Using Archives Collections for Legal Research

I had to visit the Provincial Archives of Alberta today. I was looking for an Order of the Planning Board from 1981. Why? Because there was a reference to the document on the title for some land.

This is not the first trip I have made to the Archives. I have visted the archives to find information for clients a number of times. Water records, repair costs for infrastructure, lists of names, my great grandfather’s homestead record (wait, that was for me, not my law firm), copies of Alberta Orders in Council (with the appendices), copies of Ministerial Orders, and other material that was important to advance the interests of our clients. And my Great-Grandfather’s homestead record, which was very important to my Dad.

Today, I was not able to get the document I was looking for. Why? The legacy of the information transfer to the archives years ago.

The item I was seeking was most likely sent to the Provincial Archives in 1993 or 1994. At that time in Alberta, there were major government cutbacks in all areas. Whoever was boxing up Planning Board Orders missed a bunch of them, including the particular document I was hoping to find. The Archivists likely had a backlog of government documents being sent to them as groups were downsized, amalgamated and changed. The missing items in the collection were probably not noticed for years.

There are no other sources for this information. None. The document is gone.

At least I was able to walk in the door at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and, with the assistance of an Archivist, confirm that the material is missing. A small comfort.

The next time you read about or think about the issues surrounding Library and Archives Canada (initiatives, policies, collections, controversy), consider what information someone may be missing a few years from now.


  1. Lost government documents are, sadly, not a new phenomenon and Shaunna is right to link this problem to the current issues facing LAC. Personal experience has taught me that lost government information is even more common with born digital content, where documents, publications, and web sites can be “lost” with a single keystroke (i.e., deletion, both accidental and intentional) or succumb to technological obsolescence in much shorter order than their paper equivalents.