Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of January 2018

As of today, 543,142 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 9247 and last name Staunton.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of December 2017

As of today, 532,447 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 9059 and last name Smith.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

The Halifax Explosion: Records at Library and Archives Canada

By Valerie Casbourn

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships, the Imo and the Mont-Blanc, collided in the Narrows of Halifax Harbour. The Mont-Blanc was a munitions ship on its way to join a convoy sailing to war-torn Europe. The cargo of the Mont-Blanc caught fire, and after burning for 20 minutes, the ship exploded. The blast ripped through the city killing almost 2,000 people, injuring thousands more and causing widespread devastation in Halifax, Dartmouth, and the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove. The “Halifax Explosion” as it became known, brought the danger and destruction of the First World War home to Canada, and left an indelible mark on the city of Halifax.

A black-and-white photograph of several people walking down a street with destroyed buildings on both sides.

Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. The building on the left was the Hillis & Sons Foundry. (MIKAN 3193301)

Guides to Records about the Halifax Explosion

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds various records that tell part of the story of the Halifax Explosion, its aftermath, and the relief work and investigations following the disaster. The first place to look is LAC’s thematic guide, Halifax Explosion. Some of the records listed in the guide are available on digitized microfilm reels on the Héritage website. Other records are available for onsite consultation at LAC.

The guide primarily lists records about the disaster and its aftermath kept by the Canadian federal government. This includes records such as the formal investigation into the collision of the Imo and the Mont-Blanc conducted by the Dominion Wreck Commissioner (RG42, Vol. 596 and RG42, Vol. 597). There is also correspondence of the wartime Chief Press Censor, Ernest J. Chambers (RG6, Vol. 621, File 350, Microfilm reel T-102) that documents both the urgent need to report news of the disaster accurately, but not to reveal any information about the defences of Halifax Harbour.

Image of a telegram that reads: “3:45 p.m. Telegram sent to Geo. D. Perry? Gen. Mgr. G.N.W. Telegraph Co, Toronto, Ont. Telegram sent to J. McMillan, Mgr. C.P. Ry. Telegraphs, Montreal. Ottawa, Ont., December 6, 1917. In view of contradictory reports abroad regarding Halifax explosion I hope everything possible is being done to facilitate a transmission of all press reports. This most desirable from a national point of view. Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor.”

from Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor, to G.N.W. Telegraph Co. and C.P. Ry. Telegraphs (T-102, Image 119)

Image of a telegram that reads: “Ottawa, December 7, 1917. C.O. Knowles, Toronto. In connection with reports of Halifax disaster it is important that nothing be published revealing information as to defences, strength and disposition of garrison, etc. Neither should details be given as to naval and transport activities at the port during war. No photographs of Halifax or vicinity taken since commencement of war should be published. Desirable that special correspondents despatched to Halifax inform themselves as to local censorship requirements. Ernest J. Chambers.”

from Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor, to C.O. Knowles, Canadian Press Limited. (T-102, Image 136)

If you are looking for images, try LAC’s Flickr album of digitized photographs taken after the Halifax Explosion. LAC also has a more detailed description of the explosion at First World War: Tragedy on the Home Front.

A black-and-white photograph showing a line of people digging through the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. (MIKAN 3193299)

How to Search for More Records

You can find more records related to the Halifax Explosion by searching the Archives database for the keywords Halifax AND explosion OR disaster; or try searching for other keywords related to the disaster. You can then limit your search results by date, or by the type of material (i.e., photographs or textual material).

The records at LAC come from the Canadian federal government and from private individuals and organizations. Some records are available online, and others are available for onsite consultation by visiting in person, or by ordering reproductions.

Correspondence about the Halifax Explosion: Sir Robert Borden fonds

There are far too many different records about the Halifax Explosion to mention them all here, but correspondence in the Sir Robert Borden fonds (MG26-H) tells one small part of the story. Sir Robert Borden was the Prime Minister of Canada and the Member of Parliament for Halifax at the time of the explosion, and his papers include telegram messages giving news of the disaster, messages of sympathy for the people of Halifax, offers of assistance, and more.

To find records about the Halifax Explosion in the Sir Robert Borden fonds, search the Archives database for the keywords MG26-H AND Halifax AND explosion. You can also review the finding aids for the Borden fonds, available as PDF documents in the “Finding aid” section of the fonds description (scroll down).

Much of the correspondence related to the explosion is in the file “Halifax Disaster 1917–1918” (MG26-H, Vols. 89–90, Pages 46309–47016, microfilm reel C-4325, which is available on the Héritage website, starting at image 301).

A Great North Western Telegraph Company of Canada telegram, which reads: “Moncton, N.B. Dec. 6, 1917. J.D. Reid, Ottawa. It is reported that ship loaded with explosives at pier six as she was backing out of pier about half past eight this morning an inward bound ship ran into her and she caught fire, they tried to sink her before she exploded but failed. She blew up at nine o’clock. It is reported the city in bad state and much damage done but account wires being down unable to get any detail. Will give further information soon as obtained. Assistant General Manager Brown going to Halifax by Special. C.A. Hayes.”

This initial report of the disaster was sent to Ottawa from Moncton because the explosion damaged telegraph and telephone wires in Halifax and cut off communications to the city. (microfilm C-4325, image 321)

A Western Union telegram which reads: “RM Boston Mass. Dec 7 via Ottawa Ont. 8 1917. Robert Borden, Prime Minister, Halifax, NS. From your knowledge of conditions at Halifax what can we best do at once to help relieve the distress of the people at Halifax last night medical relief train left here at ten o’clock due at Halifax at eight pm tonight we have a ship here at our disposal that can leave here Sunday morning and would be due in Halifax Monday morning can she dock. H.B. Endicot Chairman Mass Halifax Relief Committee.”

An offer of help from Boston, sent to Sir Robert Borden by H.B. Endicott, Chairman of the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee (microfilm C-4325, image 345)

Related Resources:


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist with the Regional Services and ATIP Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson
This week, Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog honours Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, Canadian Victoria Cross recipient for his actions during the First World War Battle of Cambrai, which took place one hundred years ago today.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer wearing a cap and all the accoutrements of an officer.

Lieutenant Harcus Strachan, VC, undated (MIKAN 3221434)

Born in Borrowstounness, Scotland, in 1887, Strachan immigrated to Canada in 1908. He enlisted in The Fort Garry Horse regiment, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1915. He was a commissioned lieutenant and, on November 20, 1917, took command of a mounted squadron of The Fort Garry Horse at Masnières, France. When the squadron leader was killed, Lieutenant Strachan led the squad through the German line of machine gun posts and charged the German battery, killing seven of the gunners in hand-to-hand fighting. He then cut telephone communications three kilometers behind the German lines, rallied his surviving men, and fought his way back through to his own lines with all unwounded men and fifteen German prisoners. His citation in the London Gazette asserts that this operation “was only rendered possible by the outstanding gallantry and fearless leading of this officer” (London Gazette, no. 30433, December 18, 1917).

A black-and-white photograph of a line of mounted soldiers riding through a village.

Lieutenant Strachan, VC, and a squadron of The Fort Garry Horse passing through a village on the Cambrai front, December 1917 (MIKAN 3405685)

A typewritten report of the events of the day.

The Fort Garry Horse war diary, dated November 20, 1917, Page 2 of Lieutenant Strachan’s report (MIKAN 2004724)

Lieutenant-Colonel Strachan was promoted to captain and received his Victoria Cross from King George V on January 6, 1918. It became a tradition for the “Garrys” to hold a parade every year on the anniversary of Strachan’s Victoria Cross. Strachan survived the war and later commanded the 1st Battalion of the Edmonton Fusiliers during the Second World War. He died in Vancouver on May 1, 1982. Strachan was recently honoured with an historical plaque on the shores of Harcus Strachan Lake, 250 kilometers east of Thompson, Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada has the fully digitized service file for Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Victoria Cross Recipients: First World War now on Flickr

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration in the Commonwealth and takes precedence over all other medals, decorations and orders. A recognition of valour in the face of the enemy, the VC can be awarded to a person of any rank of military service and to civilians under military command. So far, 98 Canadians have been awarded the Victoria Cross, beginning with Alexander Roberts Dunn who in 1854 fought in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The Victoria Crosses were awarded to 71 Canadian soldiers during the First World War, and 16 were awarded during the Second World War. The remaining VCs were awarded to Canadians for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in which William Hall of Nova Scotia became the first-ever black recipient of the VC) and the South African War (1899–1902).

In 1993, the Canadian Victoria Cross was adopted in place of the British VC. The medal is identical to the British VC but the inscription is in Latin—Pro Valore—a linguistic ancestor to both English and French. The Canadian Victoria Cross has yet to be awarded.

A black-and-white image of Lance-Corporal F. Fisher.

Lance-Corporal F. Fisher, April 23, 1915 (MIKAN 3215642)

A black-and-white photograph of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, April 27-28, 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

A black-and-white photograph of Sergeant Alexander Picton Brereton.

Sergeant Alexander Picton Brereton, August 9, 1918 (MIKAN 3213059)

A black-and-white photograph of Sergeant Hugh Cairns.

Sergeant Hugh Cairns, November 1, 1918 (MIKAN 3191892)

Visit the Flickr album now!

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of November 2017

As of today, 518,124 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 8803 and last name Sharp.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Library and Archives Canada is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Former Enemies Are Now Friends”

Colour photograph of a sculpture of two enemy soldiers leaning over to shake hands over a rugby ball.For many descendants of First World War veterans, the act of researching the service files of their relatives opens up a world of new information regarding their families. In this episode, Former enemies are now friends, we speak with Tim Hack about the amazing journey he undertook to reconnect with his great-grandfathers, who fought on opposite sides of the First World War. Tim came across the Canadian Expeditionary Force files right after starting work at LAC. This discovery inspired him to retrace his great-grandfathers’ footsteps across northern Europe. He was gracious enough to share the audio diary of his trip with us. But before Tim embarked on his trip, we invited him into our studio to talk about where this journey began and what he was hoping to achieve by walking in his great-grandfathers’ footsteps one hundred years later.

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.

Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, Victoria Cross recipients

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today the Discover Blog remembers Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for gallantry one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the First World War’s deadliest and most decisive battles.

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers standing in front of an elaborate wrought iron gate.

Sergeant Colin Barron, VC (right) and Private Cecil John Kinross, VC, undated (MIKAN 3405057)

Corporal Barron was born in Boyndie, Banffshire, Scotland, in 1893. He immigrated to Canada in 1910 and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Toronto in 1914. Barron was serving with the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion on November 6, 1917, at the Battle of Passchendaele. His unit’s objective was to capture a German pillbox at Goudberg Spur that was blocking the Canadian line of advance. Barron, with a Lewis machine gun, moved around the flank of the German position before opening fire and rushing the machine gun emplacements, killing four of the crew and capturing the remainder before turning the guns on the enemy to the rear. “The remarkable dash and determination displayed by this N.C.O. in rushing the guns produced far-reaching results, and enabled the advance to be continued” (London Gazette, no. 30471, January 11, 1918).

Colin Barron achieved the rank of sergeant-major. He survived the war and served during the Second World War with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He died in 1958 and is buried in the veterans’ section of Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.

A typewritten description of the events of the day.

Appendix C – Observations from the November War Diary of the 3rd Battalion (MIKAN 1883209)

On that same day, Private James Peter Robertson was taking part in the final assault on Passchendaele Ridge with the 27th Infantry Battalion, CEF. Robertson, who was born in Albion Mines (now Stellarton), Pictou County, Nova Scotia, enlisted with the 27th (Winnipeg) Battalion in 1915. When his platoon was held up by barbed wire and machine gun fire, Robertson rushed the German gun. After a hand-to-hand struggle with the crew, he killed four gunners and sent the rest into retreat. Robertson’s citation in the London Gazette tells that, “carrying the captured machine gun, he led his platoon to the final objective. He then selected an excellent position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy.” Robertson used the machine gun to suppress sniper fire on his unit and, when two Canadian snipers were themselves badly wounded, he ventured out and managed to carry one man back under heavy fire. Tragically, he was killed by a shell as he returned with the second man. Private Robertson is buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.

A black-and-white photograph of a young man in uniform.

Private James Peter Robertson, VC (MIKAN 3645665)

Library and Archives Canada holds the complete service files for Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Major-General George Randolph Pearkes, Victoria Cross recipient

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Major-General George Randolph Pearkes was born in Watford, England, in 1888, and immigrated to Alberta in 1906. In 1915, he enlisted with the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and from September 1916 onward commanded the 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Passchendaele.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer wearing a cap, a Sam Browne belt (a wide leather strap around the waist with another narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder) and arm stripes.

Major George Randolph Pearkes, VC, wearing the Military Cross service ribbon (he had not yet received the ribbon for the Victoria Cross). Note the four wound stripes on his sleeve. Photograph taken in December 1917 by William Rider-Rider (MIKAN 3219828)

Pearkes, then a major, was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his skillful command during the capture and consolidation of his unit’s objectives and further ground in Passchendaele, Belgium, from October 30 to 31, 1917. Major Pearkes, who had been wounded in the thigh prior to his troops’ advance, led his unit throughout their attack. His citation in the London Gazette states that, when his unit’s advance was halted by a strongpoint, which a unit to his left had failed to capture, Pearkes himself captured and held the point, thus allowing the continued advance of Canadian troops.

It was entirely due to his determination and fearless personality that he was able to maintain his objective with the small number of men at his command against repeated enemy counter-attacks, both his flanks being unprotected for a considerable depth meanwhile.

London Gazette, no. 30471, 11 January 1918.

Before the end of the war, Pearkes would be wounded five times, promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and awarded the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. Following the armistice, he became a career officer, was appointed to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and served as a staff officer at the Royal Military College of Canada. During the Second World War, Brigadier Pearkes commanded the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, later becoming the general officer commanding in Chief, Pacific Command, where he oversaw defences on Canada’s west coast. He entered federal politics upon retiring from the army and was elected as the MP, Progressive Conservative Party, for Nanaimo, British Columbia in 1945. He was Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960, and became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in October 1960.

Major-General George Pearkes died in Victoria, British Columbia on May 30, 1984. The George R. Pearkes Building housing the Department of National Defence in Ottawa is named in his honour, as is Mount Pearkes on British Columbia’s mainland south coast. The complete digitized service file for Major-General George Pearkes is now available in Library and Archives Canada’s Personnel Records of the First World War.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Private Kinross, Lieutenant McKenzie and Sergeant Mullin, VCs

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Private Cecil John Kinross was born in the village of Harefield, England, in 1896. He moved with his family to Lougheed, Alberta, in 1912. Kinross served with the 49th (Edmonton) Battalion during the Battle of Passchendaele.

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing a cap with a grey wool cardigan, white shirt and dark tie.

Private Cecil John Kinross, VC, undated (MIKAN 3217741)

On October 30, 1917, Kinross and his company came under heavy German artillery and machine-gun fire. As casualties in his unit increased, Kinross advanced alone over open ground with only his rifle and a bandolier of ammunition, and destroyed a German machine-gun nest. His citation in the London Gazette states that his “superb example and courage instilled the greatest confidence in his company, and enabled a further advance of 300 yards to be made and a highly important position to be established.”

For his actions, Kinross was awarded the Victoria Cross. Seriously wounded in the arm and head, he was sent to Orpington Hospital, England, and later returned to Alberta. Kinross died in 1957. Mount Kinross in Jasper National Park is named in his honour.

Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie was born in 1885 in Inverness, Scotland. He immigrated to Canada in 1911. McKenzie enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a private in August 1914. By January 1917, he had been commissioned as a second lieutenant. On October 30, 1917, McKenzie was in command of a machine-gun section accompanying infantry in an attack against German positions. When all officers and most non-commissioned officers of the company were killed or wounded, McKenzie took command of the remaining infantry. Using flanking and frontal attacking parties, McKenzie captured a machine-gun pill box that had inflicted heavy casualties. His actions saved the lives of many men, but he himself was killed leading the frontal attack.

A black-and-white photograph of a uniformed soldier with a small moustache.

Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218971)

A typed detailed account of the events of October 30, 1917.

War diary of the 7th Canadian Machine Gun Company, October 30, 1917, page 16 (MIKAN 2004833)

Lieutenant McKenzie received the Victoria Cross and the French Croix de guerre for his actions. His body was never recovered. McKenzie’s name appears, along with the names of 56,000 other soldiers from Britain, Australia, Canada, and India with no known graves, on the Menin Gate memorial. In his citation in the London Gazette , his name is misspelled as “Mackenzie.”

Major George Harry Mullin was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1892. He immigrated with his family to Moosomin, Saskatchewan, at the age of two. Mullin enlisted in December 1915 and served in the scout and sniper section of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. As a sergeant at the Battle of Passchendaele, Mullin single-handedly captured a German pill box that had caused heavy casualties among the Canadian troops. His citation in the London Gazette recounts how Mullin:

… rushed a sniper’s post in front, destroyed the garrison with bombs, and, crawling on to the top of the “Pill-box,” he shot the two machine-gunners with his revolver. Mullin then rushed to another entrance and compelled the garrison of ten to surrender. … [Mullin] not only helped to save the situation, but also indirectly saved many lives.

London Gazette, no. 30471, 11 January 1918

Sergeant Mullin was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, finishing the war as a lieutenant. He was appointed as Sergeant-at-Arms of the Saskatchewan legislature in 1934. He served in the Veterans Guard during the Second World War. Major Mullin died in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1963.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling soldier wearing a helmet and a leather jerkin.

Sergeant Mullin, VC, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, January 1918 (MIKAN 3219321)

Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) service files for Private Cecil John Kinross, Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie and Major George Harry Mullin. Complete digital copies are available in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.