Early Canadiana Online Collections

Early Canadian Periodicals

Early Official Publications

Special Projects


The Early Canadiana Online (ECO) collection is available to subscribers. There is limited open access to non-subscribers. Access is controlled because subscriptions provide the operations revenue necessary for Canadiana.org to build content and maintain ECO. 

Early Canadian Periodicals to 1920

These early periodicals are an invaluable source of information for researchers as they offer a remarkable record of the development of thought and opinion on diverse issues as Canada grew. Many of Canada's initial prominent poets, novelists, scientists and great minds were first known through their works published in periodicals.

A taste of periodical titles includes The Nova Scotia Magazine, The Canadian Illustrated News, La bibliothèque canadienne; The Halifax Monthly Magazine, The Literary Garland, Les Soirées canadiennes, The Amaranth, The Kamloops Wawa, Punch in Canada, and Gazette des campagnes.

Why early Canadian periodicals?

Canadiana.org conducted a survey in 1997 to ask researchers and librarians for direction as to future ECO projects. While Canadian government publications were the most popular choice, Canadian serials (periodicals and annuals) ranked a strong second. In 2002, the Board of Directors agreed that early Canadian periodicals would become a Canadiana.org multi-year project.

The periodicals in the Early Canadian Periodicals (ECP) collection are devoted to a wide range of topics: education, literature, history, genealogy, business, economics, politics, law, medicine, psychology, the military, science and technology, agriculture, religion, youth, sports and recreation, fashion, philately, humour, the arts including music and photography.

Definition of early Canadian periodical

To define the contents of the ECP project, Canadiana.org adopted the following general definition of a periodical. It was also decided to not include newspapers in the ECP project. For the ECP project, a periodical is: publication with a distinctive title, which appears in successive numbers or parts, generally more often than once a year.

Early Canadian Periodicals content 

Canadiana.org plans to digitize all Canadian periodicals published prior to 1920. Work to count how many issues and pages were published during this time period is ongoing, and the anticipated size of the entire ECP collection may not be known for some time.

Canadiana.org staff works closely with the Advisory Committee for Early Canadian Periodicals to determine the collection parameters and scanning priorities. The Committee, struck in 2003, is made up of scholars and librarians who during the course of their own work have acquired considerable expertise in older periodicals. In an effort to ensure that no newspapers are inadvertently included in the collection, the committee is consulted regarding each series title proposed for digitization.

To achieve a comprehensive online collection, Canadiana.org makes the effort to find those issues and titles that are elusive. Where applicable, a missing issues note is added to the ECP online bibliographic records to detail missing issues. Users are invited to inform Canadiana.org of any known locations for these issues by contacting us.

Project phases

Phase One of the ECP project (2006-2009) concentrates on titles published prior to 1867. These items are top priority since they are usually the rare periodicals. However, to achieve balance in representation, some post-1867 materials have been added to the ECP project during this initial phase, most notably titles from Western Canada.

There were few periodicals printed in Western Canada prior to 1867, and the Advisory Committee felt it only fair that the earliest Western titles (although mostly published post-1867) be given equal priority with the pre-1867 titles of Eastern and Central Canada. Additionally, titles published in a language other than French or English receive high priority.

Occasionally during the first phase of ECP, titles that are neither pre-1867 nor Western are published on ECO as a result of a partnership with another organization. Periodicals published between 1867 and 1900 will be scanned in Phase Two of the project, with periodicals published between 1900 and 1920 to be scanned in the final phase.

Source of ECP images

Most early Canadian periodicals were already microfilmed either by Canadiana.org, or by other organizations. The ECP project primarily scans from fiche/film rather than place the original periodicals through unnecessary stress. However, in those cases where there are unusually striking illustrations, Canadiana.org will attempt, whenever feasible, to scan these illustrations from the original publication.

For further information on this project, please see Early Canadian Periodicals Project in the 2010 issue of Facsimile.

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Early Official Publications

In mid-eighteenth century Canada, 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.

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.

Why early official publications?

Canadiana.org used a survey in 1997 to consult extensively with Canadian scholars and librarians to determine its 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 of the survey, 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.

Definition of early official publication

Canadiana.org formed the Government Publications Advisory Committee 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:


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. An official publication is defined by the status of the issuing source regardless of the subject-matter, content or physical form.

The Canadiana.org Government Publications Advisory Committee initially recommended that Canadiana.org scan government materials published prior to 1920. However, as staff progressed further into the project, it was realized that this was not feasible. It was decided that the cut-off date would be 1900 and that this decision would reduce the project from nine years to a more manageable six years.

In addition, Canadiana.org staff realized that due to time constraints, not all pre-1901 government documents could be digitized. Consequently, the Advisory Committee was asked to prioritize the different categories of government publications. A focus group made up of scholars and librarians was struck to prioritize the materials. From these consultations, content categories and parameters for digitization were set.

Early Official Publications content

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.

Content Parameters

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 number 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.

Document Categories

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. The Early Official Publications provides a selection of bills through ECO. 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 within the Early Official Publications project for the years 1874-97. The Early Official Publications project provides about 5000 pre-1901 bills through ECO. Seventy percent of these are Province of Canada (1841-1867) bills.

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: They 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 1000 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 and available through ECO. 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. 

Special Projects

These special online collections include:

  • Reconstituted Debates
  • Early Governors General of Canada
  • Hudson's Bay Company
  • Jesuit Relations

Reconstituted Debates

In 2005-2006 Canadiana.org, in collaboration with the Library of Parliament, added Reconstituted Debates of the House of Commons (1867-1870) and Reconstituted Debates of the Senate (1867-1871) to the open access section of ECO. The early Debates of the Parliament of Canada were never officially published. They only appeared 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. They are informally known as the Reconstituted Debates.

Early Governors General of Canada

Created in 2002 by Canadiana.org in consultation with the Office of the Governor General and as a tribute to our patron, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada (1999-2005), this online collection consists of 60 publications focused on the lives of the early Governors General of Canada. 

Hudson's Bay Company

Canadiana.org partnered with the Hudson's bay Company in 1999 to bring 160 titles in 20,000 pages online that detail the rich history of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), one of the oldest and still active companies in the world. In 1670 King Charles II granted a charter to the Company of Adventurers of England trading in the Hudson's Bay area. The HBC began as a fur-trading enterprise, then evolved into a trading and exploration company. At one time HBC controlled all the land in Northern Ontario and Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, southern Alberta and most of the Northwest Territories. Today, HBC continues as a major retailer. 

Jesuit Relations

The Jesuit Relations is a 73 volume set of books, 22,500 pages, in the original Italian, Latin and French with commentary and translation into English by Reuben Thwaites (1853-1913). Most of the Relations are annual missionary reports written between 1632 and 1678 by the Jesuits in New France for their superiors in France. Through their Relations the Jesuits provide details of colonial life during the French regime in Canada. In 1999, Canadiana.org worked with Library and Archives Canada to create this online collection. 

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