War Museum Research Centre Tour

This week’s tour was to the War Museum‘s Research centre. The research centre is an amalgamation of the library, archives, and photo archives. All of their collections are searchable online and you can get in-house access to them. Borrowing of library materials is also available through interlibrary loans.


The library provides all the usual services including reference and ILL. There is always a staff member on the reference desk whether it be a staff who works on the library side of things or the archives.

The library collects materials relating to military, history, biographies, cartoons, technical manuals (e.g. carrier pigeons, bugle songs), newspapers, etc. with a focus on Canadian materials (many of which are self published), but also materials from/on countries that had a lot of interaction with Canada. Much of their collection (library and archives) is acquired through donations.

The space is nicely furnished with a reading room (which is for the viewing archives and rare books), Canadian war art, mix of regular and compact shelving, and a study area with a wonderful view of the river. Just outside the windows is a landscape model of a battlefield where a family of groundhogs live.

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The Archives

The archives area is divided essentially into two areas. One is the work room and the other consist of three vaults (books, maps, photo). The work room is used for basic conservation tasks while anything extensive or complex is contracted out. The vault itself was the usual temperature controlled area with shelving for storing materials. The 3D maps shelving was interesting in that it included rubber pieces (each piece is kept in a bag in case the temperature control breaks and it starts to melt), and very large pieces (the shelf has extra large stoppers so that the pieces do not hit the wall since they are wider than the shelving).

The archives collects a lot of different old and current/contemporary materials including rare books (pre-1900 or significant/interesting one offs), letters, maps (smallest of which is approximately 4″x6″, largest of which is the NORAD map approximately 8’x10′), blueprints, records, scrapbooks, photos, and video/film. Generally, official records are collected by the national archives while the war museum collects more personal ones. As mentioned, most of the acquisitions are done through donations (some of which is from people cleaning out their attic), while a few are purchased.

Some interesting pieces that were shown to us (see pictures in slideshow) including silk WWI postcards, letter of mourning (with the king’s real signature), WWII war time logs, WWII terrain model (made of cotton on cardboard), colour uniform book, treatise on artillery (the oldest book from 1628),  book on uniforms’ lace patterns, photos from the Afghanistan war, military man’s scrapbook including his medals of award.

Short Reflection

The tour was great since we got to see both the library and archives, particularly how they work together. The staff’s enthusiasm really showed and made it seem like a great place to work (which I am certain it is) beyond working with interesting material. The materials were also carefully chosen by staff (and volunteers), so it gave it a more “personal” touch. Finally, the tour was nicely timed on a Thursday afternoon so that we could enjoy the museum for free afterwards. This was definitely one tour not to be missed!

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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