Sessional Papers (SP) - Federal / Canada
What Are They?
SP are reports tabled in the House of Commons. The SP contain a lot of information - including annual reports from departments, estimates, public accounts, census, and so on. An example of content is the Annual Reports of the Indian Affairs Department (which may include the reports of Indian Agents, and Principals of Indian Residential Schools.)
This term – SP- generally refers to a specific collection of materials published from 1867 to 1925. (The term SP also may be used in other contexts.) This outline will discuss SP and related content dated from 1841 until 1930. This includes
- Pre-confederation journals, (1841-1866) -
- Sessional Papers, (1867-1925)
- the Departmental Annual collection. (1925-1930)
After that point, you can search for annual reports of individual departments on the Library One Stop Search or elsewhere online. See the suggestions for searching for SP below. BU Library holdings may not be complete, and if you need assistance with your research, please ask.
Where Are They?
Here are some options for access: print and online, arranged by year. Note that it is always a good idea to do your own searches if you cannot locate a specific volume as additional volumes and sources may have been made available online since this search was done.
- ONLINE: 1841-1866: Pre-confederation Sessional Papers, titled Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.
- Early Canadiana Online You also may search the site by the title Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada to find the collection, then browse by date.
- On the Library One Stop Search, a search for this title will lead to the Hathitrust collection. Only parts of the collection are available fulltext here.
- PRINT: 1861-1866: BU Library/Government Documents: Sessional Papers of the Province of Canada
- PRINT: 1867-1925 BU Library (Note that there are more volumes on the shelves than are indicated in this record) Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada
- ONLINE: 1867-1925 Hathitrust Do a search on the Library One Stop Search for Sessional papers of the Dominion of Canada. Volumes of this series that are online at Hathitrust will come up as individual volumes. You may the add the year you want of the SP to your search if you know it. Note that the search does not search fulltext of the SP, so, for example, you cannot search Sessional papers of the Dominion of Canada Indian affairs. The Indian Affairs section of the SP will be a part of the volume, but not searchable in One Stop Search for the Hathitrust collection. There is a holding record at Hathitrust that indicates the volumes available from this source– see here.
NOTE: SP this publication ceased in 1925. (This means the title ceased. The government continued to publish information such as annual reports, just not here.) At this point, most users request the title Annual Departmental Reports.
- PRINT: 1924/5-1930 BU Library/Government Documents: 2 locations: look in Government Documents at the end of the SP collection (J103.C3) – the Annuals are next at J103.C33. Note that there is also an additional small subset in the Main Library here.
Finding material in the Sessional Papers
SP are usually searched as a general title (Sessional Papers); users do not usually begin their search with the content they want from the SP (such as a specific residential school name or department annual report) as often the content within the SP is not part of the description of this title. Sample searches are provided in this section.
(Note that BU Library may provide access to some individual SP, but this is not to be expected. For example, a search on the Library One Stop Search for annual report department interior Canada will find this. BU Library does have some separate print copies of this title. In addition, you will see records for this item in BU Archives and individual entries for online versions from the database Hathitrust. But do not expect this for all SP content.)
The organizational structure of SP is:
- Year: the reports of each year are gathered into a set. Each year will have multiple volumes.
- Each volume within a given year will have an index and a list of the numbers and titles of each SP published that year.
- The indexes can be pretty basic. Some of the actual SP will have their own Tables of Contents. Or, if you know the Department you want, just look that up in the Index.
- SP numbers/designation do not carry over from year to year. If a SP is #15 in one year, it’s not likely to be that every year.
- If you can’t find your topic in the index, try the list of SP in any volume. It’s long, but will probably help.
- The list will include numbers of SP that are NOT printed. If your entry reads Not Printed (or NP) it will not be included in that volume.
If you are looking for a specific year, but not sure of the volume, I suggest:
- Find one volume from the year you want. Example: I want to find the Annual Report for the Department of Indian Affairs for 1886. (Usually, such publications are found in the next year of the SP.) Remember to search for the title of the series, not the name of the annual.
- For example, sessional papers canada 1887 (Library One Stop Search) As I have added the year, I will not find the print collection. I will find the series of volumes from that year from the Hathitrust collection, as those volumes within that year are listed individually in Hathitrust. If I left the year - 1887- out of my search, I would find the BU print collection, as well as the Hathitrust collection. The BU print collection is in one record, and the 1887 is just one of the volumes available in print at BU. It does not have its own record.) The other collections noted above (such as Internet Archive) will not be found with a Library One Stop Search at all, as those collections are not included in the BU Library catalogue sources at this time. You must click on the link, go to that database and search there.)
- Check the index to determine the number of the sessional paper you want,
- Find that specific number in a volume from that year. This may be done by browsing volumes for that year, or checking the master outline of SP for the volume desired.
- For example, page 10 - here is the beginning of the list for this. Number 6 is listed here – it notes it is in volume 5.
- In volume 5 we find this. The Annual report for 1886. It is important to check – the year of the SP (in this case the 1887 set) contains the Annual for 1886. Quite often you will find annual reports published in the SP set for the next year. Check as you research to make sure you have the information you want.
- This specific annual has an index at the front of the report.
You can search within using the function at the database, but I also recommend looking at the report. Sometimes the search function will not locate everything you want. In addition, be aware that terms and place names may change over time.
And, if you wanted to do this in print? Simply follow the same instructions - search the Library One Stop Search for the title (no year), get the call number, on the shelf find the set for the year you want, then a volume, look at the index, find the # of the SP you want, and then find the volume it is in. Make sure that the item you select has been printed and is included in the set.
If you wanted to use one of the other databases noted above (such as Early Canadiana Online), click on the links noted above.
If you have any questions, please ask!