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HIST 203 - Canada Since 1867

Finding Primary Sources: Records of Federal Debates

Parliamentary debates, which are verbatim accounts of what is said in a legislative body, are important records of historical events. They are sometimes referred to as "Hansard" after the name of the first official transcriber of debates in the British Parliament.  Many debates record comments by firsthand participants in historical events. They also reveal attitudes toward the issues of the day while bills are being debated.  Depending on the quality of the rhetoric, a heated debate can often yield a pithy quote for your paper.  Records of debates often contain references to related material such as Parliamentary reports or Royal Commissions.

The Canadian federal government started publishing its debates in 1867. The provinces were relative latecomers, following suit only in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Instead, each province published its Journals which recorded the activities in its legislature in a summary format, rather than as verbatim accounts. In recent years, some provinces, such as Quebec, have initiated projects to reconstruct their early debates based on newspaper accounts of the era.

The Government Documents collection on the 2nd floor of the McLennan Library Building has a strong collection of provincial Journals and Debates. These print volumes include indexes, usually one for each session, though the quality varies.

Several digitization projects have been undertaken, but depending on the time period and geographical aspect of your topic, you may need to rely on the original print editions.

Footnotes in modern secondary works, particularly in articles or sections of books dealing with contemporary political reactions to events, are also a useful source for finding references to debates.

 

Federal parliamentary debates

 

Provincial parliamentary debates

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