History archives and library

Many military history documents are not yet online. These are the major collections we keep for offline viewing.

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Collections overview

Many of our military history resources are online, but many others are not. To access those that are online, please view the histories part of our website.

You can find the military history resources that are not yet online in our archive research room (the “Reading Room”). The Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH) runs the Reading Room, where you will find:

  • lists
  • guides
  • finding aids
  • other research tools

Our Reading Room also has the following equipment available for use, free of charge:

  • a book scanner. This scanner requires a USB key. Please bring your own
  • 3 computers with Internet connection
  • internet connection via Ethernet cables. Due to security requirements, we do not have a wi-fi network available
  • 2 microfilm readers
  • a photocopier

We keep these to help you research Canada’s military history. They are available to:

  • members of the Canadian Armed Forces
  • staff from the Department of National Defence
  • the public

Reading room visiting hours and information.

Here are some of the major collections you can access in the Reading Room.

DHH Archives

The DHH archives is comprised of several collections that hold:

  • memoirs
  • journal articles
  • conference papers
  • publicity messages
  • interview transcripts
  • unit Annual Historical Reports
  • biographical files on servicemen and civilians
  • training pamphlets of Canadian and British origin
  • Permanent Reference Files for Canadian ships, units and bases
  • and others

The items cover these and other periods and topics:

  • the Second World War
  • the Korean War
  • the Cold War
  • peacekeeping missions
  • operations and exercises
  • the growth of the Canadian Armed Forces
  • civil defence planning
  • the development of the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD)
  • policy and operational papers related to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

You can access the archival collections in the Reading Room. There are card catalogues and finding aids available in hard copy and electronic format, as well as an electronic database. More detail on the contents of each archival collection available in the reading room is listed below:

Document Collection

The Document Collection holds reports, narratives and other documents we received from 1971 to 1994. DHH closed the collection to new acquisitions on December 31, 1994.

Fonds Database Records

On January 1, 1995, fonds database replaced item-level card cataloguing. At that time, we began using the Canadian Rules for Archival Description (RAD).

The items cover these periods and topics:

  • the Second World War
  • the Korean War
  • the Cold War
  • peacekeeping missions
  • operations and exercises
  • the growth of the Canadian Armed Forces

You can also access about 730 fonds level and 550 series level descriptions through Archeion. This online database of descriptions of records contains collections from archives across Ontario.

Finding aids are available for most items. A card catalogue is available for the Document Collection.

Kardex Collection

The Kardex Collection holds papers from the former historical sections of the Army and the RCAF.

The bulk of the items date from 1939 to 1964, with some earlier and later material; much of the collection has been transferred to Library and Archives Canada (transfer lists are available), with only the post-Second World War records remaining at DHH, including:

  • civil defence planning
  • participation in the Korean War
  • Canadian peacekeeping activities under the United Nations and other auspices
  • policy and operational papers related to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • the development of the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD)

A card catalogue is available.

Naval Historian's Collection

This collection is also known as the Naval Kardex collection and the RCN Naval Historical Section fonds (reference number 81/520). It is comprised of files about the history of the RCN from the First World War up to the 1960s; the Second World War is the chief topic.

The items include:

  • documents covering the period of E.C. Russell’s tenure as Naval Historian from 1952 to1966
  • material collected by the first Naval Historian, Dr. Gilbert Tucker, during the Second World War
  • reference files compiled by the Naval Historical Section during the 1950s. These were kept up-to-date until 1965 to 1966

A card catalogue and finding aid is available.

Annual Historical Reports (AHRs)

Every active Canadian Armed Forces unit submits Annual Historical Reports (AHRs) by regulation. About 575 units currently submit reports.

The AHR provides an historical summary of the unit's activities for the calendar year ending December 31. An AHR consists of:

  • a cover letter
  • a narrative account of unit activities for the year
  • information on unit administration and personnel
  • annexes

They are written in French or in English. Some AHRs include photos, newspaper clippings and/or other items about the unit’s activities.

A finding aid and electronic database is available.

Permanent Reference Files (PRF)

The Permanent Reference Files (PRFs) are working files created for:

  • Canadian units
  • Canadian ships
  • Canadian bases in Canada and abroad
  • aircraft types, both Canadian and foreign
  • squadrons of the RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces

They include:

  • photos
  • articles
  • booklets
  • press releases
  • newspaper clippings
  • similar short-lived materials

A finding aid is available.

Biographical files

The biographical files are open working files of servicemen and civilians. It includes many Canadians and some foreigners. The files have:

  • photos
  • articles
  • press releases
  • information sheets
  • newspaper clippings
  • some other documents

A finding aid is available.

Card collections

Card collections of Canadian personnel add to the Biographical Files. The Second World War files hold details on:

  • casualties
  • prisoners of war
  • honours and awards
  • other aspects

There are also card files of:

  • Canadians who served in the British flying services during the First World War
  • RCN personnel who received honours and awards during 1941-1960

A finding aid is available.

Steiger materials

The late Alfred G. Steiger’s (1900-1972) material is a collection of Second World War documents. They are from Germany and written in German. Many are translated into English. They include:

  • lists of items in other archives
  • files about research on specific aspects of the First World War
  • secondary published material about German military history in general

A finding aid is available.

Public Record Office (PROs)

The Public Record Office (PROs) materials are documents that were photocopied in London, UK.

They include records of:

  • the British Admiralty and related bodies on all aspects of the organization
  • operations of the Royal Navy and related naval forces
  • records of the Air Ministry, the Royal Air Force and related bodies on developing
    • military aviation
    • the aviation part of the armed forces

A finding aid is available.

Pamphlet Collection

The Pamphlet Collection is a small collection of training pamphlets of Canadian and British origin (FN Series).

A finding aid is available.

DHH Library

The DHH Library has about 15,000 books and 450 periodicals. These help you research and promote a better grasp of Canadian military history.

The collection holds:

  • general histories
  • campaign histories
  • some technical works
  • some bound runs of periodicals
  • official histories of allied and enemy forces
  • many Canadian and British regimental histories

There is a large collection of officers’ lists, printed regulations and administrative orders, mostly Canadian. Among them are:

  • Militia Orders
  • General Orders
  • Admiralty Fleet Orders
  • Canadian Army Orders
  • Air Force Administrative Orders

The Library also has many documents on peacekeeping.

Access: You can access the Library collection from the Reading Room.

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