Who we are and what we do - Publications - Library and Archives Canada
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Who We Are and What We Do

The National Archives is a treasure house of the memory of Canada.

We care for and share millions of documents of all kinds  --  films, maps, diaries, treaties, journals, art, government records, photographs, sound recordings and more.

Many are of unique value and exceptional beauty. Some are centuries old. All reveal how we have lived in this place called Canada and enable Canadians to better understand the story of their country and of their fellow citizens.

Through its services to researchers and government, its exhibitions and other initiatives, the National Archives of Canada seeks to connect Canadians to the sources of these stories.

Item Our Mission
Item Government Records
Item Private Collections of Textual Archives
Item Documentary Art
Item Philately
Item Photography
Item Audio-Visual Materials
Item Maps and Architectural Holdings
Item Conservation of Documents
Item Assistance to the Archival Community
Item Using the Archives

Our Mission

To preserve the collective memory of the nation and the government of Canada, and to contribute to the protection of rights and the enhancement of a sense of national identity:
Item by acquiring, conserving and facilitating access to private and public records of national significance, and serving as the permanent repository of records of federal government institutions and ministerial records;
Item by facilitating the management of records of federal government institutions and ministerial records; and
Item by encouraging archival activities and the archival community.


Government Records

Each year the Government of Canada produces and receives millions of documents related to the business of government. Part of the National Archives' mandate is to facilitate the effective management of these documents, to determine which of their vast number are of archival value, and to preserve those documents. By law, government and ministerial records cannot be destroyed without the consent of the National Archivist.

The government historical records holdings comprise over 102,000 linear metres of textual records, maps and photographs; 19,000 master negative microfilm reels; and more than 2,000 data files. They document all aspects of Canadian history from the eighteenth century to the present.

The National Archives also provides advice on standards and practices for the management of information, as well as direction and assistance in planning the disposition of institutional records.


Private Collections of Textual Archives

The National Archives has some 10,000 private collections of unpublished records in textual and electronic format - some very small and some very large. These holdings provide valuable insights into the patterns and activities of a growing diverse and flourishing society. Included are archives left by prime ministers and other politicians, poets and artists, business leaders, scientists and teachers, public servants and military leaders. Also included are papers relating to religious groups and native and multicultural communities. These papers, dating from the fifteenth century to the present, document every facet of Canada's colourful and fascinating history.


Documentary Art

The Archives' collections of documentary art encompass a large variety of subjects relating to Canadian history and social development, and includes portraits; landscape, cityscape and architectural views; and costume and commercial designs. The program covers work done in Canada by Canadians and others, as well as work done by Canadians abroad.

With approximately 340,000 items, the holdings include original works of art on paper, canvas and other materials - including 30,000 caricatures and cartoons from the eighteenth century to the present. Printed materials in the collection include original and reproduction prints, posters, postcards, greeting cards and photoprocess prints. Medals, political buttons, seals, heraldic devices and coats of arms, illustrated books, broadsides with pictorial inserts, and publicity materials are also in the holdings.



With approximately 1,000,000 items, the philatelic collections are composed of postage stamps and related materials, including all aspects of original stamp design up to final production; postal stationery; selected postally used covers; cancellation proofs; philatelic labels and revenue stamps.

There are also a number of related archival collections in various media (e.g. photographs, manuscripts and papers, maps, broadsides, circulars, posters, etc.) which document the history of the postal service and the hobby of stamp collecting in Canada.

Finally, a comprehensive philatelic library helps researchers to better understand the many facets of Canadian and world-wide philately and postal history. 



The photographic document, whether it was made one hundred years ago or last week, conveys essential, often unique information, not only about a specific location, event or person, but also about the culture that fashioned it.

Numbering more than 21,200,000 items, the Archives' photography collection includes daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and other unique photographic objects. The bulk of the collections are black and white and colour negatives on paper, glass, celluloid and plastic bases. Photographic positives include single prints, photographic albums, contact sheets and transparencies, books with original photographs, and photographic postcards.


Audio-Visual Materials

The Archives acquires and conserves all forms of moving images and recorded sound of national historic significance produced by government departments, film and broadcasting companies, corporations and individuals.

Ranging from documentary to drama and from current affairs to popular entertainment materials, the audio-visual collection serves as one of the country's richest sources of national memory. The collection encompasses more than 340,000 hours of film, video and sound recordings.


Maps and Architectural Holdings

The Archives has a collection of well over two million maps, charts, atlases, globes, architectural and engineering drawings, blueprints and plans.

Cartographic holdings range from Ptolemy's atlas of 1490 to the most recent maps published by government and private industry. These records document numerous themes in Canadian history, including telecommunications, the exploration of the North and historical and current demographic movements.

Architectural and engineering collections range from early plans of fortifications in Canada to blueprints for modern buildings of national significance.


Conservation of Documents

The Archives develops and applies specialized methods for maintaining records, preventing their deterioration, and restoring those that have been damaged. Research on conservation methods provides a better understanding of how records deteriorate, how further deterioration can be prevented, and how deteriorated records can be most effectively restored.


Assistance to the Archival Community

In addition to its responsibilities towards the Canadian public and the federal government, the Archives participates in the development of the milieu in which it is an active partner, that is, the national and international archival community.

As a member of this community, the Archives contributes to its evolution and collective progress by sharing with the community its professional and technical expertise, and through the services of its information and documentation centre on archives.


Using the Archives

The Archives' collections are available not only to historians and scholars, but to the general public. Staff members are on hand to respond to research requests between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, except on statutory holidays. The main reading room is open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. A pass, which can be obtained during regular office hours, is required for use of the reading room and many other facilities. The main exhibition room is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The Archives also operates an extensive animation and education program that often complements the exhibitions. Admission is free.