The British Library holds one of the finest collections of Canadiana outside Canada. These pages offer an introduction to the Canadian collections, and provide an overview of their development from the 18th century to the present day. The Canadian collections are extensive across all formats, including monographs, serials, newspapers, manuscripts, sound recordings, official publications, ephemera, and philatelic materials. They support all aspects of Canadian studies.
Father Louis Hennepin, A New Discovery of a Large Country in America (London, 1699; BL Shelfmark: 979.l.23). Copyright © The British Library Board
Among the highlights of the Canadian Collections at the British Library are some of the earliest works published in Canada, as well as:
- Rare early documents of discovery, exploration, and settlement
- A substantial collection of printed books, photographs, and ephemera received through colonial legal deposit between 1895-1924
- Excellent holdings of both early and contemporary literature, in English and French, as well as the languages of Canada’s First Nations
Newton Bosworth, Hochelaga Depicta: The Early History and Present State of the City and Island of Montreal (Montreal, 1839; BL Shelfmark: 1304.h.3). Copyright © The British Library Board
The Library’s early Canadian material forms part of the larger foundation collections (see United States Collections Post 1776). Numerous papers and correspondence relevant to colonial Canada are also held in Manuscripts; named collections of particular importance include the Haldimand, Bouquet, Blechynden, Carnavon, Dropmore, Gladstone, Hutton, and Mackenzie Papers.
The early holdings have been augmented by more than 57,000 items on microfiche which comprise the pre-1900 monograph collection of the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions. These titles can be found in Explore the British Library at BL Shelfmark mic.f.232. Included within this microfiche set are some of the key founding documents of Canadian history. Examples include:
- Papers relating to the search for a Northwest Passage
- The affairs of the Hudson’s Bay Company
- The formative development of the Canadian Constitution leading to the Constitutional Act of 1791
- Conflict between Upper and Lower Canada, and the rebellions of 1837-1838
- The passage of the British North America Act in 1867 which divided Canadian authority into Federal and Provincial powers
The Library’s collection of Canadian publications is extremely extensive for the period 1895-1924 as the result of an 1895 amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act which required material to be deposited in the British Museum Library in addition to the Library of Parliament in Ottawa. Due to fires at the latter in 1916 and 1953, the British Library’s collection of Canadian copyright material compares favourably with library holdings in Canada from this period. The Collection includes materials in numerous formats: books, serials, maps, music, photographs, insurance plans, directories, and ephemera. Books and serials from this formative period were incorporated into the Library’s main humanities collections on receipt; maps, insurance plans, and some photographs may be consulted in the Map Library. The majority of the photographs, however, have been bound up in a series of 67 volumes and are located in the Printed Book Collections.
Copyright deposit of Canadian material ceased in 1924. Since that date acquisition has chiefly been accomplished through regular selective purchase of currently-published books and periodicals; a certain amount of material is also received through legal deposit by Canadian publishers with distribution in the UK. Retrospective purchasing from second-hand booksellers continues to fill earlier gaps in the collection.
The holdings of Canadian material published in the 20th century at the British Library cover a wide range of humanities disciplines and, as in the United States collection, are particularly strong in history, literature, and cultural studies. Titles published in Francophone Canada are collected in parallel with English-language material. Contemporary fine and small-press printing is also well represented, with material from fine press publishers like Barbarian Books and Heavenly Monkey, and cutting-edge literary houses including Anvil Press, BookThug, Broken Jaw Press, Coach House Books, House of Anansi, and Porcupine’s Quill.
An area of the Library’s core collection which is growing rapidly is the extensive suite of electronic resources, including subscribed databases and periodicals licensed for onsite use in the Library's Reading Rooms. These include long back runs of electronic journals of relevance to Canadianists, such as The Canadian Geographer (2003- ), the Canadian Journal of African Studies (1967-1999), and the Canadian Modern Language Review (2004- ). There are numerous other e-resources, including databases, the “Virtual Reference Library”, and subject gateways, mostly listed topically by subject, or alphabetically by title (Arts and Humanities Research Resources).
Since the 1880s Canadian Government publications have been received by international exchange; the Library remains a full depository for Federal publications. These official publications may be consulted in the Social Sciences and Official Publications Reading Room. From January 1993, the catalogue and many full-text documents published by Government of Canada Publications may be consulted online. Social Sciences and Official Publications also provides a gateway to electronic resources relevant to scholars working in the areas of Canadian or comparative social sciences.
The Library's Philatelic Collections holds stamps from British Columbia and Vancouver Island (c. 1861-1865), and others from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection.
The British Library Sound Archive houses a fascinating array of literary and historical treasures, including rare recordings of prominent Canadians such as Marshall McLuhan, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, Leonard Cohen, and Margaret Atwood reading from their works.
Although much of the Canadian material must be consulted onsite in the Reading Rooms at St Pancras, many items are also available on loan through the Library’s Document Supply service.
The Library’s holdings of Canadian and North American newspapers are extensive. They are predominantly held on microform and may be consulted in the Newsroom at St Pancras. In total, there are more than 650 national and regional Canadian newspapers represented, dating back to the bilingual Québec and Montréal Gazettes of the mid-18th century, and the Ottawa Daily Citizen from 1800, and forward to contemporary dailies such as the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Star, and the Vancouver Sun.
- Canadian Studies: A Guide to Resources in the UK, compiled by Judy Collingwood (London: British Association of Canadian Studies, 1998), BL Shelfmarks: YC.1999.a.6215; HLR 026.971 Open Access
- P.R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London: British Library, 1998), BL Shelfmarks: 2719.k.2164; HLR Enquiry Desk; HLR 027.541 Open Access
- French Quebec: Imprints in French from Quebec 1764-1990 in the British Library, 2 vols, compiled, with an introduction, by D.J. McTernan. (London: British Library; Montreal: Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 1992-1993), BL Shelfmarks: 2719.k.1330; HLR 011.241 Open Access
- Patrick B. O'Neill (ed.), A Checklist of Canadian Copyright Deposits in the British Museum 1895-1923 (Halifax, NS: Dalhousie University School of Library Studies, 1984-1989), BL Shelfmark: X.0429/613
- Bruce G Wilson (ed.), Manuscripts and Government Records in the United Kingdom and Ireland Relating to Canada (Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1992), BL Shelfmark: MSS 971 Open Access
British Association for Canadian Studies
International Council for Canadian Studies
National Library and Archives of Canada
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
Canadian High Commission in London
Québec Government Office in London
Government of Canada
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
General queries about finding and using printed books are dealt with by the Library's main Enquiry Service.
Enquiries about the Canadian Collections can be made to the address below. We regret that it is not possible to offer general research advice or undertake complex or lengthy research.
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7743
Fax: +44 (0)20 412 7563