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.

Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1925

Are you looking for documents offering credible information to use in research on the period between the late 19th century and the interwar years of the 20th century? You may find that the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada contain much useful information.

History and organization

Sessional papers are among the oldest form of government serial records, and are part of the family of parliamentary publications that includes journals, debates, votes and proceedings. They have been published since pre-Confederation times and were formerly collected in the appendices to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. A distinctive group of these papers, titled Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, exists for the period of 1867 to 1925. After this period the papers were issued separately.

Sessional papers are any documents formally presented in the House of Commons, filed with the Clerk, and tabled in the House during a given session of Parliament. Each report is recorded as a sessional paper and, as such, is open to public review. They are assigned a unique number in chronological order, known as the sessional paper number.

Sessional papers include the following:

  • Annual departmental reports
  • Reports of committees and task forces
  • Royal commission reports
  • Census returns
  • White papers (issued by the government as statements of policy) and Green papers (official documents sponsored by Ministers of the Crown to invite public comment and discussion on an issue prior to policy formulation)

Sessional papers are classified as either “Printed” (i.e., available for distribution) or “not Printed. Printed papers are collected and published by session in bound volumes that include the full text of the reports. They are proof of the government’s business and support government decisions. They also constitute a collection of data on a variety of topics related to the military, political, social and economic issues in the country at a specific point in time.

Each bound volume includes the text of papers for a given session of Parliament, separated into issues. The spine of each volume has the date along with the volume and issue numbers.

Inside each volume is an alphabetical list of papers as well as a numerical list arranged by sessional paper number. Some volumes have a limited subject index at the back of the final volume for a specific session of Parliament.

Finding a sessional paper

How do you find a sessional paper? If you know the date of the parliamentary session, the chronological arrangement of the volumes allows you to locate the paper by year of publication. The alphabetical and numerical lists at the front of each volume will provide the sessional paper number; you can then locate the paper by its number in the text of the volumes.

If you don’t know the date but you do know the subject, title or some keywords, you can access the comprehensive five-volume set of indexes to this collection of sessional papers: General index to the journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada and of the sessional papers of Parliament, AMICUS No. 568918.

The indexes provide the number and date of the sessional paper. However, many sessional papers are published separately, so even if you don’t know the date of a particular parliamentary session, you can conduct a search using AMICUS, the online catalogue of Library and Archives Canada.

Many of these sessional papers are now available online through the following databases:

Title page of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1870, Volume I, 1st Parliament, 3rd Session, from Early Canadiana Online.

Table of contents providing an alphabetical listing of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, Vol. III, 1870, from Early Canadiana Online.

Other formats of the sessional papers include microfilm. The following publication can provide additional information on sessional papers and other parliamentary proceedings:

Library and Archives Canada holds a complete collection of sessional papers (in print) for the period of 1867 to 1925. These are located on the 2nd floor at our 395 Wellington Street location in Ottawa. Should you need assistance in using these documents, please feel free to contact the LAC Reference Services.