Frequently Asked Questions

Who we are and what we do

The City of Ottawa Archives are the custodians of permanent and historical civic government records on behalf of the City of Ottawa and its many departments, as well as local, community records with historical value. We preserve, acquire and make these documents accessible for City Staff, the public, and other researchers, for present and future generations.  Our goal is to preserve records that enhance our understanding of the history, evolution, and development of the City's social fabric, natural and built environment, and the people that lived, worked, and made significant contributions to the shaping of the City.

Archives, and public access to records, promotes accountability and transparency in government, and documents the interaction between elected officials and citizens. This encourages citizen participation and ownership of their government and their community.

Mandate

What is the mandate of the City of Ottawa Archives?

The combined corporate and community mandate of the City of Ottawa Archives is a hallmark of the Canadian archival system, enshrined in a 1980 report (authored bv Ian E. Wilson. former Librarian and Archivist of Canada) that established the present Canadian Council of Archives and the network of provincial and territorial councils.

Corporate Mandate

Under the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001, municipalities have an obligation to retain, preserve in a secure manner, and provide public access to municipal records that provide an accurate record of business functions and transactions to encourage effective governance, transparency, and accountability. The former City of Ottawa created an archives program in 1976, in part to meet this legislated requirement. The current program contributes to the Corporation's administrative efficiency as well as the cultural, social, and economic advancement of the City as a free and democratic society.

The City Archives is responsible for:

Promoting good record keeping by the City to facilitate the identification and preservation of civic government records that have enduring value because they document its business functions and transactions;

Identifying which civic records have archival value and authorizing their transfer to the City Archives for retention and preservation in a secure manner;

Determining which civic records no longer have any value and authorizing their destruction in accordance with the records retention by-law approved by City Council (Record Retention and Disposition By-Law No. 2003-527); and

Providing public access to the records in its care.

When City Council approved the Ottawa 2020 Arts and Heritage Plan in 2003, it made the City of Ottawa Archives accountable for identifying and preserving the City's documentary heritage. The Archives' mandate includes responsibility for the archival records of the 12 former municipalities preceding amalgamation in 2001, Ottawa Transition Board records, Ottawa Public Library, Police Services, and OC Transpo.

Community Mandate

The City Archives program plays a key role in preserving community memory by encouraging individuals, organizations, and businesses in the community to create their own archives. The objective of this role is to preserve records that enhance our understanding of the history, evolution, and development of the City's social fabric, natural and built environment, and the people that lived, worked, and made significant contributions to the shaping of the City. The City Archives program acquires community records that would otherwise be lost to the City for lack of a venue to preserve and make them accessible.

In support of its community mandate, the City of Ottawa Archives proactively engages the broader Archives community in its promotion efforts, and engages friends, partners, learning institutions and groups that represent the ethno-cultural-religious heritage of the City.

The City delivers its community mandate through educational programming, exhibitions, and other community outreach activities in order to connect with the various ethnic, religious, and cultural groups in the municipal area.

Records

What types of records do you have?

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. Examples include minutes, by-laws, reports, plans, and photographs.

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. Examples include diaries, letters, land records, and photographs.

How old are the records?

Our oldest civic government records are land survey reports from the late 18th century. Our oldest community records are found in the Historical Society of Ottawa fonds, and date from the 17th century. 

Can the City Archives help me locate records from pre-amalgamation municipalities?

Yes, we would be happy to help you locate records from pre-amalgamation municipalities.  The time to locate the records may vary depending on the level to which records management was professionalized at the former municipality.  Please contact Reference Services at 613-580-2857 or archives@ottawa.ca.

Access to Records

How to view records

Records may be viewed in our Reference Room on the 3rd floor at 100 Tallwood Dr.  It is recommended that you call ahead to identify what records you may wish to see so that we may have them ready prior to your visit.

Which records are restricted at the Archives, and can I have access to them?

Some records in the custody of the Archives are restricted by law, others are restricted by donor agreements, and some may not be available for custodial reasons. For instance, payroll records are protected by privacy legislation; an individual’s diaries may have been restricted as a condition of donation; and photographic negatives may be unavailable because they are too fragile to handle.

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 by phone at 613-580-2857 or by email at archives@ottawa.ca . 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.

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. 

Search our database

Can I see your collections online?

Yes you can, but not all of our collections are online at this time. Currently the records available online for the City of Ottawa Archives through the Ottawa Museums and Archives Collections (OMAC) represents a small percentage of our holdings. We are adding to the database regularly, however, with the aim of making all fonds descriptions for community records available to search online. For photographic holdings, items are made available on the OMAC site on a quarterly basis as they are digitized.

The Ottawa Museums and Archives Collection database is a joint project bringing together the collections belonging to the City of Ottawa Archives, Billings Estate National Historic Site, Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, Gloucester Collection, Muséoparc Vanier Museopark, Goulbourn Museum, Osgoode Township Museum, Bytown Museum and the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum. 

The website allows you to conduct a keyword search of all participating Archives and Museums or you may refine your search and limit it to one.

Search our database: Ottawa Museums and Archives Collections

Please contact us if you have not found items related to your search, as Reference staff can conduct a broader search of our holdings on your behalf.

Photographs and Maps

Can I get reproductions of historic photographs and maps?

The Archives have over 3 million photographs and numerous maps in our collection.  Our Reference Staff can guide you through the collection.  For the majority of the photographs in our collection the City owns the copyright and can give you permission to use them commercially.

How do I order a photo?

To order a photograph, contact Reference Services at archives@ottawa.ca  or call 613-580-2857. 

Is there a cost for reproductions of photographs or maps?

Prices

The Archives have different rates for print and scanning orders:

Prints:

  • Up to an 8X10: $19.25 +HST
  • 11X14 or 16X20: $52.02 +HST
  • 20X24: $78.03+HST
  • Oversize Black and White Printing: $19.25+HST per square foot
  • Oversize Sepia or Colour Printing: $19.25+HST per square foot

Scans:

  • Target Size up to 8X10 100 DPI: $7.55 +HST
  • Target Size up to 4X5 300 DPI: $8.25 +HST
  • Target Size up to 8X10 300 DPI: $14.05 +HST
  • Target Size up to 8X10 600 DPI: $36.41 +HST
  • Maps and Plans 300 DPI: $15.61 +HST
  • Blank CD or DVD: $2.60 +HST

Rush service is available for select items at a premium.

Additional usage fee for commercial publication (including exhibitions and web publication):  $50.00/image

How long does it take to get reproductions of photographs or maps?

Regular service is 20 working days or less and Rush service is 10 working days.  However, your photos may be ready sooner than this.  Special requests for photos or maps may take longer than 20 working days.  Special requests include records that have not been catalogued or described into our database, large volume of reproductions, or oversize material. 

What are the options for reproductions of photographs or maps?

Print reproductions: Matte or glossy finish

  • Print size:  4 x 6; 5 x 7; 8 x 10; 11 x 14; 16 x 20; 20 x 24; oversize

Digital scans

  • File format:  JPEG; TIFF; PDF
  • Resolution: 100, 300, 600 DPI
  • Target size (original size or same as print sizes)

Reproductions can be sent by:

  • Email or FTP site
  • Mail
  • Pick-up at 100 Tallwood Dr.

Rush service is  available for select items at a premium.

What size/resolution should I order based on what my project is?

  • 100 dpi 8 x 10 JPEG for web/PowerPoint presentations
  •  300 dpi 8 x 10 JPEG for print publications
  •  300 dpi 8  x 10 TIFF for exhibitions or oversize printing

Can you supply us with historical information about photographs or maps?

The Photo Order form will include some information on the photograph or map such as a brief description and the date the original photograph or map was created.  For further information, we encourage you to visit the Archives Reference Room.

Bylaws

Can I get a copy of Bylaw #.....?

City of Ottawa by-laws from 2001 to the present are available on ottawa.ca.

If you need a by-law from before 2001, please contact the Archives to obtain a copy. You must specify the municipality, topic, and by-law number if known. Please Note: By-laws for many of the former municipalities are not indexed. Due to the complexity of your request you may be asked to come to the Archives to conduct your own research.

I have a question about a by-law. Does this mean I’m allowed to ….?

At the City of Ottawa Archives we are happy to provide copies of by-laws, but Archives staff are not permitted to answer specific questions about by-law interpretation. If you have a question about a particular by-law please contact 311 and request to speak with a by-law officer. This way you will receive the most up to date and accurate information for your specific situation. 

Zoning

Questions about zoning?

For information about current zoning and by-laws in effect, please contact 311 or any Ottawa Service desk and ask to speak to a by-law officer for interpretation. For historical built information please see Access to Building and Permit Records or email buildingrecords@ottawa.ca. For the historical zoning by-laws please contact the City Archives at 613-580-2857 or by email at archives@ottawa.ca.

Building Information

How do I learn more about the history of my house?

The City of Ottawa Archives has a number of resources that can assist researchers who wish to learn more about the history of a particular property. From City Directories to Fire Insurance Plans staff will be happy to guide you through this process. Please contact us for our research guide "Tracing the History of your Ottawa Property".

Can I get building plans for my house / building I am interested in?

The City Archives does have some historical building plans in our collections, but most building plans are still kept with the Building Records department. To request copies of building plans please fill out the Access to Building and Permit Records Application Form, this can be found on ottawa.ca. If you have any questions about this process please contact buildingrecords@ottawa.ca or call 311 for more information.

Streets

Why was this street named ….?

Historically, streets can be named in a number of different ways. With some notable exceptions, streets are named by by-laws. The reason for the name change is rarely found in council minutes or by-laws. If you have a question about the naming of a particular street the City Archives has a number of resources that can assist you with your research.

Donations

Does the Archives accept 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.

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. 

Displays and Exhibits

Can the City of Ottawa Archives create an exhibit for us?

The City of Ottawa Archives may partner or provide support to create exhibits. Each request and partnership is unique; if you are interested in creating an exhibit with the Archives please contact us at archives@ottawa.ca

Tours and Presentations

Can I book a tour of the City of Ottawa Archives?

Yes! We would be happy to have you visit the City of Ottawa Archives. Tours are free and we are able to accommodate groups of various sizes.  We are always willing to create specialized tours relating to our collections. Please contact us at archives@ottawa.ca for more information.

Can I book a City of Ottawa Archives staff to speak at my event?

Yes our knowledgeable staff are available to present information on various topics such as;

  • Preservation of records
  • Archives and the Future of Copyright
  • Preserving Your History at the City of Ottawa Archives
  • Caring for Your Print Photographs
  • Caring for Your Digital Photographs
  • Introduction to Archives
  • Is it Archival?
  • Creating a Community Archives
  • Researching the History of Property
  • And many more

Please contact us at archives@ottawa.ca for more information.

Who is James K. Bartleman?

In honour of a lifetime of service to Ottawa, Ontario and Canada, the Archives and Library Materials Centre was dedicated to James K. Bartleman by Mayor Jim Watson on April 3, 2012.

James K. Bartleman was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1939 and is a member of the Chippewas of Mnjikaning First Nation. Starting in 1967, he represented Canada as a highly respected diplomat for more than 35 years. He served as the first aboriginal Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 2002 to 2007. As the Vice Regal representative he set three priorities: the first was to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. The second was to fight racism and discrimination. The third was to encourage learning for aboriginal youth. All of these priorities represent the spirit of community-building and public service that are the hallmarks of Bartleman’s life.