Lord Elgin Collection

​​James Bruce, Earl of Elgin / Library and Archives Canada / C-000291


James Bruce, The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, 1848

The entire Lord Elgin Collection is available online, searchable by keyword, and includes:

  • records with individual descriptions
  • descriptions at higher levels (e.g. fonds and series)
  • biographical notes from published sources
  • information about record arrangement, creation, and interrelationships with other holdings

You can search the Lord Elgin Collection using Collection Search.

For best results, enter the MIKAN number 105594 or the archival reference number R977 into the main search bar to find the full descriptive record for any specific file or item in the Lord Elgin Collection, including digitized images.

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How to Search the Lord Elgin Collection

Basic Search of the Lord Elgin Collection

  1. Go to Collection Search
  2. Type either the MIKAN number (105594) or the archival reference number (R977) in the main search bar
  3. Click on the "Search" button.

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This search will sort through all individual records containing the keywords you entered.

Please note that it is not necessary to include quotation marks around search terms. For example, if you perform a search for Immigrants from Scotland, it will generate a Collection Search result list with every record containing both "Immigrants" and "Scotland" in the description. However, you can further limit your search by placing quotation marks around "Immigrants from Scotland". This will generate a Collection Search result list with records containing that exact combination of words.

Advanced Search of the Lord Elgin Collection

  1. Go to Collection Search and choose Advanced Search
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  4. This screen offers options for "show results that are available online," "Type material" and "Hierarchical level," fields to help you search for records with both digitized and non-digitized materials.
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Select one of the options from the "Hierarchical level" field to refine your search. These are defined below.

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Specific Terms Versus Abstract Concepts

Records include specific, concrete terms rather than abstract concepts. Accordingly, search for individuals' names instead of their position or rank in government or the military (e.g. Sir Benjamin D'Urban, rather than Commander of the Forces). Additionally, many artwork descriptions provide significant detail about clothing (e.g. ribbon, bonnets or coats) without using the terms "clothing" or "fashion."

Titles and Names

Biographical notes provide the formal titles for James Bruce and Victor Alexander Bruce; elsewhere, titles are simplified to Earl of Elgin and Kincardine or Lord Elgin. Both used the monogram E&K as a signature and both have been identified in the short style as Lord Elgin. Likewise, for the 3rd and 4th Earls Grey, both appear as Lord Grey in specific descriptions.

For example, you can narrow search results in Advanced Search to the correspondence exchanged between the 8th Earl of Elgin and the 3rd Earl Grey or that between the 9th Earl of Elgin and the 4th Earl Grey by combining the names with a time frame. Use the asterisk or question mark as wild card characters to specify a decade (e.g. 184* or 185?).

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When you obtain few search results for a specific term, view the descriptions of associated or other items on the results list for possible alternative terms; these records may even provide contextual information, an indirect view into a topic.

For additional context on an item, click the link in the "Item (linked) part of" field of the descriptive record. This will connect you to the upward series-level description for that item, which may help you find more relevant search terms. 

How to Obtain Copies

You can print the images or save them on your own computer. Use the following link to access other options, such as obtaining photocopies: Copy services.

About the Acquisition

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired a wealth of archival records accumulated by James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, his wife, children, and two of his brothers during their stays in North America.

The Lord Elgin Collection complements the private records of other governors and supplements the official government records of the time, offering insight into roles, relationships, social networks, and family life at Government House during that period, as well as contributions and events that have influenced Canadian history. These artifacts also provide a window into communication channels and the process of creating and preserving records from the 1830s to 1909.

The current Earl of Elgin generously donated most of the correspondence through the Broomhall Conservation Trust; the remainder was purchased with the Canadian Museum of History.

Through the acquisition, LAC and the Canadian Museum of History obtained a number of items collected by Lord and Lady Elgin in Canada, including exceptional Aboriginal artifacts.

The National Archives of Scotland makes available listings of other records created and preserved by the Bruce family, including those retained at Broomhall, and those held at other institutions.

About the Elgin Family

Below is a list of Elgin family members and other relatives featured in the Lord Elgin Collection.

Lord Elgin played a key role in Canada's early development. During his tenure as Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1854, he oversaw the transfer of executive and legislative powers to Canada and negotiated the 1854 Reciprocity Treaty between the four colonies of British North America and the United States—initiatives that would pave the way to Confederation.

After responsible government was implemented in March 1848 and the April 1849 Rebellion Losses Bill riots were quelled, Lord Elgin focused on promoting agricultural, commercial and industrial development to stimulate trade and ensure Canada's economic viability.

Although Elgin was appointed Governor General of the four separate provinces of British North America, he had no legal power to govern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Without a budget or staff, Lord Elgin relied solely on his moral authority to consult and collaborate with fellow governors to foster intercolonial co-operation, particularly for postal service, navigational aids, railroads, and the telegraph.

Yet for over half a century, Lord Elgin, his brothers, and his eldest son shaped Canadian history through many other contributions, while his wife and eldest daughter recorded impressions of life in the colony with pen and brush, providing a different perspective from that of official documents.

Lord Elgin's brother Robert Bruce, who served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1849 to 1854, negotiated the Lakes Huron and Superior Treaties, which contributed to the westward expansion of the Province of Canada. Another brother of his, Frederick Bruce, served as British Minister at Washington from 1865 to 1867, addressing imperial and colonial concerns, mainly claims arising from the American Civil War and the Fenian threat to the colonies of British North America.

Likewise, his son Victor Alexander Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin and 13th Earl of Kincardine, played his part in Canadian history while serving as Colonial Secretary in London from 1905 to 1908. In that role, he recommended that Canada assume control of its external relations, negotiated international agreements related to fisheries on behalf of Canada and Newfoundland (then a separate Dominion), and helped to resolve fisheries disputes, such as the Labrador Boundary.

Further Research

  1. Banks, Margaret. “Upper and Lower Canada or Canada West and East, 184167?” Canadian Historical Review. Vol. 54, (1973), 473480.
  2. Bédard, Éric. Les réformistes : une génération canadienne-française au milieu du XIXe siècle. Montréal: Boréal, 2009.
  3. Buckner, Phillip A. The Transition to Responsible Government: British Policy in British North America, 1815–1850. London & Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.
  4. Checkland, Sydney. The Elgins, 1766–1917: A Tale of Aristocrats, Proconsuls and Their Wives. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.
  5. Coté, Joseph Olivier and Narcisse Omer Coté. Political Appointments and Elections in the Province of Canada from 1841 to 1865, and Appendix ... to 30 June 1867. Ottawa: Lowe Martin, 1918.
    [Note: the editions of 1860 and 1866, which are available online, are less complete than the 1918 edition.]
  6. Desjardins, Joseph. Guide parlementaire historique de la province de Québec, 1792 à 1902. Québec: Bibliothèque de la Législature de Québec, 1902.
    [Note: covers only “Canada East” for 1841–1867.]
  7. Godsell, Patricia (ed.). Letters and Diaries of Lady Durham. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1979.
  8. Hayes, Derek. Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada’s History Illustrated with Original Maps. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002.
  9. Messamore, Barbara J. Canada’s Governors General, 1847–1878: Biography and Constitutional Evolution. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.
  10. Monet, Jacques. The Last Cannon Shot: A Study of French-Canadian Nationalism, 1837–1850. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.
  11. Monet, Jacques. La première révolution tranquille : le nationalisme canadien-français, 18371850. Richard Bastien (trans.). Montréal: Fides, 1981.
  12. Sainty, John Christopher. Office-Holders in Modern Britain: VI - colonial Office Officials, 1794–1870. London: University of London, Institute of Historical Research, 1976.
  13. Swift, Michael. Historical Maps of Canada. London: Prospero Books, 2001.
  14. Walrond, Theodore (ed.). Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin. London: John Murray, 1872.
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