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.

Tips and tricks on how to use a microform reader

Numerous documents belonging to Library and Archives Canada’s collection have been copied to microfiche and microfilm (some of which are available via AMICUS, and others via self-service at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa). First-time researchers may find the equipment required to view this material somewhat confusing.

Therefore, we have prepared a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts to guide you in the proper use and handling of these machines so that your research may be profitable.

DO’s:

  • Prepare ahead of time for your visit and order material in advance, if necessary. To learn how, please consult our previous blog article: “The Top Five Things You Need to Know Before You Visit”.
  • Retrieve your microfilm from the Consultation Reading Room shelves, which are organized by the first letter of your surname, or retrieve self-serve microfilm from the Consultation Reading Room microfilm drawers.
  • Sign in with the Consultation staff in the Microfilm Reading Room for access to a microform reader.
  • Ask the Consultation Staff for assistance if you require help loading the microform onto the readers.
  • Bring your own flash drive or CD/DVD to save digital copies of the material. Printed copies may also be purchased using a copy card, available at the Consultation Office.
  • When making digital scans from microform, please complete a “photo permission” form (used primarily for statistical purposes).
  • Be aware that making copies from microform (either on paper or as digital images) can only be done during service hours.
  • Place the self-serve microfilm reels on the return shelf, located behind the Consultation staff’s desk (in the Microfilm Reading Room) when you are finished with them.
  • Return published microform (that is, the ones you have ordered via AMICUS), to the Published Material return shelf located near the Consultation Office.
  • Consult the Special Collections staff for access to the National Map Collection (NMC) microfiche.

DON’Ts:

  • Don’t place self-serve microfilm reels in your locker. When self-serve microfilm reels are not being used, they must be available for other clients.
  • Don’t disobey the Copyright Act by making digital copies of newspapers less than 100 years old. For more information, please consult the rules posted by each photocopier.
  • Don’t leave microfilm reels at your work station or on top of cabinets.

For more details, be sure to ask our on-site Consultation staff. They are ready to answer any additional questions you may have.

Happy research!

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

New Digitized Reels: Border Entry Records

We are pleased to announce that you can now access 121,302 new images of immigration records on our website, with the Microform Digitization research tool.

Before 1908, people were able to move freely across the border from the United States into Canada. Beginning in that year, entry ports were established along the border. From 1908 to 1918, and from 1925 to 1935, border entry records were compiled in a list format to record the names of immigrants.

By providing these images online, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is now offering all immigration records containing nominal information for immigrants from 1865 to 1935 in its custody. Discover these valuable resources with the Microform Digitization research tool, which allows you to browse, page by page, the border entry records.

For more information on recent announcements at LAC, visit “News”.

How to Consult Material that Is Not Yet Available Online

For Archival Material – Use Archives Search

When searching for archival material (i.e., diaries, photographs etc.), use Archives Search. You will be able to search database records, known as “archival descriptions”. Sometimes the contents of the record have not yet been digitized. When this is the case, use one of the following methods to consult the material:

For Published Material – Use Library Search/AMICUS

When searching for published material (i.e., books, newspapers, etc.), use either our Library Search or, for more search features, use our AMICUS catalogue. The search results will often be database records (known as “bibliographic records”) and not full-text online documents. There are three ways you may consult the material:

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

How to Find a Canadian Newspaper on Microfilm

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has over 2,300 Canadian newspapers dating back to the mid-1700s, which you can access on microfilm reels or microfiche cards. Begin your research with our Geographical List, which provides the titles of community newspapers held at LAC for a given time period.

For example, to find news coverage of Queen Elizabeth II touring Rimouski,Quebec, in November 1951, on her first royal visit to Canada as Princess Elizabeth, you would follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Geographical List and select Quebec.
  2. A list of localities will appear for Quebec. Select Rimouski – Sweetsburg. You will find a list of 14 newspapers for Rimouski,Quebec, with titles appearing in red. Each title is followed by a shelf number (e.g., NJ.FM.2006), a range of dates* (e.g., ja 2001–nov 2004), and an AMICUS number (e.g., AN 9745700).
  3. The fourth title, L’Écho du Bas St-Laurent, shows the range of dates 3 mr 1933–29 av 1970. This means that LAC has that newspaper on microfilm from March 3, 1933, to April 29, 1970.
  4. Now that you have found a newspaper likely to have covered the event in 1951, write down the AMICUS number—in this case AN 7419576. You will need it to order the microfilm reel for consultation.

In the meantime, if you need more information on how to use the Geographical List or how to read an entry, visit our page on Microform Holdings.

*Ranges of dates refer to newspapers held at LAC, not the period of time they were in print.

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