Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Government Publications: Canada

What are Sessional Papers?

Sessional Papers are reports tabled in the House of Commons and published as a set of volumes for each parliamentary session. The reports cover agriculture, banking, trade and commerce, Indian affairs, public lands, railways, and other matters of national concern.

These and other topics are represented by text and statistical tables such as: annual reports of departments, estimates and public accounts, early census reports, and reports of royal commissions.

Before the Dominion Bureau of Statistics was established in 1918, the annual reports of government departments such as Agriculture, Indian Affairs, and Railways and Canals were the main source of statistics on Canadian economic and social activity. 

The public accounts and annual reports of departments are particularly good sources for detailed historical statistics. 

Dates of Coverage

Sessional Papers for Canada are available for the following dates.

1841-1866: Pre-confederation Sessional Papers, titled Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. This collection is available in three formats

  • Print collection, located in the ASRS, call number J103 C19
  • Microform collection, located in Koerner Library, call number AW1 R5143
  • Online collection, available from Early Canadiana Online; search by the title Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada to find the collection, then browse by date

1867 to 1925: Sessional Papers

  • Print collection, located in the ASRS, call number J103 S3
  • Microform collection, located in Koerner Library, call number AW1 R7338
  • Online collection 1868 -1900; available from Early Canadiana Online .  Search by the title Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada to find the collection, then browse by date
  • Online collection 1901-1925; access to Sessional Papers and indexes is through the University of Toronto index page

Some tabled documents were ‘not printed’, so don’t appear in the published Sessional Papers. Certain of these can be found in the ‘Unpublished Sessional Papers’ (from 1916 to 1988)

Unpublished Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada (1916-1988)

Microfilm collection of documents tabled in the House of Commons, but 'not printed' (unpublished) in the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada or otherwise.

Coverage: 12th Parl. Session 6, 1916 - 34th Parl.,Session 1,2,3, 1988. Papers prior to this were lost in the Parliamentary fire of 1916. 
Shelved in Documents Microform Cabinets. Use Journals of the House of Commons as a proxy 'index' to these papers.

Where to find Sessional Papers

OnlineOnline:

Print: 

Microform: 

  • Koerner Library floor 2, call number AW1 R-7338
  • (Also available at UBC Okanagan Library, call number KE35.)

You MUST use an index to locate specific sessional papers. The indexes are available in both print and online versions.

(The print index is much easier to use than the online index)

Finding Sessional Papers using the cumulative indexes

  1. Consult the Index and search by Subject. 
    The index is titled: Journals of the House of Commons. [Cumulative indexes] 1867-1930 (in 5 volumes). Do to the poor condition of these volumes you must ask for them at the Reference Desk, 2nd Floor of Koerner Library 
  • Online:  1867-1930 available through the Internet Archive from the University of Toronto.
  • Consult the table of contents at the beginning of any volume from the session to determine which volume your report is in.
  • Proceed from there to the list of sessions and volumes shown below the indexes.
  • Location in print: Koerner Library Reference staff area, call number J103 C2.
  • The volumes cover 1867-76, 1877-90, 1891-1903, 1904-15, and 1916-30.
    (Note: Volumes for 1867-76, and 1877-90 have a separate index for Sessional Papers at the back of the volume.)
    The indexes are arranged by subject. Subjects include topics (e.g. wheat, Department of Agriculture, Canadian Pacific Railway), personal names, and place names.
  • Record the Sessional Paper No.
    When you have found references of interest, make sure they are Sessional Papers. When an entry refers to a Sessional paper, the citation reads Sess. Papers, No. 24, for example. Other numbers cited refer to the House of Commons Journals, not the Sessional Papers. 
    Write down the full citation, including title, year, and Sessional Paper number.
  • For microfilm, consult the list of Sessional Papers to find the correct reel. 
    Location: Koerner Library Microforms Reference, call number J103 S3 C2.
  • With your citation in hand, consult the List of Sessional Papers to determine which reel of microfilm to use. This 8-volume guide contains photocopies of the alphabetical and numeric lists of Sessional Papers from 1867-1925.
  • Find the volume of the List of Sessional Papers which contains the year of your Sessional Paper. Then find your document by its number; the List will indicate which volume your document number is in. Record the volume number under which the Paper is listed
  • Read the Sessional Paper on microfilm.
    Microfilm location: Koerner Library Microfilm, call number AW1 R7338.
    Proceed to the microfilm collection of Sessional Papers in Koerner Library. Choose the year and volume(which is labelled Part or PT. on the microfilm box). Use a microfilm reader to load and view the document, found on the reel by volume (part), and Sessional Paper number.

Notes

  • If you do not have access to the List of Sessional Papers, the first microfilm reel for each year lists the numbers and volumes (parts) for the document.
  • Some Papers have not been printed and are designated such in the Journal. These unprinted papers are available, from 1916-1993, in Koerner Library, Unpublished Sessional Papers AW1 R-5798.

Finding Sessional Papers using the online indexes

The first three of the five indexes are available online in Early Canadiana Online:

Examples

General Guidelines

When searching the Sessional Papers index, if you are searching for a very specific topic you may not find many entries. For example, "wheat" does not have many listings in the index. If this is the case, try broadening your search; for wheat, try grain or agriculture, to find more information. As well, annual reports of departments are very useful sources of information. Search by department name.

Finding Sessional Papers by Subject in the microfilm collection

Example 1: Canadian Pacific Railway

  1. Choose the index with the year(s) of interest and search the index for the subject "Canadian Pacific Railway."
  2. Record the number: A sessional paper about the CPR from 1888 titled Return up to the latest date of all subjects affecting the Canadian Pacific Railway... is listed as Sess. papers, No. 25a.
  3. Consult the List of Sessional Papers. Item number 25a for 1888 is listed in the Contents of Volume 16.
  4. Find the reel of microfilm for the Report. Choose the reel for year 1888 that contains Volume 16, labelled PT. 16 on the microfilm reel box. Advance the reel to Volume/Part 16, item number 25a to read the report.

Note: Some of the reports above are listed as 'not printed'. These papers are available, from 1916-1993, in theUnpublished Sessional Papers AW1 R5798.

 

Finding Annual Reports in the Sessional Papers

Example 2: Department of Agriculture Annual Report 1895

1. Choose the index covering the year 1895, and search the index for the subject 'Agriculture, Department of'.

2. Record the number: The Sessional Paper number for the Report of the Minister for 1895 is Number 8. (Note:annual reports for a year are presented the following year; for example, the report for the year 1895 is in the 1896 Papers. This is only true for annual reports.) 
3. Consult the List of Sessional Papers. Item number 8 for 1896 is listed in the contents of Volume 5
4. Find the reel of microfilm for the Report. Choose the reel for 1896 that contains Volume 5 (labelled Part 5on the microfilm reel box.) Advance the reel to Volume/Part 5, item number 8 to read the report.