Learning about the Ottawa City Archives

I have a soft spot for the Ottawa City Archives, dating from research conducted at their old location on Sussex Drive. The staff are friendly, and as any researcher can attest, being able to rely on an archivist’s knowledge of their collection is a bit like knowing there’s someone watching your back.

The archive has recently moved to a new building at the corner of Woodroffe Avenue and Tallwood Drive, which is spacious, versatile, and – a bonus for me – much easier to reach by way of OC Transpo. I went to visit them as the second step in collecting resources for the Carleton Network for Business History, but not before I fired off a query to Hariette Fried. She’s like the Q of archivists, in James Bond parlance, and immediately she could list a few things for me to investigate when I arrived.

The City Archives is an amalgamation of three main collections: Ottawa, Gloucester, and Rideau. Each one originates from a former municipality or region now within the post-2001 boundaries of Ottawa; as a result, each collection has a different focus when it comes to what has been collected over the years. For material that will be included in the CNBH database, this is an interesting mix of resources.

Ottawa has the most straightforward collection, with fonds relating to long-time Ottawa businesses such as J.G. Butterworth & Sons, the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company, and Morrison Lamothe Bakery. Gloucester has interesting resources relating to the dairy industry that used to exist there, and Rideau has the Manotick Pharmacy Fonds (although it’s restricted due to privacy issues for the time being).

There are also other resources that will be invaluable to researchers beginning their work into Ottawa’s business history, such as directories and fire insurance maps. I will go into details about those in future blog posts.

I finish this update by noting with glee that Hariette contacted me yesterday saying that she’s set aside more resources for me for my next consultation.


Learning about the Carleton Library

My first step for the project was to tackle the collection housed at the MacOdrum Library at Carleton, which includes microfiche, maps, government documents, theses, as well as your typical books.

Researching business history can be a challenge in a library, and the biggest difficulty I found was when the catalogue left me guessing whether a resource was appropriate or not. Often, there weren’t direct links between resources relating to the same industry or even the same company; the links came from my own cross-referencing when consulting the actual items.

My method for including items into the CNBH database began by doing a keyword search for “Ottawa business,” which is something like casting a giant net into an ocean. I came up with many useful results, and many more which were unrelated. I was looking at over 200 pages of results, ranging in publication dates from the 1800s to the present day.

When I was in a second-year Political Studies class, I learned a trick that’s always stayed with me. As I went to find a book on the shelf, I would investigate the books in the vicinity to see if there might be something my initial search didn’t uncover. As a result, I’ve found several interesting books on the Ottawa area that are included in my work.

Does this mean I’ve uncovered every book there is about Ottawa’s business history? Probably not. When we publish the database later on, I would encourage anyone to submit anything I’ve missed to the CNBH for future inclusion.

In a future post, I will give into further details about the different kinds of resources in the library.

Link to the MacOdrum library:  http://www.library.carleton.ca/