Environment Canada observational weather data collection coming to Western

Nationally-significant environmental data that has been stored, in paper form, by Environment Canada dating back nearly 175 years is coming on long-term loan to Western University to be preserved, digitized and shared for research and teaching.

 January 30, 2014

 January 30, 2014

Nationally-significant environmental data that has been stored, in paper form, by Environment Canada dating back nearly 175 years is coming on long-term loan to Western University to be preserved, digitized and shared for research and teaching.

About NiCHE

Understanding today’s environment demands a clear understanding of its past. Unless environmental matters are studied in their historical context, there can be no measurement of relative change. NiCHE is a confederation of researchers and educators who work at the intersection of nature and history, seeking to provide that context. NiCHE acts to help make that work more available to fellow researchers, policy makers and the Canadian public.

An initiative led by Western’s NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment, Western Archives will soon receive an archival collection of Canadian daily observational weather records spanning the period from 1840 to 1960.

The collection consists of approximately 1,000 boxes of observations from thousands of weather stations across Canada, along with 250 volumes of journals, observations, letterbooks and correspondence that make up the history of the Meteorological Service of Canada itself. The collection will arrive at Western over the next several weeks and will be available to researchers in Western Archives by the summer.

“Canada is a big country that has always been obsessed with the weather. As a result, we’ve created a massive amount of climate data valuable for studying global climate change today,” says Alan MacEachern, a history professor at Western’s Faculty of Social Science and the Director of NiCHE. “The arrival of this collection will not only be a great boon to climatologists and historians at Western but it will also make Western a destination for climate history researchers from across Canada and beyond.”

In 1840, the Upper Canada government turned grammar schools into part-time weather stations, with teachers compiling systematic meteorological observations. By Confederation, the predecessor of Environment Canada ran a network of weather stations along a narrow band of Eastern Canada, and over time the number and range of these stations grew greatly, across the Prairies, the North, and the Pacific West.

“The part of the collection documenting the Meteorological Service’s own history has never been made available to researchers,” explains MacEachern. “As for the daily observational records, Environment Canada has already extracted the data it needed and created the National Climate Data and Information Archive but these records contain a bounty of historical information still waiting to be explored.”

The new home of the collection, Western Archives provides a wide range of services to support Western’s goals for research, scholarship and teaching and learning.

Robin Keirstead, Western’s University Archivist and Acting University Librarian, explains, “Western Libraries is very pleased to partner with NiCHE and Environment Canada to arrange this long term loan, which highlights the key role Western’s libraries and archives can play in supporting and facilitating research.”

Media are invited to visit Western’s Archives and Research Collections Centre at Weldon Library on Thursday, January 30 at 1 p.m. as MacEachern and Keirstead will present samples of the incoming collection.

1913 Daily Observations

Fig.1. 1913 Daily Observations
A sample of the extensive weather-related information to be found within the 1000 boxes of daily observation records now coming to Western. This is the November 1913 page from the Goderich, Ontario weather station, and chronicles “the Big Blow,” a storm in which 19 ships went down and 250 were killed, the deadliest natural disaster ever on the Great Lakes.


Fig. 2. 1913 Letterbook
A valuable part of the collection coming to Western is a long series of letterbooks – volumes of all outgoing letters, either handwritten or carbon copied – belonging to the director of the Meteorological Service of Canada. Here, from the 1913 volume, R.F. Stupart describes the Big Blow.


Fig. 3. 1913 Newspapers
Within the Environment Canada collection are a number of unique items, such as this large scrapbook of clippings of early 20th century Canadian weather events. Here is the front page of the Toronto World, when the extent of the damage and death caused by the Big Blow was becoming clear.


Fig. 4. 1855 Letterbook
A page from the 1855 letterbook of George Kingston, considered the father of Canadian meteorology. Thanks to the long-term loan from Environment Canada, Western becomes home to a collection important to the history of science in Canada.


Latest Media Coverage