Archives Unboxed

Archives Unboxed and Revealed: A Guide to Understanding Archives - Page Banner

Over the course of a lifetime, most people accumulate a variety of records. It starts with a birth certificate and expands into awards, bank statements, receipts, letters, photographs - anything that documents important events and relationships in one’s life. These records comprise an individual’s personal archives.

Photo: Farquhar Oliver and his family at Durham home, May 1947
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Farquhar Oliver and his family
at Durham home, May 1947
Gilbert A. Milne
Black and white negative
Reference Code: C 3-1-0-0-290
Archives of Ontario, I0019940
Letter to daughter, October 17, 1846
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Letter to daughter, October 17, 1846
Andrew Heron fonds
Reference Code: F 782-0-0-0-3
Archives of Ontario

Governments, businesses, schools, associations and organizations of all types do the same, keeping records as evidence of their activities and accomplishments.

Colour lithograph: Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., Toronto, Canada: Canadian Rye Whiskey, 1890
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Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., Toronto, Canada:
Canadian Rye Whiskey, 1890
Published by the Toronto Lithography Co.;
A.M. Hider, delineator
Colour lithograph
Reference Code: F 4490
Archives of Ontario, I0026564

Archives are also important sources of records that captivate us because of their visual qualities. Maps, architectural drawings and posters capture our imaginations, and not only because they are often very beautiful. They are the visible record of they way places and things looked long ago - and they provide us with insight into how diversely people see the world at different times.

These documents provide a fascinating view into the past. Like a detective investigating a case, a researcher using these records can get a sense of what a place looked like, what people were thinking, what life was like, and what happened and why. Anyone with an interest in the past, whether it is delving into local history, tracing a family tree, or probing decisions and events, will find answers in archives.

Map: Partie Occidental de la Nouvelle France ou du Canada, 1755
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Partie Occidental de la Nouvelle
France ou du Canada, 1755
Jacques Nicholas Bellin
Hand-coloured copper engraved map
Reference Code: F 4492
Archives of Ontario, I0026562


Compare the two architectural perspective paintings below from 1913 and 1974, and one begins to comprehend just how radical were the changes in perception that occurred over the course of the twentieth century.

Watercolour: Proposed design for Baby Point Methodist Church : perspective drawing, [ca.1913]
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Proposed design for Baby Point Methodist Church :
perspective drawing, [ca.1913]
Chapman & McGiffin, Architects; A. Bodley, delineator
Watercolour painting
Reference Code: C 18, file 91, K-1002
Archives of Ontario, I0026560
Watercolour: Proposal for addition and alterations to existing office building -- 100 Shaftesbury Avenue, Toronto, Ont., 1974
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Proposal for addition and alterations to existing office
building -- 100 Shaftesbury Avenue, Toronto, Ont., 1974
Bernard Rasch, Architect; “Aquila”, delineator
Watercolour painting
Reference Code: F 4447-1, Project 74-9
Archives of Ontario, I0026561

Poster: Advertisement for Powells Great Sale of Dry Goods,
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Advertisement for Powells Great Sale of Dry Goods,
Millinery, and 6,000 pairs of kid gloves, Posters
and broadsides relating to advertisements,
tenders and contracts
Reference Code: C 233-1-3-0-2047
Archives of Ontario

Archives Unboxed and Revealed is a web exhibit by the Archives of Ontario designed to assist researchers in learning more about archives: what they are, where to find them, and how to use them.