Second World War

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has an extensive collection of material relating to the Second World War.

On this page

Before you start

If you are doing genealogy research, gather information such as:

  • name
  • approximate date and place of birth
  • whether the person served in the army, navy or air force

For other historical research, it is helpful to know the regiment, unit, squadron or ship.

Places to look

Here is information about our collections.

Military service files

We hold the personnel files of those who served with the Canadian Forces during the war.

Service Files of the Second World War - War Dead, 1939-1947

This database contains references to the files of the following individuals who died between 1939 and 1947:

  • those killed in action
  • those who died as a result of accident or illness while in service
  • those who subsequently died of injuries related to service

The files are open without restrictions. The database help pages explains the options for how to access them.

Other Second World War service files

All other Second World War service files are restricted under privacy legislation. You can submit a request for copies of documents by using our ATIP tool.

War graves registers

This accession relates mostly to the First World War. However, it does include some volumes relating to deaths of Canadian service members in Canada and the United States during the Second World War (boxes 239 to 274, 279 to 302). See the Additional information section in the record description.

The registers are digitized and searchable by name on our partner website Ancestry. You can access Ancestry free onsite at LAC and at many other libraries.

War diaries

These are the day-to-day descriptions of army units in active service. They contain information about the location of a unit and its military operations. The diaries rarely mention individuals by name, with the exception of some references to officers.

You can consult the series description and its 49 lower level descriptions.

You can also look for file references using Collection Search.

  • Select Collections and Fonds database.
  • In Specific terms, select Finding Aid and enter "24-60"
  • In All these words enter the name of a unit, Corps, regiment, division or service:
    • Examples of keywords
      • Royal 22e Regiment
      • Royal Canadian Armoured Corps
      • Canadian Postal Corps
      • 3rd Canadian Infantry Division
      • Z Force Iceland

Some volumes are available on microfilm reels that are digitized on our partner site Héritage.

Ships logs

Ship logs are the official records of Canadian naval vessels, including minesweepers, trawlers and submarines. They contain information about:

  • routine activities at sea and in harbour
  • weather and sea conditions
  • ship movements
  • details of operational exercises and special events such as visits by senior military personnel

There is little or no personal information about individuals in these logs.

Search for ship logs in Collection Search:

  • Click on Advanced search
  • Select Collections and Fonds database
  • In All these words, enter the keyword "RG24", the word log and the name of a vessel
    • Examples of keywords:
      • Nipigon, ML 060, Chicoutimi

These records are not on microfilm and not digitized.

Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operations record books

The records in this series document the flying operations and other events related to Canadian squadrons, groups, training schools, stations and other units.

If the unit was an operational one, the books will include details of missions flown and lists of aircraft and aircrew involved.

Search for references in Collection Search:

  • Click on Advanced search
  • Select Collections and Fonds database
  • In All these words, enter the keyword "RG24-E-7" and name of a squadron or unit.
    • Examples of keywords:
      • Flying training school
      • 419 Squadron
      • Transport Wing
      • Eastern Air Command

Many of the records are on microfilm and digitized on our partner site Héritage.

Military medals, honours and awards

This collection includes Second World War cards. Most of the cards contains a typed citation concerning the reason for the honour or award. Many of the citations are the same as what was published in the Canada Gazette or the London Gazette. However, some cards contain unique information.

Not all of the cards explain the reason why the honour or award was granted.

Note that these cards include only honours and awards, not service and campaign medals.

The cards can be searched in our Military medals, honours and awards, 1812–1969 database.

The records are digitized on our partner website Ancestry, which is available free onsite at LAC and at many other libraries.

Personal papers, diaries and correspondence

We have some personal correspondence, papers, journals and diaries of some war veterans. You can use Collection Search to look for these items.

  • In Database, select Collections and fonds
  • In All these words, enter a person's name
  • In Any of these words, enter keywords such as "diary", "journal", "letters", "papers"

Photographs and maps

We hold many collections of photographs and maps related to the war, such as:

You can search for other photographs and maps using relevant keywords in Collection Search. From the results page, click on Maps or Photographs in Type of material to limit the search results.

Documentary art and posters

We hold a number of posters and documentary art related to the Second World War. You can find them using Collection Search. Try keywords such as "war", "poster", "postcard", "sketchbook", "painting", "portrait" or "broadside". From the results page, click on Art in Type of material to limit the search results.

Published sources

We have a number of published sources about all aspects of Canadian involvement in the Second World War. You can search Aurora to find these publications. Try keywords like:

  • Canada war
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Canadians war
  • Veterans Canada
  • A specific battle

The most comprehensive publications are the official histories of the Canadian Army, the RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy. They are digitized by the Directorate of History and Heritiage.

Other archival records

There are many other records relating to the war. Most are found in the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24).

You can look for records using Collection Search. Try keywords relevant to your search such as the name of a military branch, command or unit.

Access the records

Records that are digitized

If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microforms, are available through Héritage.

Records that are not digitized

References in Collection Search show if a record is open (access code 90) or restricted (access code 32). To find the access code in an item description, click on Ordering and Viewing Options, then Conditions of access.

If the item is restricted, use the ATIP tool to request a copy.

For records that are not digitized and not restricted, 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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