Government of Ontario     |    

Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery

Accessing Our Collections

Information for university students and professors: Planning a visit to the Archives of Ontario?

The Archives of Ontario holds the documentary heritage of the province. Our holdings include a wide range of records, from photographs and architectural drawings to court documents, from government policies and programs documentation to records of individuals and corporations.

This document includes information on what you need to do before your visit to prepare to do research at the Archives. It also gives you information on what resources are available to help you, and how you can access our records.

For information about visiting the archives, including hours of operations, registration, and ordering records, click here. For information about doing research at a distance click here.

For professors: Classroom orientations

The Archives of Ontario offers orientations for university classes. These 90-minute sessions include information on conducting research at the Archives, available resources, and conclude with an orientation of the reading room. Professors interested in arranging for a session, please e-mail us at or phone Linda Murphy-Boyer, Supervisor, Customer Services, at 416-327-1580. Please note that we need a 3-week notice to prepare for your tour.

For professors and students: Preparing to do research at the Archives of Ontario

Before doing research at the Archives, you should prepare by doing the following:

  • Determine what you will be researching and narrow your research topic – the more precise it is, the better the chances are that you will find the records you need.

  • Consult secondary sources about your topic, such as books, periodicals or e-articles. They will help you understand what you are looking for, and they may include references to relevant archival materials. Your university library is the best place to look for these sources.

  • Think about who may have created the records you need, why they would have created them and how they would have created them.

  • Find what archival repository has the records you need. Many municipalities, the federal government and your own university have their own archives. Some may be more suitable for your needs than others.

Also, keep the following in mind:
  • Archival records are records OF, not ABOUT, governments, organizations and people. They are arranged by creator (who created them), not by subject.

  • Most archival records are not available online. See below for information about accessing and retrieving records.

Available resources

The following resources are available on this Website.

  • The Archives Descriptive Database: This database includes descriptions and lists for groups of records within our holdings, and information about records creators. For help using the database, just click on the “Help” button for instructions.

    TIP: Some entries include links to larger groups of records. By clicking on those links, you will get contextual information about a file, item or group of records.

  • BIBLiON, our library database.

  • Research and Customer Services guides: These provide information on some widely-used records, as well as our policies and services.

  • The Visual Database: It contains approximately 30000 images from our collections in digital format.

  • The Microfilm Interloan Catalogue: It lists about 40000 microfilm reels you can borrow through your university or local library.

Various finding aids are available for consultation in the reading room. They provide additional information for some groups of records described in the Archives Descriptive Database. Some finding aids are available in electronic formats.

Accessing and using archival records

Ordering records and getting copies: Once you have identified records (or groups of records) you want to view, you can arrange to view the records and to get copies of them. For more information, click here.

Using the records: Our staff will show you how to handle the records, and provide you with gloves, weights, supports and other tools to help you use the records safely. Make sure to note carefully what you see and will be using, its reference code, title and container. You will need this information to order copies and to provide citations for your project report or paper.

Access to some records may be restricted under privacy legislation or donor agreement, or because of preservation issues. These records take longer to access. Please give yourself enough time to access these records, especially if you have a deadline to complete a project or paper. You can consult our reference staff for more information.

PLEASE NOTE: Publication, broadcast or display of records is governed by the Copyright Act. You must read our copyright policy before copying any records held by the archives of Ontario. You also need to obtain permission from the Archives of Ontario to use our records. See Guide 108, Copyright and Your research [Word, PDF] for more information; to view the permission request form, click here.

Your university may also offer resources to help you with copyright-related issues.