreed to retain the services of the prestigious firm Mathers & Haldenby to design the new building.

The firm of Mathers and Haldenby (1921–1991) was established by Alvan Sherlock Mathers ([1895–1965] born in Aberfoyle, Ontario) and Eric Wilson Haldenby ([1893–1971] born in Toronto).

Construction, however, was delayed for almost a decade. The primary reason: No. 1 Temporary Building, which sat on the site, had not yet been demolished. In 1958 the project was further delayed following a major gas explosion on Slater Street, which destroyed a government building and saw the relocation of hundreds of civil servants to the remaining offices at No. 1 Temporary Building.

In 1960 Ellis-Don was awarded the contract to construct the building and in the fall of 1963 construction finally began in earnest. The entire construction project, which lasted until 1967, was recorded by Ottawa’s Van Photography Studio.

Recently, a remarkable series of photos showing the progress of the building was digitized by LAC. These images can be found in the Department of Public Works Accession. Included are the following photos:

A black–and-white photograph showing a large construction site with various types of construction equipment, and trees and other buildings in the distance

Excavation of the building site, September 4, 1963 (MIKAN 3600820)

A black-and-white photograph showing the unfinished facade of a 10-storey building. There is construction board on the ground floor. There are cars (including a VW bug!) and pedestrians going about their business.

A view of the partially constructed building looking north, July 15, 1965 (MIKAN 3600860)

A black-and-white photograph showing a building completely surrounded by scaffolding.

View of the building looking southeast, August 16, 1965 (MIKAN 3600863)

A black-and-white photograph showing a construction site with a partially finished building.

A view looking northeast taken on November 26, 1965 (MIKAN 3600869)

A black-and-white photograph a low-ceilinged room with rows upon rows of shelving in various states of completion.

An interior view of partially finished stack shelving, November 21, 1966 (MIKAN 3600895)

A black-and-white photograph of a large room with scaffolding and construction materials scattered about.

Partially finished Reading Room showing the coffered-light ceilings, February 24, 1967 (MIKAN 3600901)

A black-and-white photograph showing a partially completed interior covered in deeply-veined, white Carrera marble.

Main floor showing the beautiful marbles in the entrance of the building, June 27, 1966 (MIKAN 3600882)

On May 10, 1965, Governor General Georges Vanier laid the official cornerstone. Inside the cornerstone he placed an elaborate copper casket containing pictures and descriptions of the building as well as copies of the latest publications of both the National Library and the National Archives. On June 20, 1967, in time for the celebration of Canada’s centennial, Canada’s new, purpose-built National Library and Archives building was officially opened. You can listen to the opening ceremonies here:

395 Wellington is an interesting combination of functional and aesthetic design. As the Federal Heritage Building Review Office Report 04-027 (FHBRO) states, “[it] is a high quality achievement . . . . Aesthetically, it is a hybrid of two tendencies, balancing remnants of federal classical modernism with Modernism’s new trends, both of which it handles with sophistication and refinement, resulting in a modern, functionalist, rational appearance . . . . Functionally, the complex range of the building’s uses is well served and the arrangement of public areas and that of services and stacks is reflected in the composition of the building.” (For further reading see: http://historicplaces.ca/media/18730/2004-027(e)publicarchivesandnationallibrarybuilding.pdf)

As one can see, neither time nor expense was spared with regard to the building’s design. Today, the building continues to have an iconic presence near the heart of downtown Ottawa.


Andrew Elliott is an archivist with the Science, Governance and Political Division of Library and Archives Canada.

 

Thomas Fuller’s Post Offices

At the end of October 1881, the Government of Canada appointed architect Thomas Fuller (1823–1898) to the job of Chief Architect in the Department of Public Works. Fuller—already celebrated for his design work for Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings—would continue in this job until his retirement in 1897. During his sixteen-year tenure, he was responsible for the design and construction of numerous public buildings across the country, including some 80 post office buildings. Fuller designed post offices that were landmarks, and as such helped to foster a federal architectural image (or “Dominion Image”) that was instantly recognizable to ordinary citizens.

Fuller’s post offices were of a unique character, and yet each had a family resemblance. They were usually two-and-half storeys high, rectangular in shape, and had a one-storey rear extension. They also had high gables located at the centre of the street-facing facade as well as a distinctive combination of French Renaissance and High Gothic architectural details.

Fuller also took advantage of site location. His post offices were located at a town or city’s important intersection or at the end of a main street. Fuller used a distinctive picturesque formula—on some buildings he added a tower, on others he might have added a side projection or a corner entrance, a side elevation that duplicated the gable of the main facade, or even a central clock tower. Continue reading

The Central Technical School of Toronto: a century of learning

Toronto’s Central Technical School (CTS), located near the intersection of Harbord and Lippincott streets in Toronto, is celebrating an important anniversary this fall. Officially opened on August 31, 1915, the school has been a significant local and national landmark since day one. The building was lauded in the October 1915 Construction Magazine as being a “beautiful and lasting monument to the determination and energy of the little minority who realized the importance and the great future of technical education.” The estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars was borne by the City of Toronto.

A black-and-white photograph showing a large building taken from the side.

Front of the Central Technical School in Toronto, photo taken by John Boyd on October 23, 1915 (MIKAN 3327188)

Once considered to be the largest school of its kind in the British Empire, it is designed in a Collegiate Gothic architectural style. Many early 20th-century Canadian schools were built in this style. Continue reading

The Parliament Hill Precinct

The Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are some of the most recognizable structures in Canada. Although the Peace Tower may be the most iconic part of the exterior of the buildings, it’s the newest addition to the precinct. Originally built between 1859 and 1866 in the Victorian High Gothic Revival style, Centre Block officially opened on June 6, 1866 as Parliament for the Provinces of Canada. The location was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1857 and was the biggest construction project of its time in North America, running way over budget, in part due to the cost of blasting out the bedrock to build the foundation. On July 1, 1867, Centre Block was chosen to be the official Parliament for the Dominion of Canada. Its location was considered ideal for many reasons, namely its distance from the American border, as well as its visibility to those who lived in the area.

A black-and-white photograph of the original Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Parliament Buildings, Centre Block, by Captain Jacobs, c. 1886 (MIKAN 3319558)

Centre Block stood on Parliament Hill for 50 years until the evening of February 3, 1916 when a fire broke out in the House of Commons’ reading room. The flames spread quickly and seven lives were lost that night. While many of the stone walls remained standing, the only part of the building to truly survive was the library, which was built in 1876 with iron doors (which were closed by a clerk before leaving that evening). Although rumours claimed arson was the cause, the fire was a result of a discarded cigar.

A black-and-white photograph showing a very elaborate round building with pinnacles and flying buttresses in a wintry setting next to a building partly encased in ice. Firemen are putting out a fire.

View of the Library of Parliament and Centre Block on the day after the Centre Block fire, taken by William Topley in 1916 (MIKAN 3194673)

Despite Canada being heavily involved in the First World War at the time, it was clear that the buildings had to be rebuilt. With the country expanding, it was decided that the Parliament Buildings would follow suit. The plan was to keep the same Gothic Revival style as the original buildings without creating carbon copies of them. Construction started later that year and was completed in 1922. The Peace Tower, named in commemoration of Canada’s commitment to peace, was completed in 1927.

A black-and-white photograph showing the first three stories of a building with the rotunda of the Library of Parliament in the background. Cranes and construction materials surround the area.

Rebuilding of the Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, c. 1917-1918. Photo taken by Samuel J. Jarvis (MIKAN 3319865)

A black-and-white photograph showing the main Parliament building from the front with crowds of people filling Parliament Hill.

Jubilee celebrations on Parliament Hill in 1927 (MIKAN 3549627)

Today, Centre Block is bordered by the East and West Blocks and by a large public open space that serves many purposes—it’s a celebration area on Canada Day, a place for demonstrations and protests, a spot for noontime yoga in the summer, etc. Tours of Centre Block are given throughout the year and it’s become one of Ottawa’s most popular attractions.

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