Geographic Headings: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Geographic Headings: Generalities

AMICUS and Authorities

Construction of qualifiers

Construction of Subdivisions

Headings for Regions of Places

Local Place Names


Jurisdictional Name Changes; Jurisdictional Mergers and Splits

Specific Geographic Names

Geographic Headings: Generalities

1. What do geographic headings refer to?

Geographic headings are two types: names of political jurisdictions and non-jurisdictional geographic names.

Names of political jurisdictions in the context of Canada refers to names of provinces, territories, names of historical jurisdictions such as New France, counties, regional districts, regional county municipalities, townships, rural municipalities, administrative regions, all types of populated places such as cities, towns, villages and city sections. Names of provinces and territories are included in CSH to show applicable subdivisions and to set the context for the use of these names as subject access points.

Non-jurisdictional geographic headings include geographic entities and physical features such as rivers, lakes, parks, historic sites, streets, and most buildings. For additional entities, refer to H690 of the Library of Congress Subject Cataloging Manual (LC SCM) or to Frequently asked questions at the CSH Web site.

2. Where can I find authority records for Canadian geographic names?

Authority records for names of Canadian political jurisdictions are found in AMICUS Names.

Authority records for non-jurisdictional geographic names are included in Canadian Subject Headings (CSH). The records for these are found in AMICUS Subjects and in CSH on the Web.

3. What is LAC's policy on constructing geographic headings?

In general, Library and Archives Canada follows practices outlined in the LC SCM and AACR2R and rule interpretations when constructing headings for jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional geographic names, for geographic qualifiers and geographic subdivision; and concerning the use of earlier names vs. current names. For further details refer to the LC SCM and AACR2R and rule interpretations.

4. When should I refer to CSH for geographic headings?

CSH should be consulted for English language authority records for non-jurisdictional geographic names in Canada. Répertoire de vedettes-matière (RVM) should be consulted for French language authority records for those names. If you cannot find an equivalent there, request one from Université Laval by notifying the French language subject headings technician.

5. What sources should I check for geographic names in Canada?

Geographic headings are in general based on forms of names approved by the Geographical Names Board of Canada and the Commission de toponymie du Québec on their Web sites.

For geographic names in all provinces except Québec, and in the territories, refer to the Geographical Names of Canada database.

For geographic names in the province of Québec refer to the Répertoire des municipalités du Québec and/or TOPOS sur le Web.

It is equally useful to consult the BC Geographical Names database for names in British Columbia and Nova Scotia Geographical Names database for names in Nova Scotia both of which are authoritative and provide more information than the Canadian Geographical Names database.

Information from other authoritative reference sources may also be considered if the name is not found in these databases or you believe there may be variant names or need further information to support your choice for the form of name. These sources include the bibliographic work, maps, atlases and other reference tools.

Use of these sources may occasionally result in a heading different from LC's for a feature that crosses the Canada-U.S. border, as the Canadian form of name is preferred. For example: Pend-d'Oreille River; Red River (Minn. and N.D.-Man.).

6. What sources should I check for geographic names in the United States and other foreign countries?

Information on United States geographic names can be found in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database in which decisions of the Domestic Names Committee, United States Board on Geographic Names, are recorded. For information on how to use it to construct headings, refer to instructions in H 690 in the LC SCM.

For information on other countries' geographic names, the GEOnet Names Server (GNS) is the database in which decisions of the Foreign Names Committee, United States Board on Geographic Names, are recorded. For information on how to use it to construct headings, refer to instructions in H 690 in the LC SCM.

7. Is there a pattern heading I can follow for geographic name headings?

The heading Canada serves as a pattern heading in CSH for headings for geographic names, so subdivisions there can be used under provinces, territories, names of regions, physical features, counties, rural municipalities, cities, towns, city sections, etc., unless noted otherwise or inappropriate. These subdivisions are drawn from the more extensive in H 1140 in the LC SCM.​

AMICUS and Authorities

8. When do I create a name authority record and when do I create a subject authority record for a geographic heading?

Name authority records are created in the names index in AMICUS for cities, towns, villages, unincorporated local places, city sections, districts or quarters, and regions with administrative status such as the administrative regions of Québec.

Subject authority records are created in the subjects index in AMICUS for regions without administrative status, e.g. Ontario, Southwestern; Lower Mainland (B.C.); for Indian reserves and for the categories of entities referred to in H 690 in the LC SCM. These are created for all such entities and regions in Canada, and must be reported to the CSH editor for inclusion in CSH.

9. Do I need to create a subject authority record for entities outside Canada?

Brief subject authority records are created if the heading is not in LCSH.  For example, there is no need for an authority record for San Juan Islands (Wash.) which is in LCSH, but an authority record is needed for Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park (Philippines) which has been used in LAC cataloguing but is not in LCSH. Equivalent headings in RVM are either searched for in that database or requested from Université Laval if not found there.

Construction of qualifiers

10. How do I construct geographic qualifiers?

Refer to instructions in H 810 in the LC SCM.  There is also information in the frequently asked questions on the Canadian Subject Headings (CSH) Web site specifically about the qualification of Canadian names. Generally, CSH follows the principles of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) for applying qualifiers.

Most CSH geographic headings contain a geographic qualifier namely, one of Canada's provinces or territories. If a more specific qualifier is called for (for instance, to distinguish between otherwise identical headings, or to qualify entities located within cities, towns, or other communities) use the established name heading for that place as a qualifier placed in parentheses or punctuated according to instructions in the above memo.

11. What do I use as a qualifier when the LC SCM dictates that entities with identical names need to be distinguished by the "next smaller jurisdiction?"

This policy has to do with the choice of "next smaller jurisdiction" to the name of the province or territory when the LC SCM dictates that entities with identical names need to be distinguished through the addition of a smaller jurisdiction to the qualifier. Unlike the United States, where most states are divided into counties, in Canada there are a variety of "next smaller jurisdiction" types. Use whichever one is appropriate for the province or territory, according to the chart below.

The following table lists the provinces and territories and the next smaller jurisdiction types within each.

Province or Territory Jurisdiction types

British Columbia

Regional districts



Improvement districts

Municipal districts

Regional municipalities


Rural municipalities


Rural municipalities



Regional municipalities

District municipalities

Districts (Kenora, Rainy River, Thunder Bay, Cochrane, Algoma, Timiskaming, Sudbury, Nipissing, Parry Sound)

Areas designated as "Municipality" or "City" with only a single level of municipal government (Municipality of Chatham-Kent; City of Greater Sudbury; City of Hamilton; City of Kawartha Lakes; City of Ottawa; City of Toronto)


Municipalités régionales de comté (MRC)
(Regional county municipalities)

Cities not part of an MRC (e.g. Rouyn-Noranda; Saguenay; Québec; Montréal, Lévis; Trois-Rivières; Gatineau; Longueuil; Sherbrooke)

New Brunswick


Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island


Newfoundland and Labrador


In parts of the province with no municipalities, use headings for islands; regions of features or communities, etc., e.g. (Trinity Bay Region, N.L.); (Terra Nova National Park Region, N.L.)

Yukon Territory

Headings for regions of features or communities,
e.g. (Whitehorse Region, Yukon)

Northwest Territories

Administrative regions


Administrative regions

The old districts of Franklin, Keewatin and Mackenzie are no longer used as geographic qualifiers.


There are two villages in Nova Scotia called Cole Harbour. One village is in Halifax County, the other is in Guysborough County. The village in Halifax would be established as Cole Harbour (Halifax, N.S.), and the other would be established as Cole Harbour (Guysborough, N.S.).

12. What is LAC's practice when you have two identical geographic names, one a geographic area and the other a municipality occupying that area?

It has been the practice in some provinces divided into geographic areas such as townships or counties for these units also to be the municipalities whose names and area are then the same as the geographic area.

While the Geographical Names of Canada database may contain a listing for both the geographic area (described as "geographical area") and the municipality (described as "other municipal/district area"), in AMICUS, create only one name heading for use as a subject access point rather than two separate headings.


Middlesex (Ont.)
Middlesex (Ont. : geographic county)
Middlesex (Ont. : county municipality)

Annapolis (N.S.)
Annapolis (N.S. : geographic county)
Annapolis (N.S. : municipal county)

Wilmot (Ont.)
Wilmot (Ont. : geographic township)
Wilmot (Ont. : township municipality)​

Construction of Subdivisions

13. What type of geographic headings may be used as subdivisions?

All geographic headings, whether jurisdictional or non-jurisdictional, can generally be used as subdivisions, unless they are for entities within a city or town, in which case the heading for the city or town would be used as the subdivision.

14. How are geographic subdivisions constructed for places in Canada?

The general principles followed are those in H 830 in the LC SCM.

First order jurisdictions (one of the provinces or territories) are inserted between the main part of the heading and the name of the local place or entity that the topic is restricted to unless that place is located in two or more jurisdictions, then the local subdivision is assigned directly.

The headings Atlantic Provinces; Maritimes Provinces; Prairie Provinces; Canada, Eastern; Canada, Western; Canada, Northern; and Canada, Central may be used as subdivisions directly under topical headings without interposing --Canada.

15. Does LAC have a policy on the order of geographic subdivisions and topical subdivisions?

With regard to subdivision order, LAC follows Library of Congress (LC) policy.

Headings for Regions of Places

16. Do I need to establish authority records for regions of populated places and geographic entities?

No, for populated places, whether cities, towns, villages or unincorporated communities, the headings may simply be added to the bibliographic record as a subject access point, e.g. Smiths Falls Region (Ont.); Maniwaki Region (Québec). RVM does not create authority records for their French equivalents either.

Yes, for regions of entities such as rivers and lakes, in order to link them to their RVM equivalents. The authority records are established in AMICUS subjects.

There must be an authority record for the city, town, river, etc. that you are adding the term "Region" to.

17. When should I not construct a "Region" heading?

There are some instances in which "Region" headings should not be constructed.

(1) do not construct "Region" headings of city sections, districts or quarters
(2) do not construct "Region" headings using names of jurisdictions of townships, counties, rural municipalities, municipalités régionales de comté, etc. Assign instead the heading for the appropriate entity

Local Place Names

18. Is LC SCM memo H1140, free-floating subdivisions under names of places, also applicable to local place names?

Yes. The "TYPES OF HEADINGS COVERED" section of LC SCM memo H1140 includes cities, regions, city sections, districts or quarters among the categories of headings that these subdivisions apply to. Based on AACR2R rule 23.1A, interpret this instruction to mean that these subdivisions also apply to towns, villages and other smaller communities, including unincorporated local places that are not jurisdictions. Many of these subdivisions are included under the heading Canada in CSH which serves as the pattern heading for place names.

19. What if the place name is not found in one of the geographic names databases?

In case a place name is not found in the geographic names databases, use as an authority, reference tools such as atlases and official road maps and bibliographic work or official references to it found on the Internet.

20. Can I assign a name heading for an entity that no longer exists, as a subject access point?

Yes, these can be used as a subject access point but not as a subdivision or in a qualifier.

For example, assign the heading Rapide-Blanc (Québec), even though Rapide-Blanc, a former company town in Québec, no longer exists. Assign the heading Waterloo (Ont.: Township), even though that township has been absorbed into other municipalities.


21. How do I create a geographic name qualifier for a cemetery name?

In general, refer to LC Rule Interpretations, AACR2R Chapter 24.4C3.

Cemetery name [(qualified by heading for the place)]

Determine the location of the cemetery, both earlier and later names, from the publication. Qualify by the name of the current jurisdiction, using the appropriate gazetteer or database to determine this information, which may not be given in the publication. Alternately, qualify by the name of a community (city, town, village, hamlet, or places designated in the Geographical Names of Canada database as unincorporated areas) that the cemetery is located in. In such cases, the name of the place may be used as a qualifier even if the cemetery is associated with it, but actually located a few kilometers from its boundaries. Names of former townships or counties are not used as qualifiers.

22. How do I choose the place name for the heading(s) of the type [place]--Genealogy?

The place name is usually the place name chosen as a qualifier for the cemetery name, but not always, as it can be an earlier name for a township or other municipality or even a city section that ceased to exist because of an amalgamation or split. Prefer the name of a city, town, village, or other locality if the cemetery is clearly located in it or associated with it (i.e. a cemetery could be associated with a town, but actually located a few kilometres from its boundaries).


Heading #1: Mount View Cemetery (Cambridge, Ont.)
Heading #2: Galt (Cambridge, Ont.)--Genealogy.

Jurisdictional Name Changes; Jurisdictional Mergers and Splits

23. What is LAC's policy for assigning geographic name headings when jurisdictions change their names and/or their organizational structure?

In general apply the policies in LC SCM memos H708 and H710 to names of jurisdictions at the municipal or local level. Use the latest name for a jurisdiction as long as the territorial identity remains essentially unchanged. If the heading for the former jurisdiction is being formed as a city section, refer to the policies in LC SCM memo H720 when deciding on headings to be assigned.

However, LAC will vary from the policy stated there, in that, for works of genealogy and local history, assign both the former and current name when discussing a jurisdiction that has become part of a larger one if the information is readily available and is thought to be useful for the work.

24. How do I assign headings to works that deal with new jurisdictions resulting from mergers? How do I assign qualifiers for communities absorbed into these newly created municipalities?

Assign the heading corresponding to the post-merger jurisdiction if the work covers all or most of the area.

The bibliographic work may discuss only one or two of the communities absorbed into a new jurisdiction. Many municipalities now consist of large areas due to municipal restructuring.

In general, qualify headings for these communities by only the province or territory if the municipality consists of several detached urban centres and rural areas.


Lindsay (Ont.)
not Lindsay (Kawartha Lakes, Ont.)

Blenheim (Ont.)
not Blenheim (Chatham-Kent (Ont.)

Dartmouth (N.S.)
not Dartmouth (Halifax Regional Municipality, N.S.)

In the case of cities where contiguous urban areas occupy a large part of the municipality, structure the heading according to the usual rules for city sections.


Dundas (Hamilton, Ont.)
Carp (Ottawa, Ont.)
Scarborough (Toronto, Ont.)
Aylmer (Gatineau, Québec)
Outremont (Montréal, Québec)
Sainte-Foy (Québec, Québec)

Specific Geographic Names

25. What is the status of the heading Canada in CSH?

The heading Canada serves as a pattern heading for headings for geographic names, so subdivisions there can be used under provinces, territories, names of regions, physical features, counties, rural municipalities, cities, towns, city sections, etc., unless noted otherwise or inappropriate.

26. When can I use the heading North America?

North America includes the component parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies in terms of subject heading usage. The New Columbia Encyclopedia provides a full explanation of this geographic entity.

If the geographical coverage of a work includes three or more component parts, use North America as either a main heading or as a geographic subdivision when one is permitted. If geographic coverage is limited to two component parts of North America, bring out both parts in your subject headings.

For example, a work entitled Birds of North America which deals only with birds found in Canada and the United States should be assigned these headings:

Heading #1: Birds--Canada.
Heading #2: Birds--United States.
not Birds--North America

27. How do I assign subject headings for works by and/or about Nunavut and Northwest Territories before and after the split of April 1, 1999?

Refer to:

Download freeware Documents and alternative formats

28. How do I construct headings for First Nations and First Nations reserves?

Headings for specific First Nations as corporate bodies are established in AMICUS Names according to AACR2R and rule interpretations. Headings for specific First Nations reserves are non-jurisdictional geographic names and thus established in AMICUS Subjects usually in the format [name of reserve] [number of reserve] ([qualifier for province or territory]), e.g. Blood Indian Reserve No. 148 (Alta.). Useful sources for these names are databases referred to in  5. What sources should I check for geographic names in Canada?; First Nation Profiles; and Web sites of individual First Nations.

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