Digitized Legal Materials From Canadiana.org

I learned recently that the University of Alberta has been digitizing microfilm or microfiche from the collection of Canadiana.org and placing the scans on the Internet Archive. (There’s a PowerPoint presentation online that will give you some sense of U of A’s digitization projects.) At present a search for [contributor:(canadiana.org)] turns up over 22,000 items. Of these, just under 800 are tagged “law” in some respect.

There is no attempt to catalog these items in any useful way, which means a researcher must rely on searching — not the easiest thing on the Internet Archive. (For example, had I not known of the Canadiana.org project, I doubt I would have been able to find the collection without much thrashing around.) But this collection is well worth browsing through. I came across a pamphlet dated 1890 (I think — the metadata is either nonexistent or hard to discover) entitled “Curriculum of the Law School and Curriculum of the Law Society Examinations, Osgoode Hall, Toronto.” I’ve copied off the required courses and readings for the three years of law school, if you’d like to see [PDF] how different/similar legal education was 120 years ago.

There is a wealth of interesting and useful material here, as there is in other digitization projects’ repositories. Now some order needs to be imposed on the various products so that it will be possible actually to make use of them. And, I’d suggest, a clearing house is needed to coordinate all of the various and laudable digitizing projects across the country.


  1. I recently attended a meeting where someone commented that the scanning part of a digitization project is the easy part. Getting control of the documents is a much tougher and time-consuming process.

    As part of its digitization project, the Ontario Legislative Library has been methodically breaking down the giant files created by the folks at the Internet Archive,and repackaging the documents in a more logical fashion. Bills are repackaged as individual bills, debates are arranged day by day and so on. Between this work and the meticulous Quality Assurance, the Library is developing a truly useful and reliable resource.

    For other libraries considering projects like this, budget lots of time and people to make searching your digital collection a satisfying and successful experience. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

  2. Interesting that you bring this up!
    Last week we had two filmmakers in to the Paul Martin Law Library, who are working on a documentary about the life of Josiah Henson. (The infamous “Uncle Tom” referred to by Harriet Beacher Stowe). For those of you who don’t know it- Josiah Henson and others settled in southwestern Ontario, around my home town of Dresden. There is a museum there to commemorate his life.

    Well, the film makers were looking for a petition filed by Josiah Henson in around 1835 to 1837. In essence, his landlord was charging him illegal rents, and he was advised to make a petition to the authorities to halt those activities. Apparently, he was ultimately successful in his petition.

    For those of you who have tried to do research, you’ll recognize that this is a nasty time period for the legal researcher, since Hansard (Debates) only started in 1841. (By the way, if you ever need a primer about the history of legislative publishing in Canada, there is a quite good and very helpful essay printed in the front of the very first volume of Hansard (the House of Commons Debates).

    Historical stuff -yikes! – what’s a researcher to do?!

    Luckily, I found that Canadiana.org actually has scanned versions of the Journals of the House Assembly of Upper Canada and the Journals of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada for this exact time period! Even more interesting is the fact that each volume of these Journals has a full index in the back, that includes lists of the petitions that were heard each year!! (A fabulous resource that has come in very handy!)

    (For those of you who are curious – no, we haven’t found his exact petition – however, the researchers feel certain that it must have been done by someone else on his behalf. We are still following those leads.)

    Thank god for Canadiana.org! Now if only the OCR would work!!!