Archives Unboxed and Revealed: A Guide to Understanding Archives - How are archives different from libraries? - Page Banner
Election Poster - Conservative Campaign against reciprocity, 1891
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Election Poster - Conservative Campaign
against reciprocity, 1891
Posters and broadsides relating to elections,
political and military Affairs
Reference Code: C 233-1-1-0-2063
Archives of Ontario

Museums, libraries, and archives all preserve cultural heritage but they do it differently. Archives have several characteristics that make them very different from libraries.

While libraries carry published books and journals or secondary sources which are usually widely available, archives hold original records or primary sources.

The documents illustrated here provide two different perspectives on the 1891 federal election, one in the form of an editorial cartoon, the other in a diary entry by Wilmot Cumberland.

Wilmot Cumberland diaries, 1891
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Wilmot Cumberland diaries, 1891
Reference Code: F 1132-11, MU 3912
Archives of Ontario

Diary page for 5 Mar. 1891, Wilmot Cumberland diaries
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Diary page for 5 Mar. 1891,
Wilmot Cumberland diaries
Reference Code: F 1132-11, MU 3912
Archives of Ontario

The diary pages below were created by Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, during her travels with her husband. Her notes and drawings are some of earliest depictions of Ontario.

Diary of Elizabeth Simcoe, pages 6-7
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Diary of Elizabeth Simcoe, pages 6-7
Simcoe family fonds
Reference Code: F 47-8-0-15
Archives of Ontario

Whereas many libraries will carry the same book and often multiple copies, material in archives is unique.

The document below is the original signed copy of a letter dated 1901. It outlines decisions by Brant County regarding road repairs and county expenditures.  

Memorandum from Chairman of Committee on Roads and Bridges to Brant County Council, 1901, page 1
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Memorandum from Chairman of Committee on Roads
and Bridges to Brant County Council, 1901, page 1
Brant Co. Clerk’s Correspondence
Reference Code: F 1551-3, No. 8
Archives of Ontario
Memorandum from Chairman of Committee on Roads and Bridges to Brant County Council, 1901, page 2
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Memorandum from Chairman of Committee on Roads
and Bridges to Brant County Council, 1901, page 2
Brant Co. Clerk’s Correspondence
Reference Code: F 1551-3, No. 8
Archives of Ontario

The researcher below is examining a landscape drawing from the Agricultural College at Guelph, RG 16-267.

Photo: Researcher examines a landscape drawing

Researcher examines a landscape drawing
Archives of Ontario


Watercolour: Anne Langton [watercolour miniature on ivory], 1840
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Anne Langton [watercolour miniature on ivory], 1840
Anne Langton
Watercolour
Reference Code: F 1077
Archives of Ontario, I0008574


Libraries organize their books by subject. Material in archives is organized by the creator of the records.

Anne Langton, another early resident of Upper Canada, also sought to capture the wonder and beauty of her natural surroundings.

Watercolour: Unidentified falls in Canada, [ca. 1870]
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Unidentified falls in Canada, [ca. 1870]
Anne Langton
Watercolour
Reference Code: F 1077
Archives of Ontario, I0008497
Watercolour: [Ottawa] "The Rideau River" ["From the Hog's Back"], [ca. 1876]
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[Ottawa] "The Rideau River" ["From the Hog's Back"], [ca. 1876]
Anne Langton
Watercolour
Reference Code: F 1077
Archives of Ontario, I0008427


Birth registration for Charles Vincent Massey, February 20, 1887

Museums are different still in that they deal mainly with three-dimensional objects. While museums may have archives, their interest is more in the artistic or functional value of historic items, rather than the informational or documentary aspects.

Letter from John H. Stratford Hospital President to County Clerk, 1905
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Letter from John H. Stratford Hospital
President to County Clerk, 1905
Brant Co. Clerk’s Correspondence
Reference Code: F 1551-3, No. 7
Archives of Ontario


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Birth registration for Charles
Vincent Massey, February 20, 1887
Registrations of births and still births
Reference: RG 80-2-0-282, vol. 17-41568
Archives of Ontario