Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives

Identity area



Authorized form of name

Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives

Parallel form(s) of name

    Other form(s) of name


      • Library

      Contact area

      Luke Stempien, Manager



      Street address

      55 York Boulevard





      Country name


      Postal code

      L8N 4E4







      Description area


      The Hamilton Public Library is one of the oldest Public Libraries in Ontario. In January of 1889, the citizens of Hamilton voted to fund a free public library in the city and the first Hamilton Public Library Board was appointed. The first Main Library opened in September of 1890. In 2015, HPL will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.

      Right from the beginning, one of the mandates of the library system was to emphasize and make available material regarding Canadian and local history. The staff actively collected books, pamphlets and other local materials, which included a large donation of items from Hamilton native, Emerson Bristol Biggar.

      The Hamilton Public Library opened a new Main Library in 1913 with funding from Andrew Carnegie. In March of 1914, the newly named Canadiana room housed a separate and distinct collection of Canadian and local history materials that were available to the general public in a secure setting, but did not circulate.

      The collection continued to grow, and expanded to include books, photographs, scrapbooks, clipping files, pamphlets, microfilm, periodicals, historical memorabilia, and archives on a wide range of local history topics, including sports events, places of worship, notable local people, heritage buildings, landmarks, and much more. In October of 1974 the Special Collections department opened in the Reference Library (in the Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Main and James Street) amalgamating the Local History Collection, the Canadiana Collection, the Archives and the Rare Books Collection.

      The Special Collections department was relocated to its current location when the new Central library opened in October of 1980. In 1981, the public access room in the department was named after former Chief Librarian Freda Waldon (1898-1973). The acquisition of several large archival collections (Hamilton Spectator negative collection [2 million images], the Ellen Fairclough papers and, most significantly, a large collection of 19th and early 20th century records of the city of Hamilton and the old County of Wentworth) led to the changing of the name of the department in 2008 from Special Collections to Local History & Archives.

      Geographical and cultural context

      Mandates/Sources of authority

      Administrative structure

      Records management and collecting policies

      The Local History & Archives collection exists to:
      1) collect and preserve materials which illustrate the growth and development of Hamilton-Wentworth, both before and after incorporation, or which pertain in whole or in part to activities within the geographic boundaries of Hamilton-Wentworth;
      2) arrange and describe these materials according to archival principles and make them accessible to the general public on a regular basis, unless access is restricted by legal requirements or written agreement with the donor;
      3) provide adequate and appropriate conditions for the storage, protection and preservation of archival material;
      4) provide regular reference services to individuals, organizations, the municipal government, or other groups interested in the activities and holdings of the Archives;
      5) provide educational and outreach programming whenever possible to increase public awareness of Hamilton-Wentworth's history and development.

      Material acquired by Local History & Archives shall become the permanent property of the Archives and, therefore, the Hamilton Public Library, until such time as the Archivist deems it not longer relevant to the Archives, in which case the material may be deaccessioned. Deaccessioning will not take place without the written approval of the department head responsible for the Archives. All information pertaining to the deaccessioning and disposition of material will be retained in the Archives' records.

      The Archives retains the right to reproduce materials by mechanical, electronic, or photographic means for security, conservation, or research purposes.

      The Archives will accept historical material of any medium, including: textual records; photographs and other visual records; maps, plans and architectural records; and sound recordings and oral history tapes. The Archives will only accept books, printed materials, artifacts and electronically stored data at the discretion of the Department Head or Archivist.

      The Archives retains the right to charge for any reproduction or other research service. A schedule of fees will be made available to the general public on a regular basis.

      The Archives will only accept material on a permanent basis, except when borrowing material for short-term loans to reproduce or to include in displays or exhibits.

      Materials from the Archives may be loaned to other institutions or organizations only under the following circumstances:
      1) written authorization is obtained from the Manager, Local History & Archives (or designate)
      2) the borrower ensures adequate care and handling of the material on loan. If at any time the Archives determines that the material on loan is not being cared for adequately, the Manager or Archivist may cancel the loan and request the immediate return of the material.

      No person shall be prevented from using archival materials unless is it determined that the materials will be physically abused or used in a libelous or illegal manner.

      Manager, Local History & Archives
      Hamilton Public Library
      55 York Blvd.
      Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
      L8N 4E4



      March 2014, The Hamilton Public Library celebrated 100 years of collecting and preserving Hamilton’s History. Our collection has grown over the years and covers a wide range of local history topics from sports events, places of worship and people, to heritage buildings, landmarks, and much more. Items include:
      • Hamilton Spectator on microfilm from 1846 to present
      • City directories from 1853 to present
      • Maps
      • Land registry and assessment records
      • Ontario genealogy society Hamilton branch research
      • Funeral home transcripts
      • Cemetery transcripts
      • Vital statistics information such as Birth, Marriage and Death indexes
      • Scrapbooks and clipping files
      • School yearbooks
      • Archives
      • Books, periodicals and pamphlets
      • Ephemera
      • Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only)

      The largest portion of our collection includes over 3 million photographs depicting the history of Hamilton and the surrounding areas from as far back as the mid-1800s. 13,000 images are currently available online through PreVIEW and high resolution digital images are now available for sale.

      Finding aids, guides and publications

      The archival descriptions in Archeion represent just a portion of the Local History & Archives holdings. Visit https://archives.hpl.ca/index.php/informationobject/browse to view more.

      Access area

      Opening times

      Monday to Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday, 9am-6pm; Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday (Sept - May), 12pm-5pm

      Access conditions and requirements

      The Local History & Archives (LHA) Reading Room is designated as a quiet study area. Seating priority will be given to individuals using material from the collections of LHA. We ask that you please conduct phone or group conversations outside of the room. Staff will be happy to direct you to an appropriate area.

      Researchers are reminded that they are working with historical records, which are unique and often fragile. Please adhere to the following requirements while handling this material:

      • You will be asked to provide identification when requesting to view our materials
      • A maximum of six containers or volumes will be supplied at one time
      • Please do not remove any materials from the Reading Room
      • Please consult with a staff member prior to photocopying documents
      • Disable flash functionality on your digital camera prior to taking photographs
      • For preservation reasons, the use of digital scanners is prohibited
      • With the exception of bottled water in a covered container, eating and drinking are not permitted in the Reading Room; this includes chewing gum and candy.
      • No marks of any kind are to be made on any of the material. Please use pencils to take notes.
      • Please avoid placing notepads on top of materials or leaning directly on archival records. Tracing maps or other records, or the use of “post-it” or other self-sticking notes, staples or paper clips on archival records is not permitted.
      • Please leave archival records flat on the table surface as much as possible. Avoid letting records overhang past the table's edge.
      • Please handle records carefully and deliberately with both hands to ensure the safety of the record. We advise moving the records by sliding them from one pile to another.
      • Please use the white cotton gloves provided when handling non-textual materials.
      • It is imperative that the order of the archival records you are using remains intact. Please do not change the order of the files within a container, or items within a file.

      Please consult with LHA staff if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for using the Hamilton Public Library.


      Services area

      Research services

      Reproduction services

      Local History & Archives has four digital microfilm reader / printers and two analogue microfilm readers. Materials viewed using the digital microfilm reader / printers can be saved as image files to a USB flash drive; feel free to bring your own USB flash drive. Alternatively, Local History & Archives sells a 2 GB USB flash drive for $7. Saving to a USB flash drive using our microfilm readers is free.

      Local History & Archives has a black & white photocopier / printer. Photocopies and printouts from the microfilm reader / printer both cost 10 cents per page.

      Looking for a unique gift idea? Local History & Archives has a unique collection of over 3 million images chronicling the history of the City of Hamilton and surrounding areas dating as far back as the mid-1800s. To date, more than 13,000 historical images are available online through the PreVIEW website. High-resolution copies are now available for purchase for private and commercial use.

      To order images, complete a Digital Image Request and submit it via email to localhistory@hpl.ca. For assistance selecting images or completing the form, contact Local History & Archives staff at 905-546-3408.

      Consult the list of Digital Image Fees ​for price information.

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