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The Archives collection

The Collection

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. 

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.

Visit our Collection Spotlight to see collection highlights, feature stories, descriptions of historical Ottawa events and more.

Types of Records

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 include the records of individuals, families, businesses and organizations who have contributed meaningfully to and 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.

COVID-19 Collection

Please help us to collect and preserve Ottawa's COVID-19 experience. In collaboration with uOttawa, Carleton University, and Capital Heritage Connexion, the City of Ottawa Archives is keen to gather records of your experience of the pandemic. Capturing these records will help future generations understand the times we lived through. Materials recording the pandemic and the post-lockdown period will be welcome.

Are you considering depositing your COVID-19 Collection materials with the City of Ottawa Archives? Here are some important things to note:

Records of interest and formats include (but are not limited to):

At the present time, we will be accepting only born-digital records (i.e. documents created in a digital format) as well as scanned copies of physical records. Examples of accepted formats include Word, PDF, JPEG, TIFF, MP4, .wav files (Note: Maximum message limit is 15 MB. Large documents can be submitted using a file transfer service ie. WeTransfer, Dropbox or other).

We are interested in items such as:

  • Correspondence
  • Business records
  • Diaries, journals, scrapbooks
  • Artwork, posters, maps, plans
  • Minutes of meetings, reports, membership lists
  • Unpublished works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, speeches
  • Photographs, sound recordings, films, videos

Note: Physical materials will be accepted later, once it is safe to accept donations in person. Please contact us and an archivist will make arrangements to review your materials once physical distancing measures are relaxed.

Agreements and Copyright

After submitting your donation offer, an archivist will meet with you virtually to discuss your materials. If they are accepted, you will be asked to complete an agreement to confirm the transfer of ownership and assign copyright of the item(s) to the Archives so that we can use them for a variety of important purposes, including research, education and outreach, promotion, exhibition, publication and broadcast. This will not affect any privacy restrictions associated with the donation. We may also accept temporary loans if you are not yet ready to transfer ownership of the original material to the Archives.

Privacy

Once received and processed, your material will become part of the City of Ottawa Archives collection and will be available for research. The archivist working with you on the agreement will ask for some personal details about yourself and any other persons described in the donation to provide useful contextual information to your donation. This information may be included in the collection database to help researchers understand the context and significance of your materials. If you would like to restrict access to your item(s) for a set time period, this can be specified in the agreement.

Access restrictions may need to be placed on some records for a designated period. The archivist will work with you to find a compromise between protecting the privacy of persons mentioned in the records against their value as documents open for research. For instance, as defined by privacy legislation, if your donation includes personal information about somebody else (e.g. S.I.N., health card number, medical information) and it is not possible to gain their consent for use, the Archives may need to restrict access to the materials for that individual’s lifetime.

Access

Processing records takes time. Once we receive the material, items will be arranged and described following professional archival standards. This process is time consuming but allows us to properly preserve and make your material available for posterity. As a result, entries for your items may not appear immediately in our web portal, the Ottawa Museums and Archives Collections database (OMAC).

Contact us!

If you are interested in donating your COVID-19 Collection to the City of Ottawa Archives, please email archives@ottawa.ca and include as much background information as possible. An archivist will be in contact to discuss your materials, our collections, and our processes. Thank you for considering us for your donation!

Share with the community

We are promoting the use of the hashtag #ottawacovid-19collection on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram if you would like to share that the City of Ottawa Archives is collecting COVID-19 experiences.

The University of Ottawa and Carleton University COVID-19 Archival Collections

Information and Archives Management Service (IAM), uOttawa Library, and ARCS, along with our colleagues from Carleton University's Archives and Special Collections, MacOdrum Library and the City of Ottawa Archives, are collaborating to establish a COVID-19 response collection. These archival collections will be invaluable to contemporary and future research on the effects of the pandemic.
The University of Ottawa COVID-19 Archival Collection
Carleton COVID-19 Archival Collection

Reference library

bookshelf
The 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:

Donations

The City of Ottawa Archives is always adding to its collections, and we thank you for your interest in preserving the documentary heritage of the City of Ottawa. We accept materials for our two general collections: archives and reference.

Our archival collections of community records consist of original documents relating to individuals, families or organizations in Ottawa, which are acquired and preserved for their historical value. The types of records commonly acquired include:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries, journals, scrapbooks
  • Drawings, maps, plans
  • Briefs
  • Membership lists, minutes of meetings, reports
  • Unpublished works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, speeches
  • Photographs, Films, Videos

Although our main focus is original archival records, we also collect books and other library materials specifically related to Ottawa history for our reference collections. We also maintain some special collections, such as maps and self-published family histories.

Consult our research guide: Donating Records to the Archives: Customer Service Guide 105 [PDF - 497 KB].

If you are interested in donating to the Archives please email archives@ottawa.ca and include as much background information as possible relating to the material. An archivist will contact you to discuss your materials, our collections, and our processes.