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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.
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
1867 to 1925: Sessional Papers
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 Certain of these can be found in the ‘Unpublished Sessional Papers’ (from 1916 to 1988)
Unpublished Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada (1916-1988)
Microfilm collection of documents tabled in the House of Commons, but 'not printed' (unpublished) in the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada or otherwise.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.
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
Finding Sessional Papers using the online indexes
The first three of the five indexes are available online in Early Canadiana Online:
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
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.