About Searching

There are 2 main search interfaces: Simple search and Advanced search.

Simple Search

This is the easiest way to search for keywords or phrases. It is found at the top of every page, allowing you to start a new search even from a results page. It will give suggestions as you type.

simple search box

Advanced Search

locating advance search

This can be reached from any page by the link shown above. Use it to build complex searches or to narrow your search. Use it to build complex searches or to narrow your search. Advanced Search will show all the database records when it is first loaded.

Advanced search page

Use the Search button or Enter to start your Advanced Search.

To search on multiple fields, click the Add New Criteria button to add a field.

To narrow your search, use the Search Filters in the Advanced Search Options area and in the left sidebar.

You have six options in the Advanced Search Options Area:

  • Top-level descriptions: search only within a certain fonds or collection. Enter the exact name of the fonds or collection.
  • Level of Description: the levels of archival description such as fonds, series, file or item
  • Digital Object Available: “yes”, if you just want to find digital objects
  • Copyright status: the basic copyright status. This does not correspond to whether or not the digital object is freely available for use. For example, objects that are under copyright to the City of Vancouver are made freely available.
  • General Material Designation: the types of original records we have
  • Date range: the date of creation of the archival record. For an exact date, a full date (all of YYYY-MM-DD) is required. Most of our database entries do not have a full date, so Exact Date searches could miss some results.

You have seven options in the left sidebar:

  • Part of: lists the top ten fonds containing records in the database or in your search
  • Creator: lists the top ten. corporate bodies, persons, or families responsible for creating an entire group of records
  • Name: lists the top ten names, where names have been associated with records
  • Places: lists the top ten places, where places have been associated with records
  • Subjects: lists the top ten subjects, where subjects have been associated with records
  • Level of Description: the levels of archival description such as fonds, series, file or item
  • Media type: the types of digital objects available online

Example: Search for digital or digitized images, including photographs, about the Dominion Building. It’s a two-step process. One step is to search for “dominion building” and the other is to click on the Media Type “image” filter. These steps can be done in any order.

Advanced search images

More information about Advanced Search may be found here.

Search Tips

To find an exact phrase, use quotation marks. search box with quotation marks

The following punctuation marks all have special meanings when used in a search. They will cause your search to fail if they are used improperly. You can use quotation marks around the whole search word or phrase or delete the punctuation. If you wish to use them for searching, see the Power Users' Search section below.

+ - && || ! ( ) { } [ ] ^ " ~ * ? : \
Reference codes contain these punctuation marks, and so must be enclosed in quotation marks.

reference code in quotation marks

To search by date range, use the Advanced Search page and enter the start and end dates:
date search

Overlapping dates will produce the most results. To use the Exact Date search, select “Exact” and enter the full date (all of YYYY-MM-DD) in both Start and End.

exact date search

Other Ways to Discover

browse menu

From the top of any page, you can browse our:

  • Archival Descriptions: top-level descriptions
  • Persons/Organizations: creators of our records. The list is searchable by using the Search box at the top of the page. Each name links to the authority record for that person or organization, which may give a brief description of that creator, and links to descriptions associated with that creator.
  • Subjects: subjects used in our descriptions. Each subject links to a list of all descriptions using that term. This includes Vancouver neighbourhoods.
  • Place Names: place names used in our descriptions. Each place name links to a list of all descriptions using that term.
  • Digital Objects: thumbnails of digital objects. Each thumbnail takes you to the full description of that object

You can navigate from results by following links to other results. We strongly recommend that when navigating from one link to another, users open links in new tabs in their browser. Doing so will preserve your original result and make it easier to return to it.

Popular this week: the Search Archives home page has a list in the sidebar of recently accessed descriptions.


There are three main types:

  • Results List
  • Full Description

A Results List will list all results of your search and looks like this:

sample search results list

The above results show

  • what you searched for  (“dominion building”)
  • how many results there are (46)
  • how many descriptions have digital objects (37), next to a link to refine your search to only those descriptions
  • whether there’s a digital object (thumbnail appears)
  • available facets for narrowing your search (in the sidebar, listed by category)

You can click the paperclip on the right to save a result to your clipboard. Your clipboard will empty at the end of your search session.

The results list may be sorted in these ways:

  • Alphabetic (by default)
  • Most recent (database records most recently changed or added)
  • Reference code (will sort by overall reference code within the fonds)
  • Date (date of creation of the archival records)

A Full Description is linked from a title or thumbnail in the results list. It shows the description in context and gives you more detailed information.

example of full description results

The left sidebar has two tabs:

  • Holdings: displays the current description (highlighted) in its arrangement hierarchy and provides links to related descriptions in the hierarchy. Descriptions that contain lower levels can be expanded or collapsed to show or hide the links to descriptions in those lower levels. Clicking on the ellipsis above or below a block of descriptions in one level expands the block
  • Quick search: searches within the current arrangement hierarchy. It searches Title or Identifier fields

The right sidebar provides additional information:

  • Another chance to add the record to your clipboard
  • Export: allows a user to export the current description as in either Dublin Core or Encoded Archival Description XML format
  • Container name: lists the name of the physical storage container in which the unit is housed. Do not use this name for citation purposes. Use the Reference Code instead.

Higher-resolution digital objects are available.

What's available online?

  • For photographs and other graphic material, click on the image to view a higher resolution JPEG file, and click a second time to view it in its original size.
  • For moving images, use the Download Movie link below the streaming version to download a high-resolution version. The file is h264 in mp4. A good universal media player is VLC.
  • More information about the downloadable digital object, such as file size, may be found in the Digital Object Area of the Full Description.

What else do we have?

We may have a master copy in a different format, for which there will be a reproduction charge. If the item has been digitized, we will have a higher-quality file.
For example, we will have uncompressed TIFF files of digitized images. In most cases, the freely downloadable JPG file will be good enough, but you might need a TIFF because:

  • It's uncompressed, so it might look a little clearer than the jpg (fewer compression artifacts). This may only be necessary if you are blowing it up to the size of a wall.
  • It's uncompressed, so if you're doing a lot of manipulation of the image, it will not be degraded by repeated saving (again, fewer compression artifacts). A workaround is to download our high-res jpg and immediately save it as an uncompressed TIF.
  • Your publisher demands it.

Power Users' Search

If you are used to sophisticated searching, here are the symbols that work in our system and their behaviour.



Term enclosed in quotes must appear exactly as provided. Example: "towel" will find towel, but not towels.


Term after "+" must be in the result. Example: +tea cricket requires that results that must contain the term tea in them, and may have the term cricket.


Term after "-" must not be in the result. Example: -tea cricket requires that results that must not contain the term tea in them, and may have the term cricket.


Single character wildcard. Example: p?per will find paper and piper, but not pepper.


Multiple character wildcard. Example: galax* will find galaxy and galaxies, but not galactic.


Fuzzy search. Will return results with words similar to the term. Example: fjord~ will find fjord, fjords, ford, form, fonds, etc.


Boolean operator. Can be used in place of AND. Will cause an error if combined with spelled-out operators. Example: Arthur && Ford AND Zaphod will fail; Arthur && Ford && Zaphod will succeed. It can be used to search for date ranges in the simple search box. Example: (startDate:>1939) && (startDate: will find all records with start dates between 1939 and 1945.


Boolean operator. Can be used in place of OR. Will cause an error if combined with spelled-out operators.


Boolean operator. Can be used in place of NOT. Will cause an error if combined with spelled-out operators.


Boost relevance. Multiplies the relevance of the preceding term by the number following the symbol, affecting the sorting of the search results. Example: paranoid android^5 gives results containing the term "android" 5x the relevance as results containing only the word "paranoid", and will sort them closer to the start of the search results.


Escapes the immediately following character, so that it is treated as text, rather than as a special character.

( )

Used to group search clauses.

[ ]

Closed interval range search. Example: title:["Frogstar" TO "Magrathea"] will find every title in the alphabetic range between "Frogstar" and "Magrathea", including"Frogstar" and "Magrathea".

{ }

Open interval range search. Example: title:{"Frogstar" TO "Magrathea"} will find every title in the alphabetic range between "Frogstar" and "Magrathea", excluding"Frogstar" and "Magrathea".