At the time this article was published
Carman V. Carroll was a graduate in history from St Francis Xavier University
and the University of New Brunswick. Formerly Chief, Prime Ministers Archives
at the Public Archives of Canada, he was Chief, Public Affairs Archives,
The Public Archives of Canada has long
assumed responsibility for collecting historically valuable parliamentary
papers, specifically the private, personal and constituency papers accumulated
by prime ministers. cabinet ministers, members of parliament and senators. The
private papers of parliamentarians may be defined as the correspondence and
subject files, including recordings, photographs, tapes, memoranda, diaries,
etc., which document their parliamentary careers. The disposition of the papers
is entirely at the discretion of the parliamentarian for there are no legal
statutes requiring deposit in the Public Archives of Canada or any other
repository. It should be mentioned, however, that cabinet ministers' records
dealing with their ministerial responsibilities, as opposed to their personal.
political and constituency papers, should remain with their departmental
records. The recently introduced Treasury Board Directive (Chapter 460 of the
Treasury Board Administrative Policy Manual) makes the distinction between
ministers' personal papers and departmental records.
The quality and quantity of
parliamentarians' papers vary considerably. For its part the Public Archives of
Canada is limited to what it can collect by staff and space constraints. In
determining which parliamentarians papers we wish to acquire we are guided by
our mandate to collect material of national significance, by our perception of
the "influence" of the individual and our need to document political
and other activities throughout the country. Thus we try to ensure that all
political parties and all regions of the country are represented as fully as
possible among our holdings. If we do not collect the grist the historians will
have nothing to mill.
Over the years, through gifts primarily, the
Public Archives of Canada (PAC) has acquired an impressive collection of papers
of federal parliamentarians. For the past dozen years a more systematic
approach has developed to identify and collect papers which are potentially the
most representative of parliament and the country. Many contacts are made.
usually at election time, when as a result of retirement, defeat or cabinet
changes members of parliament are faced with immediate decisions about their
records. Before describing more specifically what the PAC wishes to acquire and
what services it has to offer parliamentarians. a word is in order about its
activities in this area over the first one hundred years of the Archives
The Public Archives did not actively solicit
parliamentarians' papers until after 1948. Despite this it had acquired a small
number of significant acquisitions before this time, notably prime ministerial
papers. One of the first major acquisitions was the Sir John A Macdonald papers
which were purchased from Lady Macdonald in 1915 through the intervention of
Sir Joseph Pope, Macdonald's former private secretary and biographer. Other
significant acquisitions included the transfer of the Alexander Mackenzie
papers by W.L.M. King in 1924, the Mackenzie Bowell papers in 1921, the
donation of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier papers in 1925 and the gift of the Sir
Charles Tupper papers in 1926. Still other important acquisitions included the
papers of Edgar Dewdney in 1919, Adolphe-Philippe Caron in 1908, George Étienne
Cartier in 1909, George Foster in 1936, Rodolphe Lemieux in 1947, and Charles
Murphy in 1936.
Dr. W. Kaye Lamb's appointment as Dominion
Archivist in 1948 set the stage for a more vigorous acquisitions policy over
the following twenty years. Significant additions to the prime ministers papers
were realized (W.L. Mackenzie King, Arthur Meighen, Robert Borden among them)
and the number of collections of members' and senators' papers grew
substantially. The defeat of the Liberal government of Louis St-Laurent on 10
June 1957 resulted in a new initiative by Dr. Lamb which has had far reaching
consequences. The opening of the first federal records centre in 1956 in Ottawa
provided the PAC with a much needed storage facility for government records and
Dr. Lamb recognized an opportunity too good to miss. Cognizant that all too
often valuable archival material was lost because departing ministers had
neither the time to review files nor a secure space to store their papers for
an extended period, Dr. Lamb wrote J.W. Pickersgill, Minister of Citizenship
and Immigration, and the person responsible for the PAC. Dr. Lamb offered
defeated ministers a secure storage area to deposit their papers, without them
having to make a hasty decision on what to retain and what to dispose of.
Because of the importance of the Dominion Archivist's initiative, his
memorandum is worth reproducing in full:
Memorandum for Mr. Pickersgill
Re: Personal Papers of Members of the
The Public Archives will be glad to be of
service to any retiring Minister who may be in need of a secure place in which
to deposit his personal office files, pending sorting and final disposition.
The new Records Centre at Tunney's Pasture
contains locked rooms in which these files can be placed for safekeeping, and
the Centre can also furnish sorting space in which papers may be examined al. a
The Archives will be glad to furnish storage
cartons, specially designed to accommodate loose papers and correspondence, if
this will be of assistance Records can. of course, be accepted in filing
cabinets, boxes, or other containers.
I feel that it is of the utmost importance
that decisions regarding the disposition of personal papers should not be made
hastily. In the past. many useful and valuable files have been destroyed simply
because action had to be taken quickly. The facilities for storage and sorting
that I am able to offer through the Public Archives make this quite unnecessary.
I shall be glad if you will mention this
matter to your colleagues in the Cabinet.
June 12, 1957
Wm. Kaye Lamb
While the offer to assist did not stop some
ministers from "cleaning house" prior to departure, a number did take
advantage of the Archives' offer, thus setting a precedent that has since been
followed many times over. Dr. Lamb did not restrict his offer to ministers,
however, for he also recognized the value of the party leaders' papers. George
Drew, who retired as Conservative leader in 1956 and M.J. Coldwell, leader of
the C.C.F. were offered and accepted this service. In his report on the
activities of the Public Archives for the years 1955-1958, Dr. Lamb wrote of
these early transfers. "The Archives has received on deposit, for
safekeeping a number of highly important collections of recent political papers
... It is hoped that ultimately title to these collections may pass to the
Archives, and that they will be added to the great wealth of post Confederation
papers now in the keeping of the Manuscript Division" 2 As Dr. Lamb
pointed out, the collections on deposit remained the property of the depositor
with the final disposition of the papers to be determined at a later date.
Between 1957 and 1962 St-Laurent himself, William Hamilton, George Marler, Paul
Martin. Lester Pearson, J.W. Pickersgill and Robert Winters all availed
themselves of the deposit system.
After the defeat of the Conservative
government in 1963, Mr. Diefenbaker and many of his ministers used the deposit
service and this resulted in a particularly valuable source of archival
material for the period. After his retirement in 1968 Mr. Pearson deposited his
own extensive collection in order to have access to these and other necessary
sources for his memoirs project. This also contributed to a greater awareness
of the historical value of these parliamentary papers and the need to preserve
them and gave impetus to others to follow suit. One additional change was the
regular deposit of papers by ministers still in office who, because of change
of portfolio or lack of space, had to make alternate arrangements for storage.
In all, between 1957 and 1968, the deposit system resulted in some 62 different
accessions received from 25 ministers and party leaders.
Recent Acquisitions Activities
The years after 1967, when the Public
Archives of Canada moved from its Sussex Drive location (now the Canadian War
Museum) to its new building at 395 Wellington Street, were a period of
significant growth for the Manuscript Division and indeed the entire Public
Archives. The Public Archives arranged for the formal acquisition by gift of
some deposit collections and work proceeded by trained archivists and
assistants to sort, arrange and describe these politicians' collections.
By 1972 the PAC, under Dr. W. I. Smith, the
new Dominion Archivist, experienced a number of important changes which
affected many archivists including those working with political papers. A
systematic national acquisitions programme (SNAP) placed emphasis on an active
and orderly acquisitions programme as part of the senior staff archivists
duties. In the political sphere this included a reinforcement of the deposit
and donation programmes and resulted in a strengthened acquisitions policy for
political papers. The SNAP programme saw the PAC begin active collecting in new
areas – labour, science and technology, arts and culture, among others – in
response to new research trends. While one might expect this spelt a
downgrading in importance for political papers, in reality it resulted in more
diversified use of political papers as new uses were found for the more
In 1972 the federal election resulted in a
Liberal minority government which look its toll on sitting members. A number of
ministers were also defeated. The Archives recognized that it had to act
quickly if it hoped to acquire a good selection of papers. Telephone calls to
executive assistants and secretaries elicited some favourable responses but in
other instances we were too late. Material had either been returned to the
former member's constituency or disposed of as being of no further value or
interest. Once our staff was within the confines of Parliament Hill, we made
further valuable contacts. Defeated MPs and ministers were particularly
gracious with their time and some pleasant hours were spent acquiring
significant collections and gaining interesting insights regarding the
Shortly after the 1972 federal election,
Archives' staff went to the Hill to collect the papers of a defeated minister.
A funereal atmosphere hung over his dimly lit office. The archivist felt very
much part of the burial party especially when the secretary, grief struck by
her minister's defeat at the polls, greeted a sympathetic caller, "Ah yes,
and now the end, the Archives are here." I have. been struck by how calm
defeated parliamentarians can be during those first weeks after a hectic
election campaign when we must do most of our packing and shipping of material.
On another occasion an MP enriched the bow tie collection of the two Archives
employees with a gift of his own personal family bow tie. Still another
defeated MP felt his papers should go directly to the Archives and be opened
immediately in order to show his ungrateful constituents just how hard he had
actually worked on their behalf.
Acquiring material brings with it numerous
stories and occasionally great anticipation prior to actually receiving the
papers. Some years ago we were told that several Sir Robert Borden "1ove"
letters had been found in a former residence of the former Prime Minister.
While this was somewhat out of character with my own preconceptions about Sir
Robert, I nonetheless pursued the lead. In this case the "love"
letters turned out to be several postcards written to family members and not at
all what the caller had led us to believe! Copies were obtained for our already
extensive R. L. Borden collection; Sir Roberts's reputation remains in tact.
The 1974 federal election resulted in better
planning on our part with favourable results and during the 1974-1979 period
contacts were made with ministers at the time of change in portfolios and
resignations. By 1979, when the long awaited election was called, the
Manuscript Division was ready to swing into action. The defeat of the Liberal
government resulted in a flood of material coming to the Public Archives with
nearly all ministers and a good number of departing members contributing to the
flow. In all, over 3000 cubic feet of their files came to the Archives. The
1980 election also added to our holdings although at an understandably smaller
rate given the Conservative government's short tenure in office. Among the
depositors were Mr. Clark and Mr. Trudeau.
Over the years we have witnessed serious
losses of material because people charged with the responsibility for papers
did not know where to turn for help. A number of good archival
"hunting" excursions took place in the Parliament Buildings where
papers were squirrelled away over time. But imagine the dismay of the archivist
who arranged to visit the basement of the Centre Block some years ago in order
to look over a treasure trove of old documents only to learn from a vigilant
member of the custodial staff that "all that old stuff' had been taken to the
dump in order to comply with fire regulations!
Gift and Deposit Programmes
The Public Archives accepts
parliamentarians' papers either as outright gifts or as deposits. The former
results in the papers being donated to the Crown in right of Canada: the latter
does not bind the depositor to donate the material although it is certainly the
Archives' hope that the papers will eventually be donated.
Should a member of parliament or senator
donate papers to the Public Archives upon termination of his or her parliamentary
duties, access to the material is not automatically given to researchers. Once
our staff has had the opportunity to survey the papers, remove duplicate
material and select for permanent selection that which is considered to be of
lasting historical value, recommendations on access are made to the donor who
has final authority in this regard. Usually we recommend that the files remain
closed for a period of 1520 years alter their leaving office although for
specific research requests donors may chose to grant access. It should be
pointed out that the personal, private and constituency files accumulated by
parliamentarians are exempt from the recent Access to Information and Privacy
We place dormant collections in secure
storage areas reserved for this purpose. We can provide a limited retrieval for
this material, however, if retrievals become burdensome (more than once a
month), we ask the depositor to take back the papers as we do not have the
resources to provide a regular retrieval service. When depositing files,
members should prepare a file list of the contents in order that both parties
have an accurate record of the transfer. This also assists in any retrievals
Collections on deposit are not worked on by our staff and thus remain in the
same condition as they are received. They are not listed in our main indexes so
researchers are usually not aware of their existence. However should
researchers ask about a particular collection on deposit, we will acknowledge
its existence and grant access only upon receipt of written authorization from
the depositor. Researchers using such collections are faced with certain
difficulties as the archivist is usually not aware of the contents and not in a
good position to provide research advice.
Why donate to the PAC?
Why should a cabinet minister, member of
parliament or senator consider donating his/her private papers? The Archives
offers a wide range of facilities to donors and it has gained an international
reputation as a leader in the archival community. The "total
archives" concept, a PAC innovation identified with Dr. Smith. provides
within one repository a facility which collects private papers on all facets of
Canadian life as well as the historical records of the Government of Canada. Furthermore
the PAC collects archival material in all its formats textual, photographic,
cartographic, iconographic, machine readable, sound, television, film, etc.
This provides our vast and varied research clientele with an unparalleled
wealth of research material. Researchers studying the Second World War, for
example, benefit not only from the official records of the Department of
National Defence and other departments, but also from the availability of the
Honourable J L. Ralston, and General A.G.L. McNaughton papers as well as many
other collections of private papers held in the Manuscript Division. The recent
publication of volume one of the Paul Martin memoirs provides a good example.
Mr. Martin donated his extensive collection to the PAC and it was used
extensively in the preparation of volume one. But many other sources at the
Public Archives were also used including departmental records and the private
papers of Mr. Martin's contemporaries in the Commons and Senate who also have
donated papers to the Archives.
A parliamentarian's collection provides a
mirror of a constituency and region reflecting the issues, concerns and
problems of its people at a particular time and for this reason should be
preserved for future generations of researchers. One should not think of these
papers as useful only for political studies for they may be used effectively to
study social, cultural, economic, linguistic and many other questions of
interest to researchers. Given the increasing involvement of government in people
s lives through social programmes and the like, it is beneficial to see how the
community responds to and is affected by these programmes.
What is the process of government and how do
the concerns of constituents, as evidenced in their correspondence to parliamentarians,
get translated to action in Ottawa? What influence does a member have on policy
and persuasion? How has this changed over the years? What are the major tasks
of a member or senator and how do these differ among the regions, or between the
party in power and those in opposition? These are but a few of the important
questions for which researchers seek answers among the private papers of
parliamentarians held in our repository.
What does the Archives Want?
I have been surprised over the years by the
number of parliamentarians who do not consider their papers to be of lasting
historical value. But having, I hope, made the case for the importance of
having a well-documented collection of parliamentarian's papers, I will now
deal specifically with what is most important in a collection to an archivist
and offer some suggestions as to what can be disposed of quickly by
parliamentary staff. Selective weeding, it done properly using criteria
developed and understood by everyone in the office, serves the member well and,
from an Archives' point of view. ensures that the best information survives
over the long term.
As every parliamentarian, and certainly as
every parliamentarian's secretary knows, the volume of paper entering offices
is ever increasing. Some is of absolutely no value to the MP and should be
disposed of. Publications readily available in libraries, information and
promotional literature of no interest to an MP or his riding usually fit this
category. Other material can be kept for a short period and then disposed of.
This has; several advantages to the office. First, the office has the
information when needed and once this need has been usefully served it may be
discarded. Second, office and storage space are used most efficiently and one
is not burdened by unimportant material. Copies of Hansard, published committee
reports, acts and the like, usually withdrawn by our staff during archival
processing, fit into this category. Some might be of value to our library,
however. in many instances this material is available in most libraries. An
important exception should be mentioned. If the printed material has been
annotated in a significant way by the member or senator then it takes on an
added archival significance and is kept with the collection for these notations
may provide important evidence about a member's thinking or position on an
Housekeeping files pertaining to the
operation of the parliamentary office should be kept for a period but likely
will have little long-term archival significance save for a representative
sample. Again routine culling using a disposal schedule established by staff in
consultation with the member can make for immediate efficiencies in office
management and be helpful for the archivist when the material reaches the
The case work performed by members in
response to constituents' demands takes up a good deal of time and consequently
this makes up a major part of his archives. Most of this should be kept for
even after a particular case is closed the file may be important for reasons of
precedence. Is the Public Archives interested in retaining all of these files,
even the so very routine and repetitious ones? The answer is likely
"no". Those cases which are affected by legislative changes should be
retained as they document important policy changes. A sample of the routine
will be retained by the Archives, For long runs of files which are unusually
similar (UIC cases for example) information retained on a fife card may suffice
and the files themselves may be disposed of after an appropriate period.
Many members maintain files on various
government departments where they file correspondence, memoranda and the like.
These are usually important for archives. Files relating to a member's
responsibilities within the political party are also of interest. These often
deal with his responsibilities in the House, organizational concerns among
other matters. Some of them may duplicate material emanating from the political
party itself which will likely find its way into the Archives as the major
political parties donate their files to the Public Archives. however, the
archivist can take care of this.
The member should also retain a full set of
his speeches and addresses especially those given outside the Commons as they
are not often available elsewhere in complete form. Speeches by others should
be retained if they relate to a specific interest of the member. An organized
set of newspaper clippings may be useful to future researchers, however,
indiscriminate clippings on a variety of subjects without order will receive
little further attention from the archivist and will likely be recommended for
destruction. A further complication is the high acid content of newsprint.
Acidic paper deteriorates very quickly and adversely affects any paper it comes
in contact with.
Of particular importance to the archivist
are any indexes, lists, and other aids, developed in the members' offices to
assist their staff in retrieving information from their files. These should be
transferred to the Public Archives along with the papers as they might continue
to be used as finding aids or form the basis of PAC finding aids.
As we can see, there are no hard and fast
rules on what to keep, how long to keep it or what might be of most value to
future historians and researchers. But from our experience the foregoing
general comments can be applied to the day to day operations of a member's
office and the long term retention of material for the Archives. The biggest
problem an archivist faces is the wholesale destruction of material without
having had the opportunity to advise on the matter. When in doubt in these
matters it is best to consult an archivist.
What the PAC does with Collections
The Public Archives of Canada provides
specific services for material entrusted to its care. First and foremost it
provides a secure home for the historically valuable material, gets it under
initial control and respects whatever temporary access restrictions are placed
on the papers by the donor or depositor. Although, deposit collections are not
processed in any way, once a collection is donated an archivist surveys the
collection, determines whether there is a workable organization already in
place, establishes air intellectual arrangement on paper and then sets about
selecting material for permanent retention.
Material not meeting our selection criteria
is set aside along with duplicate speeches, etc. to be returned to the donor or
disposed of with the donor's permission. The collection is organized into
series by type of material, by function or by chronology depending on its
contents, and an inventory entry a brief description of the papers is prepared.
A unique call number is assigned and a finding aid is prepared to assist
researchers in determining whether the collection might be of use to them.
Cross references to the major subjects and names in the collection are prepared
as an assistance to our research clientele. A copy of the finding aid, which is
essentially a file list to the collection, is sent to the donor along with the
archivist's recommendations on access once the donor has responded to these
matters, the archivist's work has been completed and the papers take their
place in our stacks.
From my experience some MP's papers are very
well kept and information is easily assessable. Among those still active in the
Commons, Stanley Knowles' papers stand out as the shining example of how files
should be maintained. He has taken a direct role in developing a system that
works for his office. A good number of members have sought his advice in this
area over the years. Mr. Knowles' files contrast dramatically with those of a
former cabinet minister which arrived in green garbage bags after the minister
had retired from office! Time spent in developing and maintaining an efficient
and effective filing system will pay immediate benefits to the parliamentarian.
There are also long term benefits to the archivist and historian.
The Public Archives of Canada is interested
in acquiring the historical papers of parliamentarians as soon as possible
after they leave parliament. Our reasons are simple. This is when the
collection is likely to be most complete. Removal from the office may result in
loss or serious deterioration over time. Parliamentarians do, however, have
legitimate reasons for taking their papers with them and one alternative is to
will the papers to the PAC.
One problem area is the case of a federal
parliamentarian who has also had a distinguished provincial career. Where
should the archival collection be housed? The George Drew papers, for example
are at the Public Archives of Canada but contain a large section relating to
his years as Ontario Premier. A more recent example is the Honourable Robert L.
Stanfield. His papers reflecting his career as Premier of Nova Scotia, are
quite properly with the Public Archives of Nova Scotia while those created
while he was a federal member and Leader of the Conservative Party remain with
the Public Archives of Canada. A similar case is the Honourable T.C. Douglas.
The PAC has his federal papers as MP and Leader of the New Democratic Party;
the Saskatchewan Archives Board holds his provincial Premier's papers. While
archivists do not encourage breaking up a collection, in the two preceding
cases the split is quite clear cut. In all three cases we will eventually
arrange a microfilm exchange with the other repositories mentioned. However,
given the cost of microfilming, it is only possible to contemplate this type of
arrangement for special cases.
Most of the comments on members' papers
apply equally to senators' papers. Our contacts may be made during a senator's
tenure or more often upon retirement for the upper chamber. Senator David Croll
has recently deposited papers with us and Senators Marshall, Forsey, Carter,
Hayden, Desruisseaux and the family of the late Senator Hays have all made
recent contributions to our national historic record.
We must also understand that some
parliamentarians prefer to donate their papers to another repository. The
original R.B. Bennett papers are housed at the University of New Brunswick and
the John G. Diefenbaker papers are the property of the University of
Saskatchewan. In both cases the Public Archives of Canada has ensured that its
researchers are well served. The Bennett papers have been microfilmed and we
are in the process of filming the Diefenbaker papers. These two cases are
exceptional ones for the PAC does hold all other prime ministerial papers.
The Public Archives is restricted in what it
can do for the private and personal papers of parliamentarians because of the
limited resources available and because of its already considerable mandate.
The volume of the material is such that the PAC cannot possibly contact every
parliamentarian regarding regular transfers of papers. Our storage space is
limited and of constant concern to us. Therefore, members and senators should
retain papers as long as possible. An archivist's time is more profitably used
in reviewing a series of cabinets and boxes for transfer rather than on a piecemeal
approach or annual transfers of a box or two. Once the storage situation has
reached crisis proportions in the parliamentarian's office, the archivist can
be called for assistance!
The continued growth in the number of
members of parliament. the arrival of new technologies to assist members and
their staff, as well as the increasing amount of correspondence received by
parliamentarians make for increased space problems. This requires, I feel, new
efforts to deal with the immediate paper burden problem to ensure a complete
and useful archival record. I believe new members and their staff should be
briefed not only on office procedures but also on matters relating to archives.
The Public Archives could assist the House of Commons in this and in other
endeavours by preparing for instance, an information package indicating the
services it has to offer. The use of records managers specifically assigned to
assist parliamentarians could also be considered. These and other measures will
require additional resources to carry out which would be more than offset by
the attendant gains.
Ultimately the Public Archives' goal is to
have a very representative collection of papers of Canada's parliamentarians in
order to provide our vast research clientele with a valuable research source
now and in the future. For as Dr. Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist from 1904
to 1935 said, "Of all national assets archives are the most precious; they
are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them
marks the extent of our civilization."3
1. Public Archives of Canada, Dr. W. Kaye
Lamb Papers, MG 31 D 8.
2. Canada, Report on the Public Archives
For the Years 1955-1958, Ottawa, 1959, p. 21.
3. Arthur Doughty, The Canadian Archives and
its Activities, Ottawa, 1924.