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.

Images of the First Special Service Force (The Devil’s Brigade) now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of around a dozen soldiers wearing parachute gear, lined up to board a Douglas C-47 for training.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force boarding a Douglas C-47 aircraft for parachute training, Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, United States [MIKAN 3378674]

The First (or 1st) Special Service Force, nicknamed The Devil’s Brigade, was a combined Second World War Canadian and American commando group. It was located and trained at Fort Harrison near Helena, Montana, United States. Force members received intensive training as ski troops and in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, the use of explosives for demolition, parachuting, amphibious warfare, rock climbing and mountain warfare.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier wearing white winter gear and crouching down to fix his ski bindings. A parachute is blowing in the wind behind him.

Member of the First Special Service Force during a winter training exercise, Blossburg, Montana, United States [MIKAN 3378683]

The Force saw extensive combat duty during the years 1943–1944 in Italy and southern France. It was known for always achieving its objectives. The Force was disbanded on December 5, 1944, but many modern Canadian and American Special Forces units, such as Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs, trace their heritage to this unit.

A black-and-white photograph of three soldiers with camouflage makeup preparing to go out on an evening patrol.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force preparing to go on an evening patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy [MIKAN 3378968]

A black-and-white photograph of some two dozen soldiers sitting behind a large hay bale. The soldiers are being briefed before setting out on patrol.

Personnel of the First Special Service Force being briefed before setting out on a patrol, Anzio beachhead, Italy [MIKAN 3396066]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Arthur D’Orr LePan, Camp Kosciuszko and the Polish Army in France

By Catherine Butler

Poland on the eve of war

On the eve of the First World War, an independent Poland had been absent from the European map for nearly 120 years. In the late 18th century, Poland was partitioned by Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia; Prussia would eventually become part of a unified Germany. Polish lands were carved up and absorbed, and Polish people were scattered among three powerful empires.

In the century following the partitions and the profound social and political transformations they precipitated, millions of Poles emigrated to North America. At the outbreak of the First World War, several hundred thousand Poles were living in Canada, while nearly four million were living in the United States. With such a large diaspora, countless Polish Americans and Polish Canadians were eager to fight on the Allied side with the aim of restoring their homeland.

After a series of meetings between the representatives of Sir Robert Borden’s government and Polish delegations from the U.S., the Canadian government, with the approval of Britain, agreed to provide training to Polish officers living in North America. These officers, recruited from Canada and the U.S., would be sent to fight for the Polish Army in France, which ultimately financed their training. Although initial training efforts started in early 1917, a designated Polish Army camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario opened in September 1917. Colonel Arthur D’Orr LePan was appointed as Commandant to the camp, a facility that came to be known as Camp Kosciuszko.

A black-and-white photograph showing a field with a group of officers following their commander in the foreground, and officers standing at attention in a line in the background

Recruits at the Polish military camp, Niagara, Ontario, November 8, 1917 (a071288)

The diaries of Colonel LePan

Colonel A.D. LePan was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1885 and was educated at the University of Toronto. He served in the Canadian Army from 1915 to 1919, including as Commandant until the camp closed in March 1919. His involvement in training Polish officers began in January 1917 with the arrival of 23 American volunteers at the School of Infantry in Toronto. As Commandant, Colonel LePan saw over 20,000 recruits from the U.S. and Canada pass through Camp Kosciuszko en route to France between September 1917 and March 1919.

Many of Colonel LePan’s activities at Camp Kosciuszko are described in diaries he kept during his time as Camp Commandant. These diaries were donated to Library and Archives Canada by his son, Douglas V. LePan, in 1977. Colonel LePan’s writings offer interesting insights into a fascinating episode of Canadian history.

In addition to lists of camp personnel, the diaries contain information about training, troop movements, lists of deaths in France, along with cause and location, and a plan of grave plots of Polish soldiers at the St. Vincent de Paul churchyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Colonel LePan also kept a copy of the telegram authorizing the establishment of the Polish camp.

Also included in these papers are remarks given in March 1919 by Colonel LePan during a banquet in Buffalo, New York, addressing the closing of the camp. In his speech, he spoke about how crucial international co-operation between France, Canada, the U.S. and the Polish Military Commission was in making the camp a success and, most importantly, in re-establishing an independent Polish state.

“One can quite readily conceive that the camp presented interesting international associations … It was no unusual sight to have gatherings of officers at which the countries of Poland, France, United States and Canada were represented and on each occasion was found officers who from their environment and education had different ideas and ideals, all cooperating with the one great ideal of making this new creation as big a factor as possible, not only in the creation of a national Poland, but as an agency for freeing the world from an oppression that not only Poles had heard of as we have on this continent, but also that they had felt in body and soul.”

Find out more

Until November 1918, the Niagara Historical Society and Museum will be presenting an exhibition entitled Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917–1919. The aim of the exhibition, which began in November 2017, is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Camp Kosciuszko. Thousands of Polish Canadians and Polish Americans trained there before being sent to Europe to fight for the liberation of their homeland after 123 years of occupation.


Catherine Butler is a Reference Archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.