Collecting and sharing all things Canadian, Canadiana—and the accompanying Canadiana Héritage—is a cross between an online database and digital archive intended to further the ‘digitization, access, and discoverability of Canada’s documentary history.’ With a catalogue containing sixty million pages of material spanning the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, scholars and educators will have no shortage of material to consult on every aspect of Canada’s past.
Before exploring the collections, it would perhaps be helpful to point out that while Canadiana Online and Canadiana Hèritage exist on the same platform managed by the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN)/Réseau Canadien de Documentation pour la Recherche (RCDR), they are actually two distinct databases whose collections are maintained separately. It is unclear why the two are separate considering the shared DNA of the projects and the fact that they use the same infrastructure but it is nevertheless good to keep in mind that a thorough search for materials requires visitors to go through each separately as the search function does not encompass both at the same time. Canadiana Online contains three collections: ‘Monographs’ which collects full-length texts either published in Canada, on Canada, or by Canadian authors; ‘Serials’ which contains periodicals, newspapers, magazines, journals, directories, and reports from public and private institutions; and ‘Government Publications’ which features pre-1920 federal, provincial, and colonial government records as well as relevant records from France and Britain. Canadiana Hèritage has considerably more records under its umbrella and consequently has five collections: ‘Genealogy’ which contains family records, property registries, and other associated documentation; ‘Aboriginal History’ which primarily consists of documents about government (mis)management of Aboriginal affairs, ‘Government Documents’ drawn from various departments, government-owned corporations, and agencies; ‘Military History’ which features extensive records from Canada’s military institutions and their exploits in war and peace; and ‘Landmark Papers’ which catalogues the private papers of Canada’s most prominent individuals and organisations.
Zooming out to examine the website itself, both Canadiana Online and Canadiana Hèritage are available in both English and French and have clean and easily navigable user interfaces underpinned by a sizeable search bar on the front page. Alongside the search bar, the home page also features the collections themselves, giving visitors a variety of options on how to browse or search through the collection(s). To switch between the two databases, you only need to click on the ‘Hèritage’ or ‘Canadiana’ button (depending on which you initially access) at the menu on the top-right corner. The navigation bar also features an ‘About’ button that takes readers to an external site that explains the history of Canadiana as a broader project of collection, a ‘CRKN’ button which links to the CRKN’s own website, and ‘Contact Us’ which provides the relevant contact details as well as a contact form.
Educators are spoilt for choice in terms of options for the classroom. As Canadiana Online and Canadiana Hèritage are massive repositories of Canadian archival records, they can go through and find relevant primary source materials to set as compulsory or supplementary readings in courses on Canadian or settler-colonial history. They can also set the databases as part of a written assessment, getting students to go through the available documents themselves to find sources for an essay or term paper. For more advanced classes, there is also the option of an archival research exercise or activity, getting students to search or browse through the databases in search of something specific to teach them core skills in historical research.
Though the two are somewhat confusingly and inconveniently separated, this does not detract from the usefulness and value of Canadiana Online and Canadiana Hèritage as catalogues of all things Canadian. They carry on the valuable work of digitising the extensive collections held by archives and libraries across Canada, making these records increasingly accessible to a wider public than ever previously possible.