A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the period being studied. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Also included are works created later by an eyewitness or a participant in an event, e.g. memoirs/autobiographies.
Types of primary sources:
- Original documents (including excerpts and translations): diaries, speeches, manuscrips, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, ancient literature, magazine and newspaper articles.
- Creative works: poetry, drama, novels, printed music, sound recordings, art.
- Relics or artefacts: pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings.
- Statistics and raw data
- Reproductions, facsimiles or replicas of original documents, creative works or artefacts are also acceptable as primary sources.
Examples of primary sources:
Finding primary sources in the library collection
- Original documents can be found by consulting the Archives and Research Collections (ARC) website.
- Reproductions can be found by checking the library catalogue.
Use specific words to locate primary sources in the Library catalogue, such as: correspondence, sources, diaries, letters, personal naratives. KEYWORD search examples:
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:correspondence
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:diaries
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:letters
- [KEYWORD] and s:sources
Original documents are usually unique, so they are kept in a place of preservation such as archives and libraries Archives Canada, Library and Archives Canada, ARCHEION, and Archives of Ontario. Many of these institutions have undertaken digitization projects to make their holdings more accessible.
Over 3,000 speeches.
You will find original documents, art, video and audio clips, detailed descriptions and zoom-in capacity, along with links to Web sites and Educational Resources.
Microfiche reproductions from the time of the first European settlers to the 1920s. Items can be searched in the Library Catalogue by entering relevant KEYWORDS and adding and CIHM to the search
Newspapers and Magazines
Over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements covering five product categories - Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II propaganda - dated between 1911 and 1955.
A collection of well-known francophone news sources, available as text or PDF files.
Official newspaper of the Government of Canada, 1841-2007.
1867-1978. Indexes Maclean's Magazine, Financial Post, Monetary Times of Canada, Massey's Magazine, Canadian Bookman, Canadian Magazine, Saturday Night and University Magazine.
Coverage among the communities varies.
Times Digital Archive [U.K.]
The Guardian (1821-2003) [U.K.]
The Observer (1791-2003) [U.K.]
Official newspaper of the Government of Canada, 1841-2007.
British Parliamentary debates which includes some Canadian coverage.
This site has a wealth of fascinating heritage materials.
For more assistance, go to the Government Information Webpages
Arctic Blue Books online is a searchable version of Andrew Taylor's unique index to the 19th Century British Parliamentary Papers concerned with the Canadian Arctic.
Crime and Law
The penal press is a primary source of prison history from within. Written and produced by prisoners, it provides insight into how convicts viewed the penal justice apparatus, its policies and its practices. Focuses on Canadian publications, but accepts newsletters from other parts of the world.
Data and Statistics
Contains about 350 statistical tables on the social and economic conditions of Canada from 98 Censuses of the earliest settlements to Confederation in 1867 and on to 1871.
Online publication containing about 1,088 statistical tables on the social, economic and institutional conditions of Canada from the start of the Confederation in 1867 to the mid-1970s.
Diaries and Letters
Exploration and Discovery and Pioneers
The exhibition provides an account of Frobisher’s journey and attempts at settlement through the use of summaries and the inclusion of primary sources such as artifacts, diaries, accounts, paintings, photographs and other sources.
Online exhibition from Princeton University documenting the 400 years explorers have sought a navigable passage through the Canadian Arctic. The website includes a chronology of original maps, and primary and secondary accounts of the major arctic expeditions and explorers using a variety of photographs and paintings.
The Chung Collection is best known for its extensive and unique collections on immigration and settlement, especially the Chinese experience in Canada and the United States. Photographs, documents and artifacts tell stories of the struggles and eventual successes of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in fields such as business, politics and the arts. Also contains extensive secondary sources on the subject of immigration and Diasporas, as well as novels and first-hand accounts describing early Chinese-Canadian and Chinese-American people and communities. The collection also contains material related to Scottish immigration to Canada.
Examines the struggle of the Chinese Canadian community to establish an identity and roots in Canada.
See Maps, Plans and Charts Research Tools. These holdings include some of the earliest known visual representations of Canada and constitute the largest cartographic description of our country.
This digital collection contains about one thousand cartographic images relative to the area of the Province of Quebec (Northeast America, New France)
Military and War
Features a wealth of primary sources concerning both World Wars, including diaries, government documents, maps, photographs and much more, for online purchase.
First World War posters in French.
Various speeches by Canadian Prime Ministers
The "Transcontinental Tour" section of this exhibit highlights Library and Archives Canada's (LAC) collection of railway advertising and some of the companies that created it. The collection contains brochures, timetables and posters, dating from approximately 1883 to 1952.
Centre for Research Libraries
The Center for Research Libraries (CRL)
A great institution to check for historical documents, newspapers, journals, archives and other sources. "The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is a consortium of North American universities, colleges, and independent research libraries. The consortium acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources for research and teaching and makes them available to member institutions through interlibrary loan and electronic delivery." Carleton University Library is a mermber of CRL.