Online Help - Photographs - ArchiviaNet - Library and Archives Canada
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Home > The Public > ArchiviaNet > Photographs
ArchiviaNet: On-line Research Tool
Photographs - Online Help

The Records

A general description of the collection provides information on the provenance, history or general subject. These collections, with some exceptions, are also described in more detail by finding aids.

This database contains a certain number of item-level descriptions. Although many image descriptions, on a wide variety of subjects, will be found, most individual photographs are not described. The majority of our holdings are described in finding aids or inventories available only at the National Archives in Ottawa. As research in these holdings is subject to various constraints, not the least of which is the requirement to consult original items at the National Archives, we invite researchers interested in these holdings to write to us to obtain more information. However, this database will meet many researchers' requirements.

The Database

The National Archives has acquired through bequests, donations, and planned acquisition, over twenty million photographs illustrating Canadian reality, and certain aspects of the world in general.

This search tool allows you to consult almost 400,000 descriptions of photographs, modern and old, as well as have access to some 100 digitized images on-line. This number will gradually increase.

Descriptions are written mainly in the language of the creator-donor, with most descriptions in English. Description standards have changed over the years and the amount of detail about each work of art will vary from one description to another. Also, databases are constantly evolving and corrections, additions and deletions may be made at any time.

The Search Screens

Two search screens allow you to browse through the database: the default General Search screen and the Detailed Search screen that appears by clicking on that button. Check boxes and multiple choice lists allow you to refine your search.

General Search Screen

With this screen you can enter any term or set of terms separated by the appropriate logical connectors (consult the The Search Syntax link for more information). This is an integrated text search system. When the search is initiated, all fields within the database are searched.

For example:
Type in King, and you will get all hits for this name, whether it is the subject of a photograph, the name of a photographer, a place name, etc.

The check box under the heading To Limit the Search will produce only digitized images that are available online.

The Number of references by page option allows you to change the number of references appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to twenty.

Detailed Search Screen

The detailed search screen has the same attributes as the general search screen but offers specific field search capability as well.

A Fonds/Collection search allows you to find descriptions of photographs in a given collection. Use the specific name of the collection if known. For example, the records of a government department will be identified by that department's name. Please note that a fonds may appear under several distinct accessions but generally an accession deals with one particular fonds.

A search by Accession number allows you to find descriptions of photographs acquired by the National Archives at a specific time period. The exact accession number must be known but it is possible to obtain this number by conducting a general search.

For example:
Type 1967-052, to obtain descriptions of photographs with this accession number, such as this fonds from the Department of National Defence.

A Reproduction copy number search will find an item based on the consultation number found in publications or elsewhere.

For example:
Type PA-132860 or C-010461 (make sure to type in a six digit number, using zeros as fillers), to obtain a description for the photograph. Some numbers are no longer in the database because the items are no longer under our care or there are copyright problems. If the consultation copy number does not appear in the database, contact us for information.

A search by Key Words allows you to find any term or set of terms separated by the appropriate logical connectors (consult the The Search Syntax link for more information). When the search is initiated, all fields within the database are searched.

The check box under the heading To Limit the Search will produce only digitized photographs that are available online.

The Default Operator between fields option allows you to change the connector between the search fields only, and not between terms that you enter within a field.

The Number of references by page option allows you to change the number of references appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to twenty.

Search Tips

Enter in the appropriate field whatever terms you feel best describe the document. It can be a work's title, a general description, the artist's name, copyist, a place name, etc.

Unless you are looking for a specific work, conduct your search using limited terms. Truncate if necessary, ? replaces a character, and $ replaces a chain of characters, to allow for possible misspelling. If the search brings up too many references, you can reduce the number of hits by using the appropriate logical connectors.

For example:
If you type Sm?th, you will obtain Smith, Smyth.

If you type patriot$, you will obtain patriote, patriotes, patriotisme, patriotique, patriotic, patriotism, etc.

The logical connectors AND, OR, ADJ will give you more precise answers.

For example:
If you type war AND ship, you will get descriptions combining these two words.
Typing in Lord Dorchester OR Guy Carleton, will broaden your search to provide you with works illustrating this person, whether identified by his title or his name.
Type in war ADJ ship to obtain all occurrences of these two words together, in the order that you typed them.

If possible, search in English and in French. Descriptions are currently produced in the language of the creator-donor, but this has not always been the case. Most descriptions are in English only. Titles remain in their original language, and are only rarely translated.

For example:
First, type ship, and then navire, the results will not cancel each other out.

Be careful with dates. You will only retrieve dates that correspond strictly to what you have specified.

For example:
Type 1940-1950 for descriptions with this specific phrase, if there are any, but you will not get anything for the years 1941, 1942, 1943, etc. Use truncation to improve your results.

Type 194$ for better results.

As the database contains descriptions of old documents, do not use only modern or current words and terms when entering your search. Also use outdated expressions and words whose meanings have changed over time to improve your results:

For example:
Settlers, sauvage, savage, Canada, indien.

Be aware that artists often anglicized Quebec place names:

Trois-Rivières becomes Three Rivers. Pointe-Lévis becomes Point Levi.

How to Interpret the Results

Your search results will be posted as a results summary list from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.

Results Summary List

The results summary list, sorted by column, contains information that will allow you to rapidly assess how relevant the documents are that you have found. Please note that information within square brackets generally reflects the National Archives' hypotheses from clues found within the photograph. Each page of the list provides 20 references, which is a default value that you can change. You can export the results to a diskette or to your own computer.

The first column is linked to the detailed description (see below). Clicking on the icon will bring you to the detailed description.

The Title column provides the photograph's title; sometimes it is abbreviated. The complete title appears in the detailed description.

The Date column provides the photograph's exact or approximate date.

The Restrictions on access column provides information on access rights to the photograph, if applicable. Follow the Restrictions link for more information.

The Copyright column provides general information on holders of copyright.

A cross-mark under the column Available On-line column indicates that a digitized copy of the photograph is included in the detailed description.

Detailed Description

From the results summary list, you may consult one detailed description at a time. Slightly more than 100 images will contain a thumb-size image that can be expanded by clicking on the small icon under the image.

The detailed description includes all or some of the sections described below. If the information seems insufficient or unclear, for example, because of misspelling or errors, you should contact the reference services of the National Archives for more information.

Name of the collection.
This is the complete title of the photograph as entered in the database, generally as it was described in the lists that accompanied the accession. More specific information may be added within brackets.
Photograph date
Place illustrated in the photograph
Photographer name
Reproduction Copy N°:
This is the copy negative number that is used to order a photographic reproduction.
Accession number:
This is the administrative control number assigned to a group of documents acquired by the National Archives at the same time, and from the same source.
Any notes that were found on the photo, the negative, the album, etc.
Original N°:
Number given to the photograph or negative by its creator, prior to acquisition by the National Archives. May be useful if one wishes to consult non-copied documents because photos from the same collection, with the same subject, often have numbers that are close together.
Type of photo:
Technical information. (Code book required: essentially what kind of photograph: nitrate, stereoscopy, calling card)
Height and width of the image, and platform.
Technical information. (Number of items making up the image, panoramas)
Technical information. (Code book required)
Provides the location within wider holdings, a group of photographs that share a common theme.
Finding Aid:
Name of the finding aid from which the database information is drawn. These finding aids may contain additional information. This will prove useful for an eventual visit to the National Archives.
Locator N°:
Information allowing the National Archives to locate the appropriate container.
Access and use restrictions information. Certain photographs cannot be copied or examined.
Information on holders of copyright.
Various notes on the work, if available.

Subject Heading: Refers to the photography card catalogue, where a card with the image and caption may be found if a consultation copy has been produced. The catalogue can be consulted in the Reference Room of the National Archives in Ottawa. Follow the Plan a Visit link for more information.

How to Consult a Record or Order a Copy

Slightly more than 100 digitized photographs are available on-line, and this number will increase. Some conditions govern the utilization of digital images.

Consulting original documents may not be possible for conservation reasons. Where possible, consultation is done at the National Archives in Ottawa, by appointment.

For more information about the reproduction and consultation services offered by the National Archives of Canada, please follow the Obtain copies and Consult records links.

Reproduction of archival material is subject to the Copyright legislation and its regulations. This is a highly complex area for both archives and researchers and has a profound effect on the way that the National Archives delivers its services to researchers for protected material.

Copyright can be owned or held by an individual or a group of individuals, a corporation, the Crown, or the public. The terms of protection can vary subject to the author, the nature and the disposition of the material in question, and other considerations. The National Archives of Canada holds a variety of material for which the ownership of copyright may be uncertain due to the mixture of public and private material, or published and unpublished works. One of the major difficulties for both archives and researchers is in identifying and locating the copyright owners.

It is recommended that researchers consult the Copyright Act and seek legal advice where questions regarding the interpretation of copyright arise. You may consult the Copyright Act on-line at:  

It is not the role of the National Archives of Canada to interpret the Copyright Act for researchers, and researchers must accept responsibility for determining any copyright obligations. Researchers should allow adequate lead time for researching ownership and obtaining permission, as required.