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Indian Reserves - Western Canada

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The Records

One of the more basic tasks faced by federal authorities in their administration of western lands was the setting aside of reserves for the exclusive use of Aboriginal bands that had signed treaty. Under the British North America Act of 1867, "Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians" was designated a federal responsibility and title to reserve lands was to be (and still is) vested in the Crown. In order for reserve lands to be withdrawn from future sale and settlement by the non-Aboriginal community, a complete legal description of the land had to be filed with federal agencies and local land registry offices. Maps and plans were inevitably included as a fundamental part of the legal description of any reserve. Later, they were also part of any development that took place once the lands were designated.

Over the years, a great many cartographic records have been created by federal agencies responsible for the administration of Aboriginal affairs in western Canada. They range from rough sketch plans that accompanied letters to government officials, to one-of-a-kind cadastral plans, to mass-produced maps intended for public dissemination.

Although this database is extensive, it is not necessarily a complete listing of all the cartographic holdings on western reserves in the Library and Archives Canada. Many single discrete items still remain hidden in the collections, especially those of government departments with a vested interest in Aboriginal affairs and those of individuals with federal administrative responsibilities, such as Treaty Commissioners, career civil servants, and Ministers of the Crown.

The Database

The cartographic records described in this database cover British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut Territory. There are no maps of Aboriginal reserves and settlements in Ontario, Quebec or the Atlantic Provinces. The territorial and provincial designations used in this finding aid reflect the current map of Canada (2003) and are not the borders used at the time of the map's creation.

The database is an updated electronic version of volumes 1 and 2 of Maps of Indian Reserves and Settlements in the National Map Collection / Cartes des réserves et agglomérations indiennes de la Collection nationale de cartes et plans compiled by Linda Camponi and published in 1980-1981 by the Public Archives of Canada. It is intended as a list of maps of Aboriginal agencies, reserves and settlements found primarily in the holdings of the Department of Indian Affairs (RG10, Black Series) and the two royal commissions of enquiry pertaining to Aboriginal lands, namely the Commission Respecting Indian Lands and Indian Affairs in the Province of British Columbia, 1913 (RG33/104), and the Indian Claims Commission, 1966-1977 (RG33/115). It also includes maps of reserves and settlements held in the records of other federal departments and in private collections. As with the original publication, architectural and engineering documents are not included in the database.

It is important to note that the descriptions included in this specialized finding aid were simply converted from their original paper format to a searchable database. In other words, the original maps and plans that these entries describe were not re-catalogued. The original descriptions were completed over a twenty-year period using a variety of standards. For this reason, most items are described differently from current map cataloguing standards outlined in the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2).

Library and Archives Canada maintains an active acquisitions program and receives cartographic records from government departments and private individuals on a regular basis. This finding aid, and its accompanying digitized images, will be updated periodically as the institution acquires new reserve maps and plans.

Search Screens

Researchers can search the database using any one or a combination of the following fields:


Searches can be conducted using the names of individuals, agencies, reserves or settlements, or by subject. A keyword search will query all fields in the database.


A search can be conducted for the province or territory where the agency, reserve or settlement is located. The heading all appears by default, meaning that any search you do will automatically include all provinces and territories in the database. If you wish to limit your search to a single province or territory, select it from the drop-down menu. Use the current name of the province or territory where the agency, reserve or settlement is located. Once again, only the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut Territory are available.


A search can be limited to one or more years. The dates are those that appear on the original document. In instances when no date appears on an item, Archival staff will often infer a date based on the information contained in the map or plan. In such cases, the date is placed in square brackets. Maps that cannot be dated are indicated by the remark "N.D/S.D." (No Date/Sans Date).

Reserve name

Researchers can search by the name of the reserve or settlement. The various spellings of a single name are included in the database, with cross-references among these various spellings. In some cases, there are no maps for the agency, reserve or Aboriginal settlement you are interested in. Do not indicate the number of the agency, reserve, agency or population in this field; use the following field instead (Agency or Reserve number).

The agency names, reserve names and reserves numbers used in this database are based on the Schedule of Indian Reserves and Settlements published by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ottawa, in 1972. For places not included in this publication, the lists published in the Department's annual reports were used. In the case of regions not officially confirmed as reserves, the name used at the time the map was created is shown.

Reserve number
A search in this field will give you all agencies, reserves or populations with the number you entered. If you typed the name of a reserve or population in the previous field, the search will be limited to this name and the number you enter in the current field.

Reprography number
All the maps and plans listed in this finding aid have been reproduced in black and white (and some in colour) onto a single, large-format (105 ;mm), microfiche. Each microfiche is given a unique number with the prefix "NMC". In the past, some maps and plans were photographed in black and white using a high-quality, large-format, film and the negatives were assigned a "C" ;number. Researchers can query the database using either of these numbers.

Place a check next to Descriptions with a digitized image to limit your search to those descriptions with digitized maps that are available online.

Search Tips

The field Keywords can be used to conduct a search on the name of an Aboriginal person, place, reserve or settlement, or on any other subject likely to appear in the database descriptions.

If you have the name of the reserve or settlement, you can use either the Keywords or Reserve name fields. Use the Keywords field to find all references to the word indicated: this could be a map of your reserve or a reference to another reserve or a reference to your word. By typing your reserve name in the Reserve name field, you will find only the maps bearing the name of your reserve.

Researchers should refer to the Bands and Agencies guide to find the name of a reserve or settlement, but for reference purposes only. This name might not be in the guide of reserves and Aboriginal settlements. Bear in mind also that there is nothing in this guide for Ontario, Quebec, or the Atlantic provinces.

The Geographical Names Board of Canada ( acts as the national coordinating body for the designation and use geographical names. Since 1897 the Board has maintained a database of approved names for all geographical features (towns, cities, Indian reserves, lakes, mountains, etc.). The database notes the authorized spelling and the location of current-day Indian reserves, including the longitude and latitude. It also provides a reference map of the reserve and surrounding area. Researchers may find it useful to use official reserve names and spellings when querying the database.

If possible, search in English and in French. Descriptions are currently produced in the language of the creator-donor, but this has not always been the case. Most descriptions are in English only. However, titles remain in their original language, and are only rarely translated.

For example:
If you type map and then carte, the results will not cancel each other out.

Be careful with dates. Researchers will only retrieve dates that correspond strictly to what they have specified.

For example:
Type 1890-1910 to obtain only descriptions with this specific phrase, if there are any.

Since the database contains descriptions of old documents, do not use only modern or current words and terms when entering your search. It may be necessary to use outdated expressions and words whose meanings have changed over time to improve your results:

For example:
North-West Territories, Northwest Territories
Klondike, Klondyke, Clondyke

Do not use punctuation. For example, type st ;peters and not st. ;peters.

Do not use the apostrophe. For example, type quappelle and not qu'appelle, or tobys meadow rather than toby's meadow.

Do not use the or of even if they appear in the reserve name. For example, to find the reserve called the pas, simply type pas, or lake woods for lake of the woods.

How to Interpret the Results

The search results will be posted as a results summary list (or hit list) from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.

Results Summary List
The results summary list, sorted by column, contains information that will allow users to assess whether or not the documents that were found are relevant. Information within square brackets has been supplied by staff at the Library and Archives of Canada and is based on clues found on the map, plan, or chart. Each page of the list provides 20 references (this default value can be changed). Users can export the results to diskette or download to their own personal computer.

The first column is linked to the Detailed Description (see below). Clicking on the icon will bring you to the detailed description.

The Title column provides the title of the map or plan; in some cases it will be abbreviated. The complete title appears in the detailed description.

The Date column provides the map's exact or approximate date.

A cross-mark under the Available On-line column indicates that a digitized copy of the map or plan is included with the detailed description.

Detailed Description
From the results summary list, you may consult one detailed description at a time. Some of the descriptions will contain a thumb-size image that can be expanded to see a more detailed image of the map or plan. These images have been compressed using MrSID (Multi-resolution Seamless Image Database) software. The first time you request an image, your computer will prompt you to download a free plug-in for your browser called MrSID (you will only be prompted if this plug-in is not already installed). Please note that depending on your internet connection speed this process could take up to five minutes to download. MrSID will allow you to view the image and magnify portions of it without any loss of resolution. Researchers should consult our help document for using MrSID for further information on this browser plug-in.

Researchers should note that when they click on a second or third page, the new images will be retrieved to a second browser window. Please note that this second browser will not maximize automatically and the user will have to maximize the browser from his/her Taskbar.

The detailed description includes all or some of the sections described below. If the information seems insufficient or unclear - for example, because of misspellings or other errors - users should contact Reference Services at the Library and Archives of Canada for more information.

This is the complete title appearing on the map or plan. Usually, the title has been transcribed exactly as it appears in order to maintain the language, wording, order, and spelling (but not necessarily the punctuation and capitalization). Earlier forms of letters (e.g., ; ;= ;ss) and earlier forms of diacritical marks have been transcribed to their modern form. More specific title information is sometimes provided in square brackets by archival staff and is based on information that appears on the item.

This is the date of compilation, publication, distribution, printing, copyright, etc. Dates enclosed in square brackets do not appear on the item but have been inferred by staff from a variety of sources. Double dates, for example 1755 (1803), indicate that newer information was added to an item after it was first compiled. The first date indicates the first date of compilation, and the second date indicates when the item was last updated. The term n.d./s.d. refers to items for which no date can be assigned.

Microfiche Number
Most of the maps and plans listed in this database have been reproduced in black and white (and some in colour) onto a single, large-format (105 ;mm), microfiche. Each microfiche is given a unique number with the prefix "NMC". This "NMC" number can use to order photographic reproductions and/or digital images. The "NMC" number should be included by authors and publishers in their credit line (for example, credit: Library and Archives of Canada, NMC-123456). This number, along with the call number and title, should also be used when placing a request to consult original documents or when ordering reproductions.

C Number
In the past, some maps, plans, and charts were photographed in black and white using a high-quality, large-format, film and the negatives were assigned a "C" number. This number, along with the title, call number, and microfiche number, should be included in orders for black and white prints. In cases where there is no existing "C" number or negative, black and white prints can be made from the microfiche.

Accession Number
This is an administrative control number assigned to individual items or a group of documents acquired by Library and Archives Canada at a specific time and from the same source.

This field provides researchers with information on any restrictions that might exist concerning access to original documents and/or the use of original maps, plans, or charts and their images. For conservation reasons, some original documents cannot be copied or examined. As well, in cases where Library and Archives Canada owns only a photographic reproduction of an original item held in another institution, the map or plan may be consulted (and in some cases copied) for research purposes only. If researchers should wish to use the item for any other purpose, they should obtain the permission of the institution that owns the original item.

How to Consult a Record or Order a Copy

More than 1,200 digitized reserve maps and plans are available on-line, and this number will increase as new accessions are acquired by Library and Archives Canada. Some conditionsgovern the utilization of digital images. See Terms Governing the Reproduction and Use of Material from the Collection of Library and Archives Canada.

Consulting original documents may not be possible for conservation reasons. Where possible, consultation is done, by appointment, at the main facility of Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

For more information about the reproduction and consultation services offered by Library and Archives Canada, please see Services to the Public.


The reproduction of archival material is subject to the copyright legislation and its regulations. This is a highly complex area for both archives and researchers and has a profound effect on the way that Library and Archives Canada delivers its services to researchers for protected material.

Copyright can be owned or held by an individual or a group of individuals, a corporation, the Crown, or the public. The terms of protection can vary subject to the author, the nature and the disposition of the material in question, and other considerations. Library and Archives Canada holds a variety of material for which the ownership of copyright may be uncertain due to the mixture of public and private material, or published and unpublished works. One of the major difficulties for both archives and researchers is in identifying and locating the copyright owners.

It is recommended that researchers consult the Copyright Act ( and seek legal advice where questions regarding the interpretation of copyright arise.

It is not the role of Library and Archives Canada to interpret the Copyright Act for researchers, and researchers must accept responsibility for determining any copyright obligations. Researchers should allow adequate lead time for researching ownership and obtaining permission, as required.