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UTSC Finding Primary Sources

Learn what primary sources are and how to find them.

Statistics as Primary Sources

Over the last several years, volumes of historical Canadian texts, records, newspapers and photographs have become available online for use as primary source material in research. To this, we can now add digital collections of historical statistics.

Unlike many text collections which reflect a particular perspective of the time, statistical collections can provide a more objective view of history. For example, government agencies have collected many statistics for the purposes of improving tax collection and providing government services. Using these types of historical statistics can strengthen research and reveal new insights.

Here are some of the statistical collections now available online:

Canada Yearbook Historical Collection (1867-1967)

Published annually since the first year of Confederation, the Canada Yearbook has served as a statistical reference source for many aspects of Canadian life: demographics, health, education, the economy and the environment, for instance. Now the first 100 issues of the Canada Yearbook can be found online, scanned into PDF format and fully searchable. This collection is available:

Canadian Public Opinion Polls from Gallup and Ipos Reid

Going as far back as the late 1940s, these opinion polls offer a valuable sample of Canadian views on the important questions and issues of the day. Topics such as nuclear weapons, religion in schools, political leadership, climate change, public versus private healthcare, and free trade are just a sample of the many themes covered. Collected by private companies and reported by media outlets, these digital datasets have recently been made available to the academic community for research and teaching through the <odesi> portal:

Colonial Censuses of Canada 1667-1871

These valuable censuses offer a picture on life in colonial Canada. Along with population counts, these censuses also often included counts of buildings, livestock, occupations, and industrial and economic activity. Collected over centuries by colonial governments such as New France, Acadia and Upper and Lower Canada, and digitized by Statistics Canada, the are available to the academic community thru E-Stat:

Historical Statistics of Canada

Published initially in book format in 1965, this excellent resource has been updated to 1976 and made available online. It includes statistics on population and migration, social security, economic change and infrastructure. Unlike resources where pages appear as scanned PDF files, this online version of the Historical Statistics of Canada provides the same published data tables in a spreadsheet-ready format for easy download and manipulation in a classroom setting. This resource can be found at:

Adapted from Andrew Nicholson's "Numbers as Primary Sources?"

Maps as Primary Sources

Maps can be useful as primary sources because they provide insight into a place at a particular time, and they demonstrate how places and the understanding of places can change over time.  Maps can also reveal interesting information about the culture and society in which they were produced.

Le Canada (Pierre Du Val 1653) by Manitoba Historical Maps

Maps Online