If you realize you’re at a point in your research that you need to use an archive the first thing you need to do is figure out which, if any archive, will hold the records you need.
Because archival collections are, strictly speaking, collections of one-of-a-kind, original documents (artefacts), it follows that they’ll only be found in one place (with a few exceptions of copied artefacts).
This post is the first one to help you figure out which archive to go to for your research, starting with an overview of areas of responsibility between municipal, provincial, and federal jurisdictions in Canada. And since I’m most familiar with the archives in my home-town of Vancouver and my province of British Columbia (BC), I’ll be using many examples from these repositories.
I’ll try to make this as simple as I can 🙂
The majority of archives fall under the jurisdiction of some level of government – whether municipal, provincial, federal in Canada – or some other division of power in the country whose records you are seeking.
You’ll need to know which level of government is responsible for what in order to know which archive will hold the records you want to look at.
For example, you’ll find the administrative documents that were used to run the various departments of the Vancouver’s city government from the date of incorporation (April 6, 1886) at the city of Vancouver archives.
These will include records created by the city’s departments, committees, and councils including police, fire, planning, engineering, parks, city manager, etc.
At provincial-level archives you will find administrative documents that were used to run all the various councils, committees, and departments of the provincial government from the date of formation of that province.
In British Columbia the provincial archives is now officially called the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BCCARS) .
The records at BCCARS includes those created by departments that have carried out responsibilities that fall under BC provincial jurisdiction, as determined, with some exceptions, by federal law.
In a nutshell, here are the areas of responsibility of provincial governments in Canada. Bear in mind that division of responsibility have changed over time so you may need to do some preliminary research to ensure you are looking in the right archive for the time-period you are researching.
But here they are, currently; with some exceptions depending on the jurisdiction (particularly Quebec)
- internal constitution
- taxation for provincial purposes
- municipalities (in BC, Vancouver is its own legislative entity called the Vancouver Charter). Other municipalities in the province have their powers and responsibilities but these are legislated under the BC Municipal Act.
- school boards
- property and civil rights (their largest area of responsibility)
- administration of civil and criminal justice
- penalties for infraction of provincial statutes
- celebration of marriage, provincial civil service (aka vital stats)
- local works and corporations with provincial objectives
For federal government records, on the other hand, you will need to consult with the National Archives of Canada (officially called Library and Archives Canada) to find records that fall under Federal jurisdiction.
Here are the general areas that the Canadian federal government is currently responsible for:
- trade and commerce
- direct and indirect taxation
- the postal service
- census taking and statistics
- national defence
- the federal civil service
- Aboriginals and Indian reserves
- marriage and divorce
- criminal law
- interprovincial works and undertakings.
If you (brave researcher) want to delve further into this, here is the link to an article from the Canadian Encyclopedia about the division of power between the Canadian federal government and the provinces.
For countries other than Canada – comparable divisions apply but you will have to determine that from your own governmental websites.
Enough for now?