Top 5 topics addressed by our Reference Librarians

By Emily Dingwall

At Library and Archives Canada (LAC), reference librarians respond to requests on a wide variety of interesting topics from clients. This blog post outlines five types of reference questions librarians frequently handle and suggests resources to consult on these subjects.

The cover page from Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada with the title “Public Accounts of Canada, for the Fiscal Year ended 30th June, 1884.”

“Public Accounts of Canada” report found in Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1885, Vol. 1, No. 1. (OCLC 1007491677, image from Canadiana)

  1. Federal government documents

Annual departmental reports. Clients are often seeking annual departmental reports. Annual reports from Confederation in 1867 to 1925 are printed in the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada. Learn more about the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1925. If you are in Ottawa, you can access the Sessional Papers at LAC by requesting them from staff in the 2nd floor reference room. They are also available through these websites:

Departmental reports post–1925 are published separately from other government documents in the Sessional Papers. You can request 1925–1930 annual reports from LAC staff or through the Internet Archive.

After 1930, search our library catalogue Aurora for annual reports by the name of the department as it was known  during that period.

Beginning with 1995, you can find annual reports at the Government of Canada’s Departmental Results Reports. For more recent years, you can search the specific government department website.

Parliamentary documents. We also receive many questions on searching parliamentary debates, journals and committee materials of the House of Commons and the Senate, such as for a speech made by a prime minister in the House. You can find these documents online:

A typewritten page with two columns of text, separated by a crest. The text on the left is in English and the text on the right is in French.

Front page of the Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 137, No. 23, November 5, 2003. (OCLC 1082716964, image from Canada Gazette)

  1. Legislative Research

Librarians frequently receive questions about legislation in print or legislation that can be found online through Justice Laws.

You can trace legislation through these main sources:

  • The Statutes of Canada include all acts and amendments to laws passed during each session of Parliament.
  • The Revised Statutes of Canada (R.S.C.) are consolidations of the Statutes of Canada incorporating amendments and acts that have been added since the last revision. The R.S.C have been published for the years 1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, and 1985.

The Statutes of Canada and the Revised Statutes of Canada are available in print format in our reference collection at LAC, as well as at many public and academic libraries. They are also accessible through the legal database LLMC Digital, which can be searched onsite at LAC.

To learn more about the Statutes and researching legislation, see the blog post Tracing Historical Legislation.

You can find official regulations and statutory instruments in Part II of the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. Published in three parts, the Canada Gazette is searchable by keyword at these sites:

To learn more about the three parts of the Canada Gazette please see Canada Gazette publications.

Readings of bills, such as the First and Third readings, can be found by searching the library catalogue Aurora.

LEGISinfo, the Library of Parliament’s research tool, provides information on all bills considered by the Senate and the House of Commons since the start of the 37th Parliament in 2001.

An image of a four-column newspaper, Courrier canadien.

Courrier canadien, March 11, 1900. (OCLC 109270836)

  1. Newspaper Research

Librarians often assist clients in searching newspapers for information such as local histories, articles on individuals, or references to a past royal visit to Canada.

We hold newspapers in print and microfilm formats, which can be found through the Aurora library catalogue. We also subscribe to several newspaper databases.

The Geographical microform list names all the newspapers that we hold on microfilm (click on the OCLC number), as well as newspapers available online. The list is organized by province/territory, then alphabetically by location.

Major newspaper titles such as Le Devoir, the Montreal Gazette, and the Ottawa Citizen are available in our self-service microform reading room.

These newspaper databases can be accessed on the public workstations in our reference room: The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Paper of Record and Newspaper Archive.

Online newspaper resources include:

The cover page of “Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War.”

Cover page of Colonel C.P. Stacey’s Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume I: Six Years of War: The Army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific. (OCLC 317352934, image from Government of Canada publications)

  1. Military History Research

Librarians receive military history questions from clients looking for published histories of specific regiments/units, recruitment statistics per year, and locations of Canadian units in Europe during World War II.

Resources for military history research include:

An image of a Grand Trunk Railway timetable from 1922.

Timetable of the Ontario lines of the Grand Trunk Railway from 1922. (e011297622)

  1. Railway Histories

Many clients contact Reference Services about railway history research. Examples of questions we receive include the histories of specific train stations, the histories of railway companies (Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railways, Grand Trunk, etc.), and routes of particular railway lines.

We hold railway maps, as well as passenger and employee timetables in print format that can be located by searching Aurora. Many timetables are part of the Merrilees Transportation Collection, which contains about 5,000 publications including books, trade literature, technical manuals, timetables, broadsides, periodicals and pamphlets.

An Ontario railway historian has made rail timetables available on Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages.

Canadian Pacific Railway timetables from 1930–1985 are available through the Chung Collection at the University of British Columbia Library.

These are two excellent print publications to consult on railway history:

  • Andreae, C., & Matthews, G. Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada. Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills Press, 1997. This publication is a comprehensive outline of railway and waterway history in Canada and includes maps of railways in Canada from early days to the present. It can be accessed in our reference room.
  • Ballantyne, B., and Bytown Railway Society. Canadian Railway Station Guide. Ottawa: Bytown Railway Society, 1998. This publication lists stations, plans and pictures.

 I hope that these resources will help you with your research on these subjects. Of course feel free to ask us a question on any topic, and a reference librarian will be happy to assist you!


Emily Dingwall is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Who will make good? The Land Development Records of the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors

Railways have long played a prominent role in the stories we tell about Canada’s development as a nation. Promising to facilitate travel and trade across the vast expanse of Canada’s geography, the construction of transcontinental railway lines was once seen as pivotal to the formation of a coherent national identity.

But railway companies also participated in the settlement of Western Canada by serving as the developers and property agents for land granted to them by the federal government. Following the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1870, railway land grants were a key component of the government’s plan to increase the population of western regions already occupied by indigenous communities, Métis settlements, and Hudson’s Bay Company outposts. Even in the early twentieth century, land grants were used to encourage the railway companies to extend their tracks across the whole of the continent, and railway construction was partly financed through the lease and sale of this land.

The Winnipeg Regional Services office holds a rich aggregation of records documenting the sale and lease of Western Canadian farm and townsite land by the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors. Originating from the various subsidiary property companies linked to the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, these records sketch vivid portraits of Western Canadian settlers and some of the many challenges they faced in the early and mid-twentieth century. Continue reading