Learning about Library and Archives Canada

For a significant period of time, there was only one archive in Ottawa: the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada or LAC). Until there was an archive with a local focus, LAC played two roles as the repository for both the nation and for the city. As a result, the records belonging to several early Ottawa businesses are found in the LAC. A few good examples are the companies involved in the lumber industry.

For researchers interested in accessing business records at LAC, there are a few challenges to face. The online database might be best described as byzantine, and finding results isn’t always straightforward; there are databases within databases, and some information can only be found with the help of an archivist. Detailed archival descriptions don’t always happen, especially due to the sheer amount of material the archives house, and finding aids leave something to be desired.

Another issue is access. The LAC has been in the news over the summer in regards to the service cuts that have been implemented to deal with deficits and reduced funding. Fewer knowledgeable archivists are available for reference, and the researcher will likely not find the guidance they need. As well, it has been widely reported that the information available on the website might be altered and reduced in the future, making research even more difficult.

In the CNBH database, LAC material has one piece of information that is unique to this archive: the MIKAN number. Each entry has its own number, and to make sure that you, the user, finds the same information that we were looking at when creating the database, the MIKAN number for the entry in particular is included. Usually, this will be the top level of a fond, allowing the user to navigate through the sub-levels of the fonds on their own. In other situations, it might be a more relevant section in a larger fond.

What are we working toward?

The CNBH is working to amass in one online location references to collections and books that can help researchers find archival resources and books related to their work.  Once we have completed the first step, which is the actual locating and noting the different materials, we will be creating a searchable database that will be available to anyone interested in learning more about Ottawa’s business history.

Included in our database will be the following:

  • over 300 books in the Carleton library and the Ottawa Public Library, particularly the Ottawa Room,
  • over 200 archival fonds from institutions around the Ottawa area,
  • over 100 industrial classification codes from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS),
  • businesses that range in physical location across the Ottawa area, from Orleans and Gloucester to Kanata and Arnprior;
  • archival resources that range from the 1840s to 1990s;
  • a short description of the resource including relevant information such as archival restrictions.

While our database has not be designed yet, we anticipate that users will be able to search by business name, the names of individual business people, NAICS number, and date.