Search the Art and Photographic Collections

While Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) art and photography collections offer a visual history of Canada and Canadians, these search instructions are tailored specifically for researchers interested in finding images of Aboriginal populations in Canada—First Nations, Métis and Inuit—the original inhabitants of North America.

Tips on searching for Aboriginal images

Researching Aboriginal heritage in photographic and art collections can be a challenge as the information may be incomplete or outdated. For example, the territory of Nunavut was formed in 1999, but records created previous to 1999 will indicate the location as the Northwest Territories. Some communities have returned to their Aboriginal name, such as Chisasibi, Quebec, which was formerly known as Fort George. LAC staff are in the process of updating records by adding current locations in square brackets.

Similarly, the majority of descriptions containing names (e. g, people, nations, and bands) typically refer to the person or group by the European name, such as Dogrib (Dog Rib or Dog-Rib) and not the modern Aboriginal name, Tlicho.

In some cases, the records reflect unclear or biased terminology (e.g. Eskimo, Native, Indian or Half-breed). Many record descriptions were created when such terms were commonly used. LAC staff are updating records using current and accurate terms as they come to our attention. Where the identity of the person or group is unclear, staff have used the general term Aboriginal.

Searching the database

The following are a few suggestions to assist you with your research when searching for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Basically, there are three types of records pertaining to images in the database:

For an explanation of archival terminology, refer to Glossary of terms, arrangement structure.

Searching for individual images (item level records)

  • In Archives Search—Advanced, type a term in the top line of Any Keyword. If needed, type more terms in the Any Keyword lines below (e.g. Inuit, hunter and seal). Your search will include records that contain all three words—Inuit, hunter and seal—found in one or more of the fields in the database record.
  • Under Type of Material, select either Art or Photographic Material.
  • Under Hierarchical Level, select Item (this will only search for images that have individual descriptions).
  • Under Online, you can select Yes to search for images that have been digitized or you can search by the default All to find both digitized and non-digitized images.
  • Click the Submit button.
Screen capture of advanced archive search form

Example of a keyword search for digitized photographs at the item level for “Inuit on a Seal Hunt”

Additional search strategies

  1. If you want to get more search results, you can use an asterisk (*) after any of your terms in Any Keyword to get variations of the term. For example, hunt* will retrieve records containing hunt, hunter, hunters and hunting and hunts.
  2. If you are looking for a specific phrase, use quotation marks around multiple words (e.g. “Métis camp” or “Cree woman”). Your search will only retrieve records where the words within quotation marks appear together.
  3. There is no need to type upper case letters or accents. For example, a search for Métis, Metis, métis, and metis will produce the same number of results.
  4. The spelling of keywords is not automatically corrected, so try different variations on the spelling of a name or a place.
  5. In some cases, your search term(s) may retrieve topics other than First Nations, Métis or Inuit subjects. For example, a keyword search using Huron will retrieve all records containing this term, such as Lake Huron, Huron County and Port Huron. To eliminate words from a search, select Not from the drop-down menu to the right of the search term line and type in one or more terms (e.g. Lake and Port).
Screen capture of advanced archive search form

Example of a keyword search for “Huron” using the “Not” option to limit the number of results

Searching for images at the fonds or collection level

There are millions of images in LAC’s collection and only a small percentage have been individually described and digitized. If you do not find what you are looking for at the item level, you can do a more general search for images described as part of a group (accession, fonds/collection, series or files).

The steps are similar to searching for records with individual descriptions, but interpreting the results differs.

  1. In Archives Search—Advanced, type your term(s) into the Any Keyword lines. Depending on your topic, use the asterisk (*), and the AND or NOT options described under additional search strategies.
  2. Under Type of Material, select either Art or Photographic Material.
  3. Under Hierarchical Level, leave the default at All to search for all types of records. Or, you can select one of the levels from the drop-down menu.
  4. Under Online, you can select Yes to search for images that have been digitized or you can search by the default All to find both digitized and non-digitized images.
  5. Click the Submit button.

Interpreting search results

Interpreting results for item level searches

Screen capture of advanced archive search results

Example of an item level search in the art collections for “Métis” and “camp”

A search for images will produce a results list from which you can view full records. The screenshot below shows the search results for Métis camps in the art collections (note: this number will change as more material is digitized and described).

Two of the images have been digitized as indicated by the online symbol after the title.(insert image)

The images that have not yet been digitized will look like item numbers 2, 4 and 5 on the list with no symbol next to the title.  

Interpreting results for searches at all hierarchical levels

The screenshot below shows the search results for photographic records at all hierarchical levels (accession, fonds/collection, series, files and items) containing the terms, Indian, Treaty and Manitoba.

Screen capture of advanced archive search results

Example of a search at all hierarchical levels in the photograph collections for “Indian,” “Treaty” and “Manitoba”

You can refine your search by selecting one or more options on the right of your screen, such as:

  • digitized (Yes) or non-digitized (No) images under Online
  • fonds/collections, items or accession under Hierarchical Level
  • pre-1900s or a 20th-century decade under Date

Note: undated records are grouped under “-1900”.

Ordering a copy of digitized images

To order a copy of an image that is already digitized, click on the “Copies and Reproductions” link in the top right corner in the item level record and complete the Reproduction Requests form.

Accessing non-digitized records

If the images you want are not digitized, you must order them or the fonds/collection to which they belong and view them onsite at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. Please see Consulting and Borrowing Material.

Consulting and borrowing material

If the images you want are not digitized, you must order them or the fonds/collection to which they belong and view them onsite at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. Please see Consulting and Borrowing Material.

We need your help!

LAC wants to hear from you!

Do you know the names of the people depicted in our photographs, or have information about the activity, event, location or anything else about the image? If you do, please send the information to us so we can add it to our database and improve access to the collections. You will need to include an image reference number (e.g. C-150556, PA-102543, e011080332 or e011080332_s3 or MIKAN 3613832).  When contacting us, please include Project Naming in the subject. Your contact information will remain confidential and will not be shared.

Related links

You can also use these resources:

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