U of A partners to preserve access to Canada's past

Lisa Bowker

A significant collection of more than 77,000 volumes of pre-1920 Canadian publications is now freely available online for anyone, anywhere in the world, thanks to a partnership between University of Alberta Libraries, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), Canadiana.org and the Internet Archive. 

The Canadiana Collection comprises publications dating back to the early 17th century that are about Canada, or written and published by Canadians. Users can easily browse through the collection by topic: Arts and Literature, History and Geography, Religion, Science and Technology, and Social Science; and can then narrow their search by language, place, subject, and other filters. 

Highlights of the collection include books and other documents relating to Confederation, prohibition, popular medicine, immigration, statistics, the War of 1812, the First World War, Louis Riel and the building of Canada’s national railway.

The items in the collection were originally gathered by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (CIHM) from collections across the country, then made available through libraries using the best technology of the day, microfiche. Now, high-quality digitization processes have breathed new life into these important historic materials.

A multi-year digitization effort was funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s National Platforms Fund, with matching funds from 67 universities and provincial governments, in a project called the Digital Content Infrastructure for the Human and Social Sciences (DCI) project managed by CRKN. Canadiana.org provided master copies of the microfiche, which the Internet Archive used for scanning on site at the U of A Libraries.

“The University of Alberta Libraries is proud that this partnership enables everyone with an Internet connection to explore this incredible collection of Canadian culture online,” said Gerald Beasley, U of A chief librarian and vice-provost. “The CIHM Monograph Collection extends the scope of our well-known digitization program to a national level, supporting access to important works in our nation’s history.”

The collection is accessible at canadiana.library.ualberta.ca