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Collections and research

Collections and Research

The City of Ottawa Archives welcomes all researchers: students, genealogists, City employees and anyone with a keen interest in history. If you have specific historical questions about Ottawa, reference staff can provide assistance. 

Search our database: Ottawa Museums and Archives Collections

The Collection

Building the parliamentDiscover Ottawa's hidden treasures. Research your house and family, or explore more than three million photographs. The City of Ottawa Archives are the caretakers of Ottawa’s history, preserving original documents on behalf of past, present and future generations.

At the Archives you have access to a wide range of resources including photographs, maps, architectural drawings and artifacts. The 16,000-volume specialized reference library holds unique resource materials on the history and development of the City of Ottawa. Over 20 kilometres of records are kept in our climate-controlled vaults.

About the Collection

The City of Ottawa Archives has two main types of records in its collection: civic government records and community records.

Civic government records include records of the City of Ottawa, as well as the 12 former municipalities. There are also records from the Ottawa Public Library; Police, Fire and Emergency Services; and OC Transpo. Some items include:

  • Original by-laws
  • Original minutes from City Council and Council Committees
  • Assessment rolls
  • Historical maps
  • Historical photographs of major civic events
  • Historical plans of major structures

Community records further enhance our understanding of the history and evolution of Ottawa. Some examples from our collections include:

  • The Billings, Lett and Ogilvy family papers
  • The United Church of Canada (Ottawa and the Seaway Valley)
  • The Royal Ottawa Sanatorium (now the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre)
  • The Historical Society of Ottawa
  • The Central Canada Exhibition Association

If you have items that you are interested in donating, please contact the Central Archives Reference Desk at archives@ottawa.ca.

Accessing the collection

Horticulture building plansThe City of Ottawa Archives welcomes all researchers: students, genealogists, City employees and anyone with a keen interest in history. Archival research is fun, but it can be time consuming. Since there is no single subject index for the entire collection, you should allow plenty of time to search, order and read the records when you visit us. Sometimes it may take a few business days to deliver records that are kept off-site to the reference room.

If you have specific historical questions about Ottawa, reference staff can provide assistance by phone, e-mail or fax. For more complex questions or topics, you will need to visit the Archives. Contact us for further information.

Please note that access to certain civic and private sector records will be restricted if they are exempt from access under various federal and provincial statutes and regulations, including the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (MFIPPA),Personal Health Information Privacy Act (PHIPA), Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the Vital Statistics Act. Access to some private sector records may also be restricted for specific time periods because of agreements between the Archives and the donors.

Access procedures

  • Some of our holdings are stored off-site and are brought to the reference room when they are requested. A lead-time of two working days should be given for requests to make sure that the items have arrived in the reference room at the Central Archives. Additional lead-time will be required if you wish to view items at the Rideau Archives Branch in North Gower.
  • Should you wish to access material that has been identified as restricted or may potentially have restrictions on either all or some of the material, please submit a request through Reference Services. An archivist will review the records, and inform you within 20 business days whether you may have access.
  • Civic government records may be subject to MFIPPA or other applicable legislation, and you may be required to submit your request through the City of Ottawa’s ATIP process. As well, access to restricted material may require the completion of a research access agreement form, and supervision by an archivist. Reproduction of restricted records is strictly forbidden.
  • Materials brought in from off-site or the vaults will only remain in the reference room for a maximum of one week. Please speak to reference staff if you will need the materials for more than one week.
  • As staffing resources permit, the Archives may occasionally provide photocopying services for smaller requests and for documents that need to be certified as official copies by the City Archivist.
  • Only Archives staff are authorized to photocopy fragile documents.
  • City employees must provide a cost centre prior to any photocopying. The standard corporate rate will be charged for photocopies done by archives staff.
  • There is a book scanner in the Central Archives reference room. This scanner is free to use for scanning library materials from the reference room. Please bring a USB flash drive to save your scans. Please Note: The book scanner cannot be used to scan photographic materials.

Please note that retrieval services will not be available on Mondays throughout the year.

Reference library

BookshelfThe Central Archives is home to our non-circulating reference library. This collection includes a variety of published and unpublished items relating to the history and residents of Ottawa. There are books, reports, maps, publications and newsletters about many of the projects and programs of the City of Ottawa and its former municipalities. There is a public access wifi network available. The wifi network also gives researchers free access to AncestryInstitution.com. Please speak to staff to get the access codes.

The Central Archives is also home to several partner libraries including:

Corporate resource library

A limited number of our corporate reports holdings are described online. 

Search the database

To retrieve these items, please e-mail archives@ottawa.ca or call 613-580-2857. Please quote the box number, the classification code for the document (where available) and the title. These materials will be available in the Archives Reference Room at the Central Archives. Additional lead-time will be required if you wish to view these items at the Rideau Archives in North Gower.