Library and Archives Canada to Digitize 640,000 First World War Service Files

The digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) files is underway and a substantial number will be available on our website by the end of the summer as part of the Government of Canada First World War commemoration initiative. Additional files will be available in the fall and winter months as the CEF digitization initiative is a priority for us.

As part of the centennial commemoration of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will digitize 640,000 personnel service files of the First World War’s Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) members.

Transferred to LAC about 20 years ago, CEF service files are LAC’s most heavily consulted collection, amounting to about 3,300 requests each year. As the public interest in this rich resource grows, it is imperative for LAC to take action to preserve these unique, fragile documents. At the same time, we must act to ensure Canadians have the access they want to these files. Digitization now allows us to achieve both access and preservation goals.

As part of the First World War commemorations, Canadians will be able to research high-quality digital copies of all service files, anytime and anywhere, by 2015. The newly digitized files will complement the approximately 13,500 service files and the more than 620,000 attestation papers already available on LAC’s website.

Canadians will be able to consult the newly digitized service files in the existing database, Soldiers of the First World War – CEF, on LAC’s website as they become available.

To be able to perform this important undertaking, LAC will need to temporarily close portions of the service files.

While 75% of the collections will always be open, LAC will not be able to accept requests to consult documents in person, nor take orders for copies for a period of up to 4 months on the portion of the collection being digitized.

LAC wishes to recognize the support provided by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) in the digitization of the CEF service files. PWGSC is using the latest technology to classify and digitize the federal government’s paper records, allowing departments to store their images and data and offer instant access to information. Over 25 million records were processed by PWGSC last year.

For more information on this initiative, please consult the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files. The page will contain updates to the digitization schedule as required.