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Contemporary Canadian Govt. & Politics: Recorded Images

Selected Primary Sources and their Finding Aids: Recorded Images

Reporters, photographers, documentary film-makers and others present at the time of a significant event or period have recorded or captured these political events and processes on film, video, in photographs and their art.

After-the-fact commentary, voice-overs, and various uses made of these sources do not necessarily consititute primary material, but the raw footage and the untouched photographs do. This kind of material is usually found in archives but there are also some published or digitized collections and reference sources available to help locate them.

Film and Video Footage
Televised election coverage, political debates and conventions, paid political announcements, news footage, taped interviews of government officials and politicians, etc., these are all primary source materials that can have research value. Selected recent clips may be found on the websites of broadcasters such as CBC, CTV, etc., political parties and government departments. None of these however, archive all of their historical footage on their public websites. The following are selected collections of historical film and video footage and their finding aids:

CBC Archives.

The archives "History" section of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation includes radio and television clips on government and political topics, speeches, interviews, etc. that can be browsed on this page, or use the keyword search for the whole website.

CPAC Video Archive.

The Cable Public Affairs Channel, a not-for-profit television service created by a consortium of cable companies, covers Parliament, politics, and public affairs in Canada. The searchable video archive includes Parliamentary debates, interviews, speeches, etc.

Film, Video and Sound Database. Library and Archives Canada.

This site provides access to the Audiovisual Holdings Database which contains over 265,000 descriptions of film, videos and sound recordings held by the Library and Archives Canada. You can search by keywords, dates, format, etc. Each record has a description of the item, copyright details, and information on how to consult the item at the National Archives in Ottawa or to order a reproduction. Films and videos include paid political announcements, election debates on radio and television, documentary films, clips from the CBC and more.

National Film Board of Canada.

Several NFB documentaries have been made which include original footage of political events. The NFB film collection is available in many libraries in Canada or through interlibrary loan, and some can be downloaded online. A keyword search results can be limited by genre.

The NFB Film Guide: The Productions of the National Film Board of Canada From 1939 to 1989. Montreal: NFB Canada, 1991. 960 p.

NFB films produced during this time period are described briefly. The subject index includes headings for government, politics, politicians, etc.

To find films and videos in libraries:

Aurora, the national library catalogue, can be searched with Voilà, the national union catalogue, and other Worldcat databases to search the holdings of most academic libraries in Canada and many others worldwide. (Make sure all databases are checked to search all combined.)

Using the Advanced Search you can usually limit a library catalogue search by format (videorecordings, audiovisual or similar) or search by combining the keyword "videorecording" (one word) with keywords for your topic. e.g. videorecording and pierre trudeau. (Many library catalogues have the word "videorecording" entered at the end of each video title.) Or you can search using commonly used keywords such as footage, film, documentary, etc. Check your library's online help files or ask a Reference Librarian if it is not clear.

Many government departments have produced catalogues of the films or videos they have produced. To search for these in library catalogues, search by Canada or the province name, combined with the subject keyword: film catalogs or motion pictures.


Photographs are primary source materials with a lot of impact. They can be used to further your understanding of events or to illustrate your points. An historical event can be much easier to understand through photographs than by text explanations alone. The following sources either provide photographs online or help you to find photographs in archives:

Photographs Database. Library and Archives Canada. Collection Search:

Library and Archives Canada has a collection of over 25 million photographs. About 400,000 of these can be searched by keyword limiting the search to "Images", then to "Photographs". Over 40,000 of the images described are digitized and available online.

Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives. Edited by Christopher Seifried. Ottawa: Public Archives Canada, 1984.

This guide describes thousands of historical photograph collections in archives across the country. It has a subject index.

Historic Moments in Canadian Politics: The Photojournalism Archive of William C. Stratas. By William C. Stratas.

This is a small archive of historic political photographs (from 1978-1984) with text commentary and audio narrative from the private collection of photojournalist William C. Sratas. Includes photographs of Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark and John Turner. (Takes a while to load.)

To find photographs in books:

Most useful books on your topic will include a few photographs. These books will likely only have "ill." (for illustrations) and/or "port." (for portraits) in the physical description line of the library record.
To find books with photographs as a substantial part of the book, one of the Library of Congress subject headings may include the sub-heading: -- pictorial works, or --portraits. e.g. Prime ministers -- Canada -- portraits

To find photographs in magazines, journals and newspapers:

Check the search instructions on any index or full-text database you search for articles on your topic. Some (e.g. Canadian Newsstand by ProQuest) allow limiting a search to image captions as "article type". If this is not possible, search for articles in databases that include publications you know to publish many photographs, such as newsmagazines like Maclean's.

To find photographs on the Internet:

Using Internet search engines to find photographs is relatively easy, but the same problem applies as with any Internet-wide search: You may have trouble finding the metadata for the image that you need to make sure it is relevant and to cite it appropriately. Many search engines include a button to limit searches to images. (e.g. Google Click on "images" before entering your search.)

NOTE: You can usually copy an image for your own study and research, but if you intend to post it on a website or duplicate it for others to see you MUST first ask for permission from the copyright holder.


Political cartoons (also called editorial cartoons) have been a popular form of commentary on government and politics in Canada for a very long time. They show the hot issues of the time and often represent the public mood or feelings about political issues.

See The Art of Decoding Political Cartoons: A Teacher's Guide: By Charles and Cynthia Hou. Vancouver: Moody's Lookout Press, 1998, a guide on how to interpret political cartoons.

Political cartoons are usually published in daily newspapers. There are also digitized collections and compilations available:

Collection Search. Library and Archives Canada.

Limit search to "Images" and type of material: "Art". Add keywords for your topic and "cartoon". The collection includes thousands of  digitized cartoons. Each image includes a link ("i") to source information.

SFU Library Editorial Cartoons Collection. Simon Fraser University Library.

A searchable collection of thousands of original drawings by several well-known cartoonists published in Canadian newspapers between 1952 and the present. Additional information includes how to cite cartoons and links to more cartoon sites.

To find books of collected political cartoons:

Some of the top cartoonists such as Aislin, Bado (Portfoolio series) and others publish an annual compilation. The following are some examples of other compilations:

Daily Smile: A Travelling Exhibition of Original Duncan Macpherson Cartoons Donated to the Public Archives of Canada by the Toronto Star. Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1980. 227 p.

This book has full-page reproductions of black and white cartoons with a paragraph describing the context, organized by subjects such as "National Leaders", "National Parties", "National Unity", etc.

Great Canadian Political Cartoons, 1946 to 1982. By Charles and Cynthia Hou. Vancouver: Moody's Lookout Press, 2011. 232 p. 

The third volume in a series of compilations.

Norris. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Caricature, 1990. 131 p.

Len Norris cartoons appeared in the Vancouver Sun. This is an exhibition catalogue from the Canadian Museum of Caricature with full-page reproductions and a paragraph describing the context. Cartoons are grouped by subjects such as "Federal Politics", "Provincial Politics", "National Defence", etc.

Poll Cats: A Collection of Political Cartoons. By James F. Todd. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1993. 120 p.

The Hecklers : A History of Canadian Political Cartooning and a Cartoonists' History of Canada. By Peter Desbarats, Terry Mosher. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1979. 255 p.

To find more books of political cartoons:

Search Voilà, the national union catalogue or your nearest academic library catalogue using these Library of Congress subject headings:

Political cartoons--Canada
Political satire, Canadian
Caricatures and cartoons--Canada
Canadian wit and humor, Pictorial
Editorial cartoons--Canada

You can also search using the subject heading for your topic followed by the sub-headings:
-- caricatures and cartoons or -- pictorial works

Politicians--Canada--caricatures and cartoons
Canada--Politics and government--pictorial works

or you can search for the works of a cartoonist as the author.
NOTE: The name the cartoonist uses to sign his or her work is usually the one used (e.g. Search for Aislin not Mosher, Bado not Badeaux.)

To find political cartoons in newspapers:

Check the search instructions in any database you search for newspaper articles on your topic. Some (e.g. CBCA and Canadian Newsstream by ProQuest) have a subject term: "Editorial Cartoons" which you can combine with a keyword or subject term for your topic. These databases also allow limiting a search to "editorial cartoon" as a "document type".

If this does not work you may be able to add to your search the keywords: cartoon, editorial cartoon, or the cartoonist's name. Find an example of how the database you are using indexes, describes and displays cartoons, if at all, and adjust your search accordingly.