War of 1812 Digital Collection

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Researchers build a national portal to preserve Canada’s War of 1812 history

Canada’s research libraries are launching a platform to collect and share surviving War of 1812 heritage. The War of 1812 Digital Collection is an open-access database allowing users to search and display diverse artefacts held by Canada’s libraries, museums, and archives. The portal was developed and managed by Canadiana.org, an alliance of Canada’s major memory institutions.

This initiative brings together original documents and objects—from proclamations and pamphlets to swords and pistols—that have been scanned or photographed and uploaded digitally. Once safely on the portal, crumbling nineteenth-century books can not only be read, magnified, and downloaded in PDF format for future use, but also searched for ancestors or for the keys to historical puzzles.

“Our aim is to put Canada’s history out there and to encourage new kinds of learning through sources that would otherwise pass unnoticed due to their inaccessibility or obscurity,” says Ron Walker, Executive Director of Canadiana.org.

Canadiana.org built the portal to inspire libraries, archives and museums to pool their holdings into a comprehensive War of 1812 resource for all Canadians—from veteran re-enactors to classroom debutants. Parks Canada was the first to contribute, submitting a virtual exhibit of its most valuable artefacts.

Marking the bicentennial

Canadiana.org promotes digital as the most accessible format available to Canadians when engaging their history. Because of Canada’s geographical vastness, more people will commemorate the bicentennial online than in person. “The bicentennial galvanized tremendous enthusiasm and debate, but little in the way of action to ensure our heritage is still around in another 200 years,” Walker says. “We seized it as an opportunity to preserve that part of our history and to share it.”

While the Web is brimming with learning resources, surveys or chronologies of the war, original documents are scarcer and harder to localize. Those that find their way online are irrevocably scattered in pockets from one corner of the Web to the other and often lack proper descriptive information, which makes searching for them difficult.