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Canadiana collection policy

Liaison librarian

  • Lonnie [dot] Weatherby [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-5031

History of the Collection

The McLennan Library's collection of Canadiana has been developed through purchase and donations over the last 150 years. Private support from friends of the Library, especially from Dr. Lawrence M. Lande, a prominent Montreal bibliophile, aided in the acquisition of important private collections such as the Arkin Collection of Western Canadiana. The gift of Dr. Lande's own private collection and his ongoing benefactions to the Library have enriched the latter immeasurably. Canada Council grants in the 1960s helped finance the purchases of substantial quantities of pamphlets, now housed in the Rare Book Department. The Joubert Collection, acquired by gift in 1979, substantially strengthened the Library's holdings of Quebec publications. The incorporation of the social sciences and humanities titles from McGill's former Northern Studies collection has enriched the general collection in recent years. In the mid80's a generous five-year grant was received from the Norcen Company for the purchase of publications relating to French Canada, and was used both to fill gaps in the book collection and to acquire backfiles of regional Quebec newspapers and serials on microfilm. In 1989 a substantial endowment from IMASCO for Canadiana purchases was provided to ensure the Library's ability to maintain its excellence in this area. With the establishment of the McGill Institute for the study of Canada, the Seagram Fund was established by the CRB Foundation to supplement existing resources for Canadian Studies at both the undergraduate and research levels.

Current Collection Development

In addition to supporting the course work with the necessary materials in sufficient quantities, the library endeavors to support research needs, to which end there has been a steady effort in recent years to provide not only micro-reproductions of primary resource materials such as Canadian government publications and Canadian newspapers but to also provide access to full-text online Canadian periodicals, newspapers, reports, and historical documents. The Canadian Institute for Historical Micro-reproduction’s digital resource, Early Canadiana Online, complementing it’s vast  microfiche production provides a solid back-up to this effort. Finally the Library tries to ensure that a wide selection of current publications pertaining to this country is readily available to the entire university community.

The History bibliographer is responsible for the selection of material on Canadian history. The English and Comparative Literature bibliographer is responsible for the selection of English language titles, including translations into English of French-Canadian literary works. The French bibliographer selects French Canadian literature in the original language and has a special responsibility to keep abreast of the general and literary periodical literature of French Canada. Both the English and French bibliographers draw to the attention of the Library's other subject bibliographers current publications gleaned from special Canadian booktrade and review sources, the object being that desirable items not be missed. The Collections Librarian works together with all the bibliographers to ensure that the overall high quality of the Canadiana collection.

Coordination with other bibliographers throughout the library system is maintained through regular communication about matters of mutual interest and the sharing of relevant review material. Since interdisciplinarity is on the increase here as in other subjects, the Canadiana bibliographer often simply purchases titles which do not readily fit other fund parameters. The Canadiana bibliographer also plays an important role in evaluating Canadiana holdings and identifying priorities for retrospective purchases in conjunction with the Head of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Liaison with  maintained through communication with faculty from various departments offering Canadian-content courses.

Academic Programmes and Liaison

The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada maintains close ties to the Faculties of Arts and Graduate Studies. Its main purposes are to: "promote a better understanding of Canada through the study and appreciation of our heritage; provide new understanding about our economic future as a country; identify and explore the benefits that a pluralistic society offers; breathe new life into the field of Canadian Studies."

Faculty interests are almost invariably reflected in the courses available. In the Department of History there is a fairly universal interest in political and military history. Other areas of continuing interest are aboriginal social and political history and development, agricultural/rural history, business history, immigration/ethnic history, labour history and women's history. A currently developing area of interest is Canadian religious history (which seems to evolve naturally out of immigration and ethnic studies). Quebec, of course, is a principal geographic interest, but Western and Atlantic Canada (community, rural etc., history) are of  crucial importance as well. In the Department of English there is a lively interest in modern Canadian poetry, the novel, drama and film as well as in the history and development of Canadian literature.

McGill Resources

The Humanities and Social Sciences Library (McLennan - Redpath) is the major location for the University's Canadiana collections although all McGill libraries collect Canadian publications and materials relating to Canada in accordance with their subject responsibilities. McLennan - Redpath is the research library for the humanities and social sciences except in those subject fields that have their own distinct libraries. Most of the material is accessible via the public catalogues, although not, for instance, the microform special collections based on the following bibliographies: Catalogue of the pamphlets in the Public Archives of Canada, Peel's Bibliography of the Prairie Provinces to 1953 and Tremaine's Bibliography of Canadian Imprints, 1751-1800. The index to a major microfiche resource, the Canadian Institute for Historical Micro-reproduction collection, is now accessible from the McLennan Library homepage (CIHM) and the full-text of many of these microfiche documents have been digitized and accessible through Early Canadiana Online also listed in the complete database list of the McLennan homepage. An increasing portion of the Government Documents Canadiana holdings are listed in the library catalogue; however the rich collection in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections still necessitates the use of various hand-lists and card files.

The Reference Department has a basic collection of reference works on Canadiana, as well as a rich array of bibliographies and other reference works required for research.

Lillian Rider's 1980 survey of Canadian Resources at McGill: a Guide to Collections, although to some extent rendered obsolete by library closures and mergers, provides an excellent account of the spread of pertinent materials over the campus. A selection of the most important collections is listed here:

The Government Documents Department is a depository for Canadian federal and Quebec provincial documents and a selective depository for Ontario documents. Some publications of other provinces and territories are also acquired, although not as extensively. Holdings of the Statutes of Canada, the Sessional Papers and Annual Departmental Reports, Debates, Gazette, and Minutes and Reports of parliamentary committees, are virtually complete. Many Royal Commission reports are held in paper copy, and briefs and hearings of selected ones in microfilm. The collection contains a substantial number of pre-Confederation documents. Holdings of the Quebec Statutes, Debates, Gazette and Sessional Papers are solid; Statutes and Debates of the other provinces are collected and Canadian and Quebec bills are made available until the bill becomes law. The already rich collection in paper copy is supplemented as funds permit by the acquisition of microform collections, e.g. of the unpublished federal sessional papers (1916 to date), and the Transcripts of the public hearings of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Statistics Canada publications are held in paper copy and also in fiche (pre-1980). Information concerning the location of and access conditions for machine-readable Statistics Canada publications is available from the Department's staff.

Nahum Gelber Law Library has an extensive collection of federal, provincial and territorial legislation, not all of which is duplicated in the Government Documents collection. A major difference is that the Law Library receives provincial bills, and it preserves federal and Quebec bills. Law reports are almost comprehensive for Canada, the provinces and the territories. The Rare Books section contains many early Canadian legal materials, especially from Quebec.

Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. This department of the McLennan Library is strong in Canadian publications particularly in history, geography, travel literature, biography and literature. Since 1988 the Canadian literature component has been strengthened by such acquisitions as the papers of Raymond Souster, Louis Dudek, Milton Acorn, Christopher Dewdney, Leon Edel, Stephen Scobie, Ken Norris and Sharon Thesen. Manuscripts and letters of Stephen Leacock have been added to the already extensive collection of his papers. The poetry collection enriched by the acquisition of the F.R. Scott library, and of Ralph Gustafson's poetry collection, can now be described as one of the finest poetry collections in Canada.

Separate collections, or parts of separate collections in the Department include:

The Lawrence Lande Collection. Together with the Arkin collection of Western Canadiana, and housed in the Lande Room on the fourth floor of McLennan, this collection, donated chiefly by Dr. Lawrence M. Lande, contains material on the early explorations, missionary work, books in North American Indian languages, immigration literature, nineteenth century sheet music, pre-1885 lithographs and engravings, principally of Montreal, and printed ephemera. The Lande collection mostly predates 1900, while some of the Arkin materials date up to 1920. The bulk of the collection must still be accessed by main entry through the old card catalogue in McLennan Reference, or through subject approach by consultation with the Lande Librarian.

The Rodolphe Joubert Collection on the politics, economics and culture of French Canada donated in 1979.

Canadian pamphlets of the 19th and 20th century (over 7000). 

Historical maps of Canada, Quebec, Montreal. This collection also includes guidebooks and directories especially for post 1870 Quebec.

Paintings, drawings, prints, portraits, posters, photographs of Canadian interest.

The McLennan - Redpath Library’s AudioVisual Service includes a broad choice of audios produced by the CBC and videos from the NFB.

Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Fine Arts. This includes the Canadian Architecture Collection, an archive of 50,000 drawings and 20,000 historical photographs of Canadian buildings, (enriched most recently by the Safdie Archive). The collection also has material on city development and housing in Canada.

Blacker-Wood Library of Biology. This major research collection with strong Canadian content includes the archives of the Montreal Natural History Society (1827-1927).

Education Library. Emphasis is on education in Quebec and Canada. Notable holdings are the Canadian curriculum guides, Canadian children's literature, and the Education section of the Microlog fiches.

Howard Ross Library of Management includes materials for the study of Canadian business and industry and is especially strong on the regulation (and de-regulation) of industries since the mid-seventies. Special holdings include annual reports (back to the 1920s in some cases) of Canadian companies listed on the Montreal and Toronto stock exchanges, and newsletters of the Canadian chartered banks.

Osler Library collects primary and secondary materials on the history of health care in Canada.

Islamic Studies Library collects material on Islam in North America including whatever pertains to Canada.

McGill University Archives. The value of this resource may be deduced from the fact that, since the mid-19th century, McGill has played an important role in the intellectual and social history of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

McCord Museum contains important Canadian ethnological artifacts, paintings, photographs, (including the Notman Archive) and costumes, also Montreal family and business papers, and papers of public figures including General Wolfe, Georges Etienne Cartier and Louis Riel.

Regional Resources

Bibliothèque nationale du Québec has a mandate to collect and preserve Quebec's published heritage as well as documents relating to Quebec published outside the province; and to disseminate the Bibliographie du Québec. Special collections include rare books, livres d'artistes, maps, posters, photographs etc.

Université de Montréal holds two major collections of rare books and manuscripts concerning the history of Quebec and Canada: The Francois-Louis-Georges Baby collection and that of Louis Melzack. (Published bibliographies of the holdings of these collections are available in the McLennan Reference Department).

Salle Gagnon, Bibliothèque Municipale de Montréal, has strong Quebec history holdings, historical collections of city directories for Quebec and Ontario, from 1878 on, and excellent resources for French Canadian genealogy.

The Quebec Family History Society in Pointe Claire operates a small library of about 1000 volumes including the Mormon International Genealogical Index on microfiche.

Public Libraries in the Area, e.g. Jewish Public Library, Westmount Public Library, Fraser-Hickson Library, Eleanor London (Cote St. Luc) Public Library, Town of Mount Royal Public Library, often hold unique materials relating to their immediate communities, as well as back-files of suburban newspapers.

Concordia University has the following related resources: government documents, Canadian newspapers, transcripts of CBC radio plays from around 1930-, and a fine collection of Canadian "little magazines" developed under the guidance of Prof. Wynn Francis.

National Film Board of Canada possesses a computerized information system for Canadian-produced AV materials ("Format"). Its library has some 4,000 books on film and TV (in general), and good runs of Canadian film periodicals, English and French. The McLennan Library has screening access to the NFB collection through Ciné Route, a dedicated line to the digitized versions of NFB products.

Cinémathèque Québecoise which has a collection of books and periodicals on Canadian and Quebec films.

David M. Stewart Museum, St. Helen's Island, has a library which includes a collection of military maps and engravings.

National Theatre School Library (a) open to the public, and b) with a reciprocal borrowing arrangement with McGill University Libraries) collects not only journals and books but also the scripts of unpublished plays in both French and English. A special effort is made to acquire everything published in Quebec pertaining to the performing arts. The collection also contains material on the technical aspects of production and direction, design, and writing.

Chateau de Ramezay houses the collection, begun in 1862, of the Société d'Archéologie et de Numismatique de Montréal.

Consortia and Document Delivery

Journal articles and books not owned by McGill libraries are available free of charge to McGill students and faculty via the Document Delivery Service in the McLennan Building.

Membership in large research consortia provides access to vast bibliographic databases and to efficient document delivery systems based on the holdings of North America's most eminent research collections.

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) a consortium to which McGill belongs, has an excellent international collection of dissertations and retrospective journals, the holdings of which may be viewed on their Web site.

General Collection Guidelines

Languages: English and French are the primary languages of the collection, but works published in Canada in other languages are selected according to need. Works about Canada published in Western European languages are purchased regularly, and in other languages, e.g. Russian or Japanese, occasionally depending on their interest.

Geographical Coverage: While emphasis is given to material dealing with Quebec, all province or regions fall within purchase parameters.

Treatment of Subject: Scholarly and literary quality is emphasized, but popular literary and political writing, and local histories are acquired as complements to contemporary literary and historical scholarship.

Date of Publication: Emphasis is on current publications. Retrospective acquisitions are regularly made nevertheless to fill gaps in the collection, and when necessary to supply replacements of important books which have been worn out or lost.

Subjects and Levels of Collecting

Definitions of Collection Levels are derived from the American Library Association's Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements, 2nd. edition, 1996. The Subject organization followed below is based on that of the Canadian Historical Review's Recent Publications relating to Canada. Definitions of Collection Levels

Aboriginal History 4 4
Discovery and Exploration: (in consultation with the Geography Bibliographer) 4 4
New France and Acadia 4 4
History of Canada before1867 4 4
History of Canada since 1867 (including foreign relations and military affairs) 4 4
Political History 4 4
Social and Labour History 4 4
Economic and Business History 4 4
Immigration / Ethnic History 4 4
Women's History 4 4
Intellectual and Cultural History 4 4
Religious History (in consultation with the Religious Studies bibliographer) 4 4
Agricultural/Rural History (in consultation with Macdonald College Collection) 4 4
Historiography 4 4
Regional and Local History    
Atlantic Provinces 4 4
Québec 4 4
Ontario 4 4
Prairie Provinces 4 4
British Columbia 4 4
North West Territories and Yukon 4 4
Arctic (Western hemisphere including Alaska and Greenland or Circumpolar) 4 4


Collecting levels for literature are fairly easily defined. A level 4 is applicable almost throughout, except that in practice it is not possible to acquire every new literary item published in Canada, given the veritable explosion of output in recent decades. To quote from W.H. New: A History of Canadian Literature, New York, 1989, p.214 "During the twenty-five years from 1960 to 1985 some four hundred new serious writers appeared...Ethnicity, region, gender...All fastened on language as a means of redefining the parameters of power and the character of available history". The number and variety of new "immigrant voices" is especially noticeable, and every attempt is made to acquire the recognized authors of this literature.

Canadian poetry is now, effectively, being collected at level 4+/5 for the period up to 1960. For the current period (which is primarily the responsibility of the Canadian bibliographer, except where fine, limited editions are concerned) the collecting level is at the moment 4/4+.

Major authors (some still flourishing) are collected as comprehensively as possible - all new work (where applicable), new editions, translations into French, biographical and critical works. The works of contemporary Canadian poets, dramatists, essayists, and critics are acquired when published. Canadian French authors whose works have achieved critical prominence are acquired in English translation as well as in the original.

Canadian film and film-makers. Purchased in consultation with the English and French bibliographers. Owing to the high cost of public performance videos/DVD’s, this is an area where consultation between the three bibliographers and faculty members is very important.

Linguistics. The Linguistics bibliographer selects grammars and dictionaries in "exotic" languages for all of Canada and contiguous areas (e.g., New England, the American Northwest, Alaska).

The French bibliographer selects materials relating to Canadian French.

The English bibliographer selects Canadian English grammars and dictionaries.

The McLennan Reference Department purchases dictionaries of a general nature. Items are often referred by the Canadiana bibliographer, who is informed by the Reference Department if an item is more suited to the stacks.

Bilingualism (from a linguistic viewpoint) is the province of the Linguistics bibliographer.

N.B. The publications of the Office de la Langue Française are acquired by and housed in the Government Documents Department.

Plans for Further Development

1. To continue developing the Canadian newspaper collection in all formats.

2. To strengthen current and retrospective periodical holdings.

3. To establish a growing number of standing orders for the publications of Canadian think tanks and associations devoted to Canadian studies.

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