The Privy Council of Canada, which was established at the time of Confederation under the Constitution Act, 1867, is the successor to the Executive Council of the United Provinces of Canada. Membership in the Privy Council is synonymous with Cabinet membership because Privy Council members are heads or ministers of departments in the administration of the day. Although one becomes a Privy Councillor for life, the governor general acts on the advice of the Cabinet, not of the whole Council. The exercise of power through this system of executive advice and approval is identified in the Constitution Act, 1867 with the "governor-general-in-council" (commonly referred to as the "governor-in-council"). The most important documents produced by the governor-in-council are orders-in-council.
The term order-in-council refers to a legislative instrument generated by the governor-in-council, and constitutes a formal recommendation of Cabinet that is approved and signed by the governor general. Orders-in-council are not discussed by Parliament before they have been implemented.
Orders-in-council address a wide range of administrative and legislative matters, including federal appointments, transactions between the government and the private sector, the disposition of Aboriginal lands and other important policy items.
Orders-in-council were assigned consecutive numbers according to their order of presentation to Cabinet during a calendar year. This number will be referred to below as the Order-in-Council Number. The first order-in-council for the year 1867, for example, is 1867 0001. These numbers were recorded in a series of annual registers held by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) as the Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-d, These registers serve as the basis for LAC's online order-in-council database.
Orders-in-council are often accompanied by supporting documentation, such as plans and charts. A number of oversized plans and charts dating from 1867 to 1969, which accompanied certain submissions to Cabinet, were filed separately by the Privy Council Office and have been transferred to LAC's Cartographic and Architectural Archives Division. These documents were assigned the same registry number as the submissions they supported and are arranged by number within each year. Lists of these plans and charts are available in the reference area of LAC's Government Archives Branch and in the Cartographic and Architectural Archives Division.
Until the creation of the office of the Secretary of State for External Affairs in 1909, despatches of the Colonial Office directed to the government of Canada were handled by the Privy Council Office. Many diplomatic despatches required the consideration, response or approval of the governor-in-council and were answered by means of order-in-council. These despatch orders are accessible in the order-in-council database.
Original despatch documents addressed by the governor-in-council are filed together with orders-in-council according to date of approval in the Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-a. However, a separate registry system (Series A-2-b) was used to record the receipt of despatches. This registry system has been incorporated into the order-in-council database to identify despatch records, which can be distinguished from other orders-in-council by the letter that follows the order-in-council number; for example "1881 0549 E."
Records for orders-in-council
The term "records" was used by the Privy Council Office to describe documents submitted to Cabinet as the official basis for an order-in-council. Records comprise memoranda, correspondence, petitions, reports and some maps, arranged according to the date of approval of the orders-in-council to which they relate. These documents are held by LAC in the Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-b. Since 1966, however, all supporting documentation has been filed with the respective orders or minutes of council in Series A-1-a.
After determining the submission number and date of approval of the orders-in-council that interest you, consult the associated records by obtaining a volume number through the use of a conversion list found with the RG2 finding aids at LAC. Currently "records" materials are not digitized or available online. For more information on visiting and consulting material at LAC, please see Our Services.
The term "dormants" refers to memoranda, correspondence, petitions and reports submitted to the Privy Council, which did not result in the production of an order-in-council. They are arranged according to the numbers assigned to them upon receipt in the Privy Council Office. It was also the practice in the early years to file reports on work performed during the year, oaths of allegiance, and miscellaneous materials along with the dormants, and often without assigning them a registry number. With the exception of this miscellaneous material, the registers and indexes of Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-d serve as the finding aid to the dormants. To access the dormant records it is necessary to determine the submission number and date of receipt of the specific dormant, and to obtain a volume number through the use of a conversion list found with the finding aids at LAC. For more information on visiting and consulting material at LAC, please see Our Services.
Currently the "dormants" are not digitized or available online. However, you can use the order-in-council database to determine which records became dormants by paying attention to the date fields on the results page. The lack of a Date Approved field indicates that the record was not passed as an order-in-council, and was transferred to the dormants.
Privy Council Office fonds
For more detailed information about orders-in-council and related material held by LAC, consult the descriptive record of the Privy Council Office fonds.
This database will allow you to search orders-in-council from the date of Canada's modern inception on July 1, 1867, through subsequent decades. The images in the database were digitized from microfilm copies of the original documents; these images do not reproduce colours appearing in the original documents.
Information in the database was transcribed from the annual orders-in-council and despatch registers maintained by the Privy Council Office. Copies of the registers can be consulted at LAC (RG2, Series A-1-d for orders-in-council; RG2, Series A-2-b for despatches).
Most of the documents in the database are written in English, the working language of Canada's federal government in the years before official bilingualism.
The search screen allows you to search using one or more of the following fields:
Order-in-Council Number (yyyy nnnn)
Date and Year only
How do I search by Order-in-Council Number?
Orders-in-council were assigned consecutive numbers according to their order of presentation to Cabinet during a calendar year. This number is the Order-in-Council Number. The first order-in-council for the year 1867, for example, is 1867 0001. If you know the order-in-council number, you can enter it in the Order-in-Council Number (yyyy nnnn) field. If you do not know the order-in-council number, general searches can be conducted by using wildcard characters. Use * to replace a chain of characters, for example "1878 0*" or "1878 02*."
How do I search by Keyword?
Enter a keyword to search the Item field. The Item field contains a short summary of the content of the order-in-council as recorded in the original registers maintained by the Privy Council Office.
To broaden your search, use wildcard characters. Use * to replace a chain of characters.
How do I search by Date?
The Date field allows you to search for records using the date that documents were introduced, considered and approved by the governor-in-council. Not all submissions recorded in the Privy Council registers were forwarded to the governor general for approval. Consequently, an official order-in-council will have information in all three date fields -- Date Introduced, Date Considered and Date Approved -- while other records, such as dormants or transferred documents, may display fewer than three dates.
The format for a date search is yyyy/mm/dd. If you do not know the exact date, you can use a wildcard character to retrieve records from an entire month or year. Use ? to replace a character or characters. For example, if you type "1867/07/??" you will get results for orders-in-council or other records submitted, considered and approved during the month of July 1867.
The format for a date search is yyyy/mm/dd. If you do not know the exact date, you can use a wildcard character to retrieve records from an entire month or year. Use * to replace characters. For example, if you type "1867/07/*" you will get results for orders-in-council or other records submitted, considered and approved during the month of July 1867.
The database does not allow a search by date range.
How do I increase the number of results appearing per page?
The Number of References per Page option allows you to change the number of records appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to 20.
A successful query will bring you to a result page. The number of results is determined by the number of records matching your search and by the Number of References per Page function, which allows you to change the number of records appearing on the results page for the duration of the search in progress. By default, the number is set to 20.
Each result page will display a line at the top that indicates the search term(s) used and the number of successful hits or references.
Individual results may contain the following fields:
Not all records will display each of these fields. For example, a submission that was not approved by the governor-in-council will not display a Date Approved field. At a minimum, all records will display the following information: Item, Order-in-Council Number, Reference and Register Number.
The Item refers to the title or summary used by the Privy Council Office to describe the content of the order-in-council. Keyword queries will search this field.
Orders-in-council were assigned consecutive numbers according to their order of presentation to Cabinet during a calendar year. This number is the Order-in-Council Number.
The date fields will help you to determine if an order-in-council was approved, if it became dormant, or if it was otherwise redirected. Orders-in-council which do not show a Date Approved are usually filed with the dormant documents (Privy Council Office fonds, RG2, Series A-1-c). Most records that do not include an approval date will contain information in the Notes field to account for how that record was administered by the Privy Council. Currently the "dormants" and other redirected documents are not digitized or available online.
Information in the Reference field will enable you to consult the original order-in-council documents held by LAC. To order these documents you must cite the Record Group number, the Series number, and the Volume number listed in the Reference field. The Reference field will also include a Reel number for materials available on microfilm. For more information on visiting and consulting material at LAC, please see Our Services.
The Register Number field provides the Series and Volume number of the annual registers that serve as a finding aid for orders-in-council. These registers may be consulted at LAC. For more information on visiting and consulting material at LAC, please see Our Services.
Notes will provide you with additional information about the record, such as annotations, amendments, referrals to related orders-in-council ("see also"), and revocation of existing orders-in-council.
Records with digitized images will include a series of numbered links corresponding to each page of the document. Click on a page number to view the image.
The orders-in-council database was developed in partnership with the Department of Justice Canada and with the guidance of Intellectual Archival Management Services at LAC. Data management services were provided by Public History Inc., Laura Carter, Angela Duffett and Eva Holland. Web Content and Services also gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose financial assistance through Canadian Culture Online (CCO) made this work possible.