Monday, January 17, 2011

New Canadian History Search Site

This I like a lot.

The Canadiana Discovery Portal is a new google-like search site of Canadian history which brings over 60 million pages of photos, maps, articles, newspapers, letters online in an easily searcheable database.

The Canadiana Discovery Portal is a project of The Portal is currently in beta phase but it is now freely accessible to the public.

A quick search of "John Franklin" reveals hundreds of documents, including photos, maps as well as texts. I did not know that Stephen Leacock had written a book entitled Adventurers of the far North: a chronicle of the frozen seas. Well, he did and on page 6 he refers to Franklin and includes Stephen Pearce's famous The Arctic Council planning a search for Sir John Franklin. That took about 2 seconds to find and review. (A full online version of the book can be found here.)

This is good news for Canadian historians. I think it is great news for those non-academics among us who are passionate about Canadian history, but don't dedicate our lives or careers to its study. Digitization democratizes information and, ideally, leads to broader knowledge among greater numbers. I've learned nearly as much about the Franklin Expedition, for example, from online sources - scattered here and there as they are - as from texts. (As an aside, as I've mentioned to some friends, I think there is a gaping hole to be filled online in Arctic/Franklin history. If anyone wants help working on an aggregator site or some such thing, let me know...)

The website portal bills itself as "your best single source for Canadian documentary heritage. It is a free service that enables users to search across the valuable and diverse digital collections of Canada’s libraries, museums and archives."

The number of online collections is growing. So check back often! is also the home of the "Early Canadiana Online" which claims to be "the first large-scale online collection of early Canadian print heritage". It currently offers twelve online collections totalling over three million pages of digitized content and is continually expanding. Talk about kid in a candy-store.

Arctic readers will especially appreciate and get a smile out of the Globe and Mail article (copied below) and one of the examples of search "finds" the reporter notes from his research: "On hockey, there are photographs of Lester B. Pearson on the ice in Switzerland, as well as an 1856 account of Captain F.W. Beechey's travels through the Northwest Passage and his observation of First Nations playing a game that looked like hockey."

Hockey, history, Lester Pearson and Arctic exploration! Hold my Brain; be still my beating Heart.

I suspect my productivity at work may suffer a bit this winter.

This is going to be fun!

Google-like search site connects 60 million pages of Canadian history

Stephanie Levitz
Ottawa— The Canadian Press
Published Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 12:33AM EST

Call it the Google of Canadian history.

An ambitious new search engine has been launched by an alliance of digital heritage advocates designed to allow one-stop searching for centuries of Canadian history.

The Canadiana Discovery Portal combs through more than 60 million pages of information from 30 different library, museum and archive collections across the country.

From old Saskatchewan postcards to sheet music, the search engine brings together access to 14 different institutional collections from coast to coast and in both French and English.

Unlike traditional academic search engines, this one has been designed for ease.

“It's more Google-like,” said Ron Walker, executive director of, an organization that facilitates digital initiatives and is spearheading the portal initiative.

“Here's everything that exists, type in a name and see what comes up.”

The collections are varied. Quick searches on perennial topics in Canadian conversations yield a surprising diversity of results.

On hockey, there are photographs of Lester B. Pearson on the ice in Switzerland, as well as an 1856 account of Captain F.W. Beechey's travels through the Northwest Passage and his observation of First Nations playing a game that looked like hockey.

The portal isn't meant just for academics.

Genealogists can peek in and see where their family names may pop up in local newspapers. Artists can seek inspiration from old images or sound, whether they live in Montreal or Morocco.

“The biggest point is really access for Canadians and those who want to learn about it Canada,” said Brent Roe, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.

Linking the online collections together is a costly endeavour.

In June 2009, received almost $200,000 from the federal government just to develop software to help institutions connect parts of their collections.

But that doesn't cover the cost of transferring physical collections online.

Mr. Walker estimates that to digitize all of Canada's heritage materials created before the 1990s — when content start to be created in a digital format — could cost as much as $1 billion.

Back in 2005, Library and Archives Canada officials started a national discussion on a digital information strategy for the country. But after issuing their final report, they closed the books on a national approach.

Individual organizations are creating digital content on their own.

For example, by the end of this year, Library and Archives expects to double the volume of their online content, including giving access to digitized images of original census documents from 1861 and 1871.

In Quebec, approximately 10 million objects dating back to the 17th century have now been digitized by the provincial archives. In Vancouver, the local public library has put 25,000 pictures of B.C. and the Yukon online.

There is also the work of private companies like Google to digitize books.

The challenge with all digital efforts is keeping up with the pace.

In addition to the reams of new documents being created, each day copyright expires on historical documents, making them freely available to be digitized and published.

“One of the issues is to preserve it and the other is to make it accessible,” said Mr. Walker.

“We think by making interesting content accessible it will generate more interest from the public.”

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Thank you for bringing this amazing resource to my attention!