Pre-Confederation Official Publications: Journals of the Province of Canada (1841–1866)

By Sandra Bell

The year 2017 marked the sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. As the nation celebrated this event, images of the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s First Prime Minister, dominated the collective consciousness. Further away in memory was the path leading up to July 1, 1867: the Rebellion of 1837–1838, and the report of John George Lambton, Earl of Durham (Durham Report, Report on the Affairs of British North America), which recommended the union of the two Canadas.

To explore the period before Confederation often requires a retrospective examination of the forms of government that existed before that date. The Act of Union of 1840 created a single province by merging Upper and Lower Canada into the United Province of Canada, which lasted from 1841–1867, ending (?) with the British North America Act, which created Confederation. The pre-1841 political entities of Upper and Lower Canada then became the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, respectively.

The Province of Canada – 1841

The new Province of Canada brought some changes. The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada replaced the Upper and Lower Canada Houses of Assembly and the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada, 1841–1866, replaced the Legislative Councils of both Upper and Lower Canada. This brought about two new houses: the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada.

Both the elected Assembly and appointed Council of the new Province of Canada produced documents: debates, sessional papers, journals, votes and proceedings. These are all important research tools; however, this blog reviews only the journals of these houses.

What are House Journals?

  • They are the official records of the decisions and transactions of the legislature
  • They provide a record of the daily events of the legislature (minutes of a meeting) While the debates are verbatim, journals are a chronological summary; and, the journals include:
    • Addresses
    • Titles of and record of assent to bills
    • Proclamations which include the summoning and dissolution of parliament
    • Messages from the governor
    • Petitions to the assembly
    • Speech to the throne
    • Addresses in reply to the speech to the throne
    • Names of members
    • Information on committees

Journals are issued at the end of each session, with an index and appendices. Page numbering is continuous within each session.

Reports that are tabled or filed in the Legislature are titled Appendices, and later Sessional Papers. They are assigned letters of the alphabet and cover a diverse range of subjects, from Transportation, Immigration and Indigenous Peoples. Appendices were published separately up to the year 1859, after which date they were included with the Sessional Papers.

A typed page with the following title: Appendix to the Second Volume, Session 1842. After is a list of headings in the Appendix, alphabetically arranged.

Appendix to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly, 1842. Source: Héritage.

A printed page showing a list of all the appendices for 1842, for example, Welland Canal, Annual report of the Directors for 1841.

List of Appendices (List of Appendix), 1842. Source: Héritage.

If the date of an event is known, it can be located by accessing the journals for the corresponding session of the Legislative Assembly. If the date is not known, access to journal content is via the two-volume General Index to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada. This index provides subject access with the year of the session and page numbers of the topic in the body of the journal.

A typed cover page reading: General index to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada: in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Parliaments, 1852–1866.

General Index to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada: in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Parliaments, 1852–1866 by Alfred Todd, cover page. Source: Héritage.

A typed page of an alphabetically arranged index.

General index to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada: in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Parliaments, 1852–1866 by Alfred Todd, page 209. Source: Héritage.

You can access the Appendices and Sessional Papers of the Legislative Assembly via Damphouse’s The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada: An Index (…)

Legislative Council (Upper Chamber)

The Journals of the Legislative Council follow the same format as those of the Legislative Assembly. The sessional journals have indexes and appendices. A cumulative index includes the indexes from the individual sessions.

The Council’s reports and appendices were published separately as Sessional Papers until 1866 when they were replaced by the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada.

The cover page of the Journals of the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada.

Journals of the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada. First session of the first provincial Parliament, 1841, cover page. Source: Héritage.

The journals and appendices of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council are available in English and French.

Many of the publications of the Province of Canada are available online in sources such as Early Canadiana Online. These documents also exist in alternative formats such as microfilm and microfiche, which are findable in the AMICUS online catalogue.

Additional Sources

The following publications provide additional information on the Province of Canada, its journals, appendices, sessional papers, and organization.

     Bishop, Olga B., 1911-. Publications of the government of the Province of Canada, 1841–1867. Ottawa: National Library of Canada = Bibliothèque nationale du Canada, 1963. AMICUS 1738026

This bibliography includes a list of departments with their publications. It complements the Appendices and Sessional Papers.

     Hardisty, Pamela. Publications of the Canadian Parliament: A Detailed Guide to the Dual-Media Edition of Canadian Parliamentary Proceedings and Sessional Papers, 1841–1970. Washington, D.C.: United States Historical Documents Institute, 1974. AMICUS 67351

Includes an analysis of parliamentary publishing and useful lists of legislatures and sessions, journals and appendices by session dates for both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, 1841–1866.

Should you need assistance in locating, retrieving or using the documents listed in this blog, please contact the LAC Reference Services.


Sandra Bell is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Highlights from the Sir Sandford Fleming Diaries

By Andrew Elliott

As I have noted in a previous post, Sir Sandford Fleming—inventor of International Standard time, creator of Canada’s first postage stamp, surveyor and mapmaker—was a productive individual in 19th-century Canada. He seemed to have time for many things, including recording his activities in various diaries. And Fleming was a voracious writer. While he didn’t write novels, he did record everything he saw and experienced in his world. He combined his written observations with the occasional pencil sketch from landscapes, to people, to every day implements, to engineering works.

Remarkably, these diaries were kept for most of his long life, dating from 1843 when he was 15, until his death in 1914. Being a man who also thought of how he would be perceived in posterity, in later life Fleming transcribed the most important parts of his diaries into three condensed diaries. Additionally, Fleming kept various journals that recorded many special trips across Canada, England and the United States. All these are here within the Sir Sandford Fleming fonds at Library and Archives Canada. See specifically the diaries, journals of trips and miscellaneous journals and notebooks.

There are many things of interest to read in these diaries. A couple of diaries from Fleming’s early life are of particular interest. One dating from 1843 records his thoughts and observations about school life in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Here there are numerous sketches from drawings of ships, a church, and a diagram of early roller skates.

Another two diaries from 1845 record Fleming’s voyage—mostly by ship—from Kirkcaldy, Scotland to the town of Peterborough, Upper Canada. The first diary has handwritten entries for late April to early June 1845, while the second diary documents the remaining portion of the journey from June to August 1845. The second diary contains his visual documentation of the trip, a graphic record of a journey before photography. There are views of Scotland from on board the ship, sketches of ships passing by, sketches of his cabin and other people on board, views of the first sighting of landfall in North America, a view of Québec City, a sketch of the locks at Bytown (now Ottawa), a view of Niagara Falls, and several sketches of Peterborough buildings.

A pencil sketch showing a person reading on the deck of a ship, with another ship in the background.

Sketch of part of a ship, 1845. (MIKAN 4938907)

Fleming arrived in Canada with valuable skills—drawing, drafting, surveying, engraving—and he used these to make a living. For Fleming, the diary was a way to record his movements, key events, and family events especially; he often made no entries if his day had been a routine one. The diaries contain irregular and brief entries noting board meetings, social engagements, arrivals and departures of prominent persons, health and fortune of family and friends, and travel in Canada and abroad. This last point about travel is particularly striking. While he was based first in Toronto, his work meant that he had to travel extensively. In the 1840s and 1850s, for example, despite having to travel by stagecoach, sleigh, and steamer, he would cover an area almost as extensive as the Greater Toronto Area. Later, while based in Halifax and Ottawa, numerous rail trips would see him frequenting remote parts of Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, and Western Canada.

Two pages from a journal. The first page shows a sketch of a campsite in a river valley with woods and mountains in the background with some handwritten text underneath. On the second page is a sketch of a tent with someone sitting in front of it, tending a fire.

Excerpt from the journal about his Intercolonial Railway survey, dated 1864. (MIKAN 107736)

In the early 1870s, Fleming travelled with others on a surveying expedition. A digitized record of this expedition can be found in Master-Works of Canadian Authors: Ocean to Ocean.

An 1885 diary has a pocket containing a six-page handwritten account of a train trip across Canada in November. Included in this account are his impressions of the November 7 ceremony at Craigellachie, British Columbia of the driving of the “last spike” to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway.

He also kept a list of all the trips he made by ship across the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s a sampling for the period from the 1840s to the 1880s, such as a May 17, 1863 voyage to England on the S.S. United Kingdom.

A handwritten list of dates, destinations and names of ships, which has been attached to some ruled paper.

A list of Fleming’s trips made between 1845 and 1883, which includes the destinations and names of ships. (MIKAN 107736)

Fleming also wrote about his personal and family life. Here are a few examples of diary entries from the 1850s and 1860s (spelling is his own):

  • December 31, 185 9: “Another year on the eve of closing and here I am sitting in Mr. Halls family, Peterboro, with my good wife close by, two dear little boys, and little girl sound asleep in bed…”
  • June 6, 1861: He writes that his wife “gave me my second little daughter about 12 o’clock (noon) today at Davenport. She did not feel very well at breakfast and thought I had better go for the nurse and doctor.”
  • September 9, 1863: “Messrs Tilly and Tupper informed me that they had decided, subject to approval of their government) to appoint me to act on behalf of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick…to proceed at once with survey.” Here’s a scanned image of an entry he made about the Intercolonial Railway survey:
Handwritten entries in pencil for two days.

Excerpt of two diary entries dated December 14 and 15, 1863, describing activities during the Intercolonial Railway survey. (MIKAN 107736)

  • January 1, 1864: “Morning train to Collingwood, Stage to Craigleith—Father and Mother had all their children around them…they thought I was in New Brunswick and were astonished and glad to see me…very cold and stormy.”
  • February 28, 1866: Fleming writes about the death of his 3-month old son, “This morning about 4 o’clock after rallying a little…our dear child at last passed quietly away…This is the first death that has really come home to me—part of us is now really in another world.”
  • June 29, 1867: “Preparing for Celebration of Confederation of the Provinces next Monday.”
  • July 1, 1867 (Dominion Day): “Up at 5 o’clock, very cloudy and rainy…putting up flags etc. Clouds cleared away. Halifax very gay, a perfect sea of flags. Beautiful day. The demonstration went off splendidly.”

Although Fleming was at the centre of the modernization of Canada, the hundreds of mundane details Fleming recorded also reveal something of the world he inhabited. There is a wealth of information here, if one is willing to take the time to read them and decipher his handwriting.


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

Queen Victoria’s Journals now available at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa

At the age of 13, Queen Victoria became an avid journal writer when her mother gave her a diary to document an upcoming trip to Wales. Her last entry was written more than six decades later, on January 13, 1901, only nine days before her death.

This year, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birth (May 24, 1819) and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, all 141 journal volumes (comprised of 43,765 pages) have been digitized and are now available through a courtesy subscription obtained by Library and Archives  Canada (LAC), through The Royal Household, and with the assistance of ProQuest.

The project’s website says that “ As well as detailing household and family matters, the journals reflect affairs of state, describe meetings with statesmen and other eminent figures, and comment on the literature of the day. They represent a valuable primary source for scholars of nineteenth century British political and social history and for those working on gender and autobiographical writing.”

Not only have the diaries been digitized, they have been (and will continue to be) transcribed to allow for a keyword search. In fact, The Queen, as Head of State for Canada, did not leave us unmentioned. A keyword search for “canad*” (without the quotation marks) currently retrieves more than 150 results up to 1839!

As the project continues and more years are transcribed and become searchable, this resource will become more valuable.

To access the journals, use any of the public workstations located at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa or our Wi-Fi connection and visit the website Queen Victoria’s Journals [http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org/]. You may browse the journals by date or search for keywords.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!