British military and naval records

Find documents from the British colonial regime about Canada’s military history. The British military and naval forces were active in Canada from the end of the French colonial period (New France) in 1759 to the forces’ departure in 1871. They also had some presence in Halifax and Esquimalt until 1906. These documents are essential primary sources for studying military and naval affairs, as well as civilian life, in the territories now forming Canada from 1759 to 1906.

On this page

Before you start

When consulting these documents, it helps to have an idea of the following:

  • date
  • place
  • subject

Places to look

British military and naval records fonds (RG8) [1757–1932]

See the British military and naval records fonds (RG8) [1757–1932]. The vast majority of the documents in this collection were created and are described in English.

The National Archives in the UK holds most of these documents in the War Office and Admiralty series. Other records were created in Canada and remained on site when the British Forces left.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many of those original documents, which are regrouped with transcriptions and microfilms of documents preserved in England. The fonds includes:

  • textual documents
  • maps
  • architectural drawings

Documents from private sources were also added to this fonds.

The documents cover subjects such as:

  • the British and Loyalist regiments, as well as the Canadian militia (including muster rolls and pay lists)
  • the War of 1812, the rebellions of 1837–1838 and the Fenian raids
  • military equipment (activities of the Board of Ordnance)
  • Fortifications and canals
  • Chaplaincies and military commissariats
  • Administration of relations with Indigenous peoples
  • the Provincial Marine
  • Correspondence relating to appointments and promotions, claims for losses, pensions for military widows, deserters, prisoners, settlers, etc
  • Civil administration documents concerning land, roads, bridges and public buildings.

Series and sub-series

The records were organized into series and sub-series then split according to subjects (e.g. Indigenous peoples, canals, telegraphs), types of records (e.g. letterbooks, order books, muster rolls) or responsibility centres (e.g. Military Secretary, Adjutant General, Commissariat Office). The files are generally chronological.

These series and sub-series are not closely interrelated. They were regrouped decades ago to make research easier.

The series and sub-series are:

  1. British Military Records ("C" Series)
    1. Correspondence of the Military Secretary of the Commander of the Forces, 1767–1880
      Use this series if you are looking for digitized images.
    2. Records of the Canadian Command, 1785–1883
    3. Records of the Nova Scotia Command, 1762–1899
    4. Miscellaneous records, 1757–1896, mostly from private sources
  2. Ordnance Records
    1. Reports and Returns, 1757–1878, 1932 (volumes 1 to 89)
  3. Admiralty Records
    1. Admiralty Lake Service Records, 1814–1833 (volumes 1 to 72)
    2. Admiralty Pacific Station Records, 1858–1903 (volumes 1 to 39)

Finding aids

You can use the finding aids to figure out which files are useful for you. In Collection Search, look under Finding Aid in the Record Information/details tab:

You can also find the old microform reels at the links below. Note: these links will be only be available until the images are fully available in Collection Search.

Search tips

  • Names changed over time. Spelling varied and documents may have errors in transcription.
  • Try spelling variations or use the * wildcard character (in a database) if you are unsure about a specific letter. For example, “Fran* for Frank, Francis, François, Franz or Francisco.

Access the records

Digitized records

If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Use the finding aids linked above to locate the microfilm or records of interest to you.

Records that are not digitized

What's more, users can consult some original documents, even if they have been digitised.

For records that are not digitized (for example, original records and microfilm not available online), you will need to see them in person. If you cannot visit us in person, you may want to order copies or hire a researcher.

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