The Early Official Publications collection includes government acts, bills, committee reports, court rules, debates, journals, ordinances, a selection of official publications from France and Great Britain, sessional papers, regulations, royal commission reports, and treaties. Use of official publications is essential for the study of Canada's development and governance, and they are of immense value to a broad range of researchers.
In the mid-eighteenth century, when the publishing industry was first introduced to Canada, government documents were amongst the first items to roll off the printing presses. From that time, government documents have played a key role in chronicling Canadian policy, thought, and culture. As they do today, the early official publications covered an incredible variety of aspects of public life - education, natural resources, science, technology, international affairs, social welfare, religion, politics, law, cultural development, military affairs and racial conflict.
A 1997 survey consulted Canadian scholars and librarians to determine the next major preservation and access project. The survey results indicated that early Canadian government publications were the most favoured print category for digitization. It is easy to see why: the colonial, provincial and federal governments were some of the most prolific publishers throughout the 18th and 19th century. They created acts and reports that profoundly shaped Canadian society. However, no single library has a complete print collection of even the major government publications such as acts, parliamentary journals and debates, sessional papers.
At the time, anyone wishing to access this dispersed government material had to be prepared to make extensive use of interlibrary loans and travel considerable distances to consult rare and fragile books that seldom left their library home. By digitizing these scattered collections, Canadiana.org was able to bring them together for the first time in a single accessible collection, and provide this valuable resource online for the study of Canada in all disciplines.
Canadiana.org formed the Government Publications Advisory Committee (GPAC) in 1998 to help determine the parameters of the Early Official Publications project. The Committee adopted the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) definition of a government publication:
- An official publication is any item produced by reprographic or any other method, issued by an organization that is an official body, and available to an audience wider than that body.
- An official body is: i) any legislature of a state, or federation of states ; or of a province (state) or regional, local or other administrative sub-division; ii) Any executive agency of the central government of such a state or foreign federation of states or of a province (state) or regional, local or other administrative sub-division; iii) Or any court or judicial organ ; iv) Any other organization which was set up by an official body as in i), ii) and iii) above, and maintains continuing links with that body whether through direct funding or through its reporting mechanism or its accountability; v) Any organization of which the members belong to any of the above four categories, including intergovernmental organizations; provided that the body is considered to be official in the country concerned.
- An official publication is defined by the status of the issuing source regardless of the subject-matter, content or physical form.
The bulk of the Early Official Publications collection is made up of government document categories as outlined below. However, within this collection there are other historical odds and ends that do not fit into these document categories such as Civil Service lists (detailing the Canadians employed by the government from 1885 to 1900); guides for prospective immigrants to Canada; selected speeches (John A. MacDonald, Joseph Howe, Sir Charles Tupper, Henri Bourassa and others), and rules for parliamentary procedure.
The content parameters that apply to the Early Official Publications project are as follows. For the pre-1867 period of Canada, official government publications produced by the colonies were digitized, such as pre-1867 materials from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. However, due to the massive quantities of government publications produced in the post-1867 period of Canada, only documents published by the Federal Government of Canada in the 1867-1900 timeframe were digitized. No provincial government documents published after 1867 Confederation were digitized. Municipal government publications are not included in the Early Official Publications collection.
The Reconstituted Debates of the House of Commons (1867-1870) and Reconstituted Debates of the Senate (1867-1871) were produced in collaboration with the Library of Parliament. The early debates of the Parliament of Canada were never officially published, appearing unofficially in newspapers such as the Toronto Globe and the Ottawa Times. Library of Parliament edited these unofficial debates and published them in book form known as the Reconstituted Debates.
Acts (or Statutes): An act or statute is a bill that has passed through the required stages in the legislature, and has subsequently become law. The Nova Scotia acts in 1758 to the Federal acts introduced in 1900 are digitized.
Bills: A bill is a draft of a proposed law. Early Official Publications provides about 5,000 pre-1901 bills. Seventy percent of these are from the Province of Canada (1841-1867). For bills introduced before 1860, 1st readings have been digitized, and where there are no 1st readings available, the 2nd reading has been digitized (prior to 1860, relatively few of the 1st readings still exist). For 1860-1867, Early Official Publications digitized 1st readings of bills only. For 1867-1873 and 1898-1900, first readings of bills only have been digitized. There are no bills for the years 1874-97.
Committee Reports: Since the early 1800s, legislatures in Canada have created specialized committees to study matters of provincial or national importance. Such a committee is a group of parliamentarians from either the upper chamber (Senate; Legislative Council), the lower chamber (House of Commons; Legislative Assembly; House of Assembly; General Assembly), or both the upper and lower. The committees consider matters, including bills, referred to it by the chamber/s. The committee reports (for example, many of those for the Province of Canada 1841-1866) were at times published as monographs which in turn may have also been reissued in one or more of the Journals, Appendices to the Journals, or the Sessional Papers. In those cases when the monograph was re-published within such a publication, Canadiana.org avoided duplication by choosing to digitize the committee report as it appeared in one of the Journals, Appendices to the Journals, or the Sessional Papers. The committee reports that survive only in typescript format were not digitized.
Court Rules: These are the rules and orders of practice for various courts in Canada from the early 1800s up to 1900.
Debates: These are the printed record of the spoken proceedings in the legislature. For many of the jurisdictions, debates were not published in the earlier years. For example, official debates were not published for the Senate until 1871 and for the House of Commons until 1875. In pre-1867 Canada, only the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island published official debates. Canadian Heritage funding was provided for the digitization of the federal debates.
Journals (& Appendices to Journals): The Journals are the official records of the decisions and transactions of the legislature. What makes the Journals of immense value to a broad range of researchers are the hundreds of detailed reports that are often appended to them. These reports cover a diverse range of subjects such as international affairs, education, immigration and colonization, commerce, banking and trade, transportation (railway, roads and canals), natural resources (minerals, fishery and lumber), the legal system, military affairs, technology, science and health care. Canadian Heritage funding was provided for the digitization of the pre-Confederation journals of the legislative assemblies, as well as the Federal Journals of the House of Commons.
Ordinances: These are legislative enactments produced by a governor, acting unilaterally or with the advice of a council, in the absence of an elected legislative body. A number of these are digitized, most notably those from Quebec during the period 1764-1791 and Lower Canada, 1838-1841.
Official Publications from France and Great Britain that relate to the governance of Canada: This collection consists of over 1,000 documents such as acts, bills, correspondence and reports. These records are significant, since much of Canada.s early history was largely determined by decisions made in either of the French or British parliaments. The collection includes over 600 19th Century British Parliamentary papers that directly relate to Canada. These papers are very similar to Canada's Sessional Papers and they too cover a wide range of topics. Also included are more than 100 Arrest du Conseil d'État as set by France to regulate life in 17th and 18th century Canada.
Regulations: These are a form of delegated legislation when Parliament, by statute, confers upon an outside authority the right to make rules and regulations which have the force of law. Over 150 regulations, beginning in the late 1700s up to 1900, are digitized.
Royal Commission Reports (or Commissions of Inquiry Reports): These commissions are traditionally established to investigate extraordinary problems, or to solicit informed opinions on controversial matters and to set government policy. The Royal Commission Reports were at times published both as stand alone documents (i.e. monographs) and as part of the Sessional Papers. In those cases when the monograph was re-published within the Sessional Papers, Canadiana.org avoided duplication by choosing to digitize the committee report as it appeared in the Sessional Papers. The Royal Commission Reports that survive only in typescript format were not digitized.
Sessional Papers: These are reports that the House of Commons orders to be created in order for them to carry out their business. These reports can originate from a number of sources, and they include reports made by Parliamentary Committees and various government departments. In all respects, the Sessional Papers are a significant part of the Early Official Publications database. Over 400 volumes (consisting of over 300,000 pages) of Sessional Papers covering the years 1860 to 1900 are digitized. These reports cover a diverse range of subjects such as international affairs, education, immigration and colonization, commerce, banking and trade, transportation (railway, roads and canals), natural resources (minerals, fishery and lumber), the legal system, military affairs, technology, science and health care.
Treaties and Conventions: A formal agreement or contract between two or more nations or sovereigns that is formally signed and ratified by the supreme power of each state. There are various types of treaties.treaties regulating trade, establishing territorial boundaries, forming alliances or making peace. Dozens of these treaties that directly or indirectly affect Canada are digitized, from the peace treaty between France and First Nations in 1666, to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, to agreements relating to the Alaska boundary dispute in the 1890s.