Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files

The digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) service files is underway and a substantial number of digitized files have been added to our website as part of the Government of Canada First World War commemoration activities.

We will add new files every two weeks, as the CEF digitization initiative is a priority for us. LAC will ensure that Canadians have access to the files throughout the digitization process, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018.

Every month, we publish a progress report on the blog.

Please check the database regularly for new additions. If you still have questions after having checked the database, you may contact us at 1-866-578-7777 (option 8).

Making these records available in digital format will ensure:

  • Clients can easily and quickly download high-quality digital copies of these service files, free of charge.
  • The long-term preservation of these unique and fragile paper documents.

Preserving our national heritage

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. These are unique and fragile paper documents that are nearly a century old. As the Library and Archives of Canada Act mandates LAC “to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations,” we are taking action to protect these documents. This is why we are undertaking the digitization of all CEF service files. Preservation is key as, once these files are lost, they are lost forever.

The Digitization Project

LAC, with the support of Public Works and Government Services Canada, will undertake the digitization of about 640,000 service files of members of the CEF (some members having two or more files in their name due to changes in their status) to complement the more than 620,000 attestation papers and the approximately 13,500 service files already available on LAC’s Soldiers of the First World War Web page.

The first of the key steps to digitization involves a review of each file for its content, as some include objects such as badges or mementos. Service files may contain documents as varied as casualty or medal forms, pay books, passports, and, in some cases, personal photos and correspondence. Items that cannot be scanned will be retrieved, photographed, and placed aside so they can be reintegrated with the proper file before final storage. Staples and bindings, such as glue, must be carefully removed from each sheet of paper before being boxed and transported for digitization.

The digitized images will be associated to metadata (the keywords that allow users to search through an electronic database, such as the member’s given name, last name or regimental number). Batches of electronic files will be added to the Soldiers of the First World War every two weeks.

Once the paper files have been digitized, they will be stored permanently in climate-controlled vaults at the LAC Preservation Centre, in Gatineau, Quebec. Thereafter, there will be limited access to the original documents. To help preserve the fragile originals, we ask that researchers consult the online copies instead of the originals.

The Benefits of Digitizing Service Files

At the end of the project, Canadians will have unprecedented access to this rich resource and will be able to research high-quality digital copies of the more than 640,000 service files for free anytime and anywhere. Each file contains, on average, 49 images, for a total of over 32,000,000 images or almost 617 terabytes of scanned information.

Canadians will have easy access online and will no longer be required to pay the reprography fee currently in place, which averages $20.00 per order.

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