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 Indigenous populations in Canada—First Nations, Métis and Inuit—the original inhabitants of North America.

Tips on searching for Indigenous images

Researching Indigenous heritage in photographic and art collections can be a challenge as the information may be incomplete or outdated.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 prior to 1999 will indicate the location as the Northwest Territories. Some communities have returned to the Indigenous 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 Indigenous 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 Indigenous.

Searching the database

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

There are three types of images in the database:

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

Searching for individual images (item level records)

  • In Collection Search, switch to Advanced search, and select Collections and Fonds from the Database menu.
  • Type one or more terms in the All these words field (e.g. Inuit, hunter and seal). Your search will find records that contain all three words in one or more of the fields in the database record.
  • Under Type of Material, select either Art or Photographs.
  • Under Hierarchical level, select Item (this will only search for images that have individual descriptions).
  • Under Available online, you can select Only 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 Search button.
  • Figure 1. Example of a keyword search for digitized photographs at the item level for "Inuit on a Seal Hunt"
    Screen capture

Additional search strategies

  1. If you want to get more search results, you can use an asterisk (*) after any of your terms in All these words to get variations of the term. For example, hunt* will retrieve records containing hunt, hunter, hunters, 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 or metis will produce the same number of results.
  4. Try different variations on the spelling of a name or a place.

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, enter the terms you do not want in the None of these words field.

  • Figure 2. Example of a keyword search for Huron using the None of these words option to limit the number of results.
    Screen capture

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 (fonds/collection, series, file or accession).

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

  1. In Collection Search, switch to Advanced search, and type your term(s) into the All these words field. Depending on your topic, use the asterisk (*) and the None of these words field described under additional search strategies.
  2. Under Type of Material, select either Art or Photographs.
  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 Available online, you can select Only 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 Search button.

Interpreting search results

Interpreting results for item level searches

  • Figure 3. Example of an item level search in the art collections for Métis and camp
    Screen capture

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.

If the item is digitized, a preview of the image will appear above the title in the image viewer.

Interpreting results for searches at all hierarchical levels

  • Figure 4. Example of a search at all hierarchical levels in the photograph collections for Indian, Treaty and Manitoba
    Screen capture

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

  • digitized (Yes) or non-digitized (No) images under Available online
  • Fonds/Collection, Collection or Series 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, complete the Reproduction Requests form.

Consulting and borrowing non-digitized records

If the images you want are not digitized, you must order them (or the collection or fonds to which they belong) and view them on site at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. Please see the Retrievals and Consultation page.

We need your help

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 at bac.unvisageunnom-projectnaming.lac@canada.ca, so we can add it to our database and improve access to the collections.

Include the following information in your email:

  • "Project Naming" should appear in the subject line
  • image reference number (for example: C-150556, PA-102543, e011080332, e011080332_s3 or MIKAN 3613832) is needed to identify the correct image

Your contact information will remain confidential and will not be shared.

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