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University Archives: Archival fonds & finding aid

Information about how to conduct research at the Mount Allison University Archives


Open By Appointment

The Mount Allison University Archives are open by appointment only.

Please e-mail or telephone 506-364-2563 to request an appointment.


The Mount Allison University Archives are located on the third floor of the Ralph Pickard Bell Library. You can download our campus map (pdf) or get directions on how to get to campus.

Finding Aids (Resources)

Archival fonds

Archival materials are organized into separate groupings based on provenance - that is, the person, family or organization that created and / or accumulated the records in the course of that creator's activities and functions. These groupings are called fonds. A fonds may include records in any format - textual records, sound recordings, photographs and other graphics, moving images (film, video), architectural drawings, databases; and in any medium - paper, electronic, microform.

For university records, a fonds is identified with the university department which maintained the records (i.e. The Department of History fonds). For non-university (private) records, a fonds is identified with the organization, family or person who accumulated the records (i.e. Once-in-a-While Club fonds, The Black family fonds, The Raymond Clare Archibald fonds).


Although the bulk of our holdings consists of fonds we also acquire collections. A collection is an artificial accumulation of records brought together for reference purposes to support research into a particular topic, theme or event. A collection typically includes documents of various provenance and often includes publications. Collection titles reflect either the name of the collector or the subject matter of the collection (e.g. Mike Amero collection; Merriam family postcard collection).

Arrangement and Description

Archival arrangement identifies the internal hierarchy of a fonds, organizing it into a number of distinct records series. A series is a grouping of records which is maintained as a unit because of some relation between the records: e.g. they relate to the same subject or function, they result from the same kind of activity, they share the same form, or they were kept together by the records creator for some other purpose. For example, the Department of History fonds includes the following series: Policies and procedures; Departmental committees; Course outlines.

Archival description proceeds down the hierarchy of arrangement, from the general to the specific. Information is given at the highest appropriate level and is generally not repeated at lower levels.

File / item lists are prepared for each series. These lists may contain only minimal descriptive elements (e.g. title and dates). Where fuller descriptions are available these will eventually be integrated into the on-line finding aids.

Numbering system

Mount Allison's archival numbering system is based on the accessioning of the various groups of records.  When a group of records is received and added to the collection it is assigned a unique identifying number composed of the year and the sequential number of the donation.  Prior to 2000 the format was YY## (i.e. 9307 = the 7th acquisition in the year 1993).  After 2000 the year is written in full and separated by a period for the sequential number YYYY.## (i.e. 2003.3 = the 3rd acquisition in 2003).  Any numbers following the accession number indicate the series, file or item.

Navigating the finding aid

When reviewing archival finding aids, users should keep in mind the hierarchical nature of arrangement and description. Navigating up and down the hierarchy helps to determine the relevance of the records to your research inquiry. For example, working with the finding aid for the Department of History fonds, the fonds-level description will give a brief administrative history of the department and a listing of its component series. For example, under the series description for "Course outlines" you will find information about the types of records included in the course files. In order to determine whether outlines exist for a specific course (e.g. HIST 146), you will have to consult the file list.

Finding aids that have been completed have been added to the online database but this by no means covers all the materials available at the Archives.  To identify other materials of interest please contact the University Archivist.

Archival Databases

You can search descriptions of the Archives' holdings and photographs from the Picture Collection and related fonds / collections by using our Descriptions Database. See our search tips.

The Chignecto Isthmus Database provides access to historical material on the people and places of the Tantramar region held by the Ralph Pickard Bell Library.

Questions? Ask the University Archivist.

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David Mawhinney
Room 306
Ralph Pickard Bell Library
49 York Street
Sackville, NB E4L 1C6