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Canadian History

Research guide for sources in Canadian history

Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are original documents and objects created at the time being studied, such as diaries, newspaper accounts, letters, governmental records, or drawings. Any record that documents a past event can be considered a primary source.

Where can I find primary sources? 

You can find primary sources in libraries, museums, and archives, including McGill's Rare Books and Special Collections Library (located on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library building). You can also find digitized primary sources online in library databases, such as those linked below, as well as in digitized collections, such as McGill's Digital Exhibitions & Collections, some of which are linked below.

You can also find primary sources in print and eBooks through the library. Historians and other scholars often bring together (and, when necessary, translate) primary sources in collections called sourcebooks (sometimes spelled source books), readers, or anthologies. You can systematically search for these in the Library Catalogue by using subject headings. Try combining keywords on your topic with the word sources (which demarcate primary sources) in a subject heading search. For example:

  • su: Manitoba history sources
  • su: Fur trade Northwest Canadian history sources
  • su: World War, 1939-1945 Canada sources

Canadian Newspapers

Local newspapers provide insight into the social and cultural life of their communities. A selection of historic Canadian newspapers available online are included below. More Canadian newspapers can be found on the Newspapers Subject Guide.


Canada (nationwide)

Other Provinces

Multicultural Canadian Newspapers

Government Sources

Citing Canadian Government Documents

The Chicago Manual of Style offers only limited guidance on citing Canadian Government Documents. Refer instead to the excellent guide from the SFU Library linked below.

General & Thematic Collections

General collections

Thematic collections


Find more maps and geospatial data on the Maps & Geospatial Guide.

Black History in Canada

For more on Black Canadian history, including primary sources, please see the Black Canadian Studies Guide.

Indigenous Voices and Encounters

For more from Indigenous voices, please see the Indigenous Studies Subject Guide.

Settler and Immigrant Experiences

Gender and Sexuality

World Wars


McGill Rare Books & Special Collections

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