Government of Ontario     |    

Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery

Statement on Language and Description

The Archives of Ontario collects records and other materials related to all aspects of the history of the place we now call Ontario. This sometimes includes materials that document past and continuing injustices and violence, offensive or harmful attitudes and behaviours, and records of a personally or culturally sensitive nature.

Archives of Ontario staff describe these materials to make them accessible to the public. We strive to provide access to items in our collection in a way that respects human dignity, responds to individual and community needs, and complies with legislation such as the Canadian Copyright Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). At the same time, we believe it is important for difficult aspects of Ontario’s history to be documented, accessible, and known so that individuals and institutions – including the Archives of Ontario – may be held accountable for their actions.

Descriptive Practices at the Archives of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario is committed to improving its descriptive practices in order to describe records in ways that are accurate, respectful, and do not cause unnecessary harm or offense. When describing records, staff keep the language used by the record creators or collection owners in order to maintain records’ context and avoid sanitizing history by erasing past attitudes and worldviews.

In general, staff indicate that a title has been supplied by the creator of a record by writing the title without square brackets. Where staff have supplied or amended titles or estimated uncertain dates, square brackets will enclose the items. For example:

  • W[idows] & O[rphans] Benefit Fund Account Books, Brockville, 1885- 1915 (MU 7786)
  • Letter from Tom Elice [Ellis] to Mary Warner, July 9, 1854 (F 4536)

In some cases, staff may deem it necessary to remove slurs and offensive terms; such instances will be clearly indicated with the use of square brackets and a note. Researchers are welcome to request access to the original, unedited description.

Our databases contain descriptions that have been created over several decades. Many descriptions of archival records and other materials may contain language that is now considered outdated and/or harmful. Staff are currently reviewing the databases and working to amend and add context to the language used in descriptions.

The Archives of Ontario recognizes and acknowledges that the description of archival records and other historical materials is ultimately a matter of interpretation, not a neutral or objective activity. Individual members of staff seek to provide an accurate and useful representation of the materials they describe, but their work is inevitably influenced by their own worldviews, life experiences, education, values, interests and identity, among other factors.

We invite and welcome your feedback. Please contact us at with ‘Database feedback’ in the subject line.

Content Review Requests

If you feel that a description, catalogue entry, or image in our Archives Descriptive Database (ADD), Visual Database (VDB), BIBLiON Library Catalogue, or Government of Ontario Art Collection database is offensive and should be reviewed, please contact us at

In response, we will acknowledge your request by responding as soon as possible (and within 14 business days), review your request, and temporarily remove the description or image from public view if necessary while we determine a course of action. After our review is complete, we may decide to permanently remove the content from public view, to revise the content, or to return the content to public view with no change. We will notify you of the action taken within 30 days and provide a rationale for the decision. If our review will be delayed beyond 30 days, we will update you and provide an estimated timeline within the initial 30 days.