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Article Published March 04, 2001

Salle Gagnon: An Almost Hidden Treasure
By Xenia Stanford

I spent much of the month of October 2000 in Montreal and Quebec City. While there I had a chance to revisit many of the genealogical depositories in those two cities, reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

One of my favourite places to conduct research in Montreal had been renovated since previous visits. Many new improvements have been made but the old reliable sources are still there. I am talking about Salle Gagnon nestled within Le Bibliothèque Centrale de Montréal at 1210, rue Sherbrooke Est (Sherbrooke Street East), Montréal (Québec) H2L 1L9.

Montreal's central library is an imposing structure with its ancient Greek façade of tall pillars. Salle Gagnon can be found in "le Sous sol" downstairs from the main entrance. A library clerk sits at the desk near the entrance to the Salle Gagnon and can point you to a carrel reserved for laptop plug-in near the stacks. This is only one of the new improvements since my last visit.

Salle Gagnon, the special genealogical section of Montreal's central public library, should not be confused with Salle André-Gagnon, a theatre at the College of La Pocatière or Salle Henri-Gagnon, a musical theatre at Laval University. Gagnon is almost like the English name Smith in its frequency and Salle means "hall" or "gallery".

Hours and Access

Thus, if you are looking on the Internet for the location and hours of the Salle Gagnon, you are more likely to find other Salle entries. The entry for the genealogical Salle Gagnon does not have a separate reference to it on Montreal's public libraries site. However, the hours are the same as those listed for the central (Centrale) library collections.

Those currently published on the website are as follows [as of March 2001]:
    Mondays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
    Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
    Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
    Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
    Fridays from 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
    Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
You can also phone (514) 872-5923 for hours to make sure the library is open when you plan to visit. The recording, like the website, is only in French. However, if you wish to inquire in English, listen for the prompt to speak to a reference person, who can usually assist you in either official language of Canada.

Accessing the collection onsite is free to all - locals and visitors alike. However, if a visitor wishes to use certain services, such as the CD-ROM and telephone reference, or to borrow non-reference books, he or she must purchase a library card. The card is free with proof of residency in Montreal but for visitors the prices are $88 for those 14 years to 54 years old, $56 for those 55 and over, and $44 for children under 14 years of age.

Difficulties Faced By the Library

One of the reasons Salle Gagnon may be such a hidden treasure is that it was closed for almost 3 years to fix severe structural problems. From September 1993 to April 1996 the entire building was closed while millions of dollars were spent ensuring the structure did not collapse or disappear into the river.

The other reason the library is discreet about publishing much information about itself is due to the restricted budget. This means the personnel are a small and hard-working group. I was informed that they are already six months to several years behind on requests. To reduce the requirements, staff members do not conduct written or telephone research to non-card carrying patrons. They will give limited onsite assistance and provide some interlibrary loans.

In the case of the requests from other libraries, only photocopying can be done rather than actual loans since the entire collection is reference only material. When asked how best to take advantage of their resources from afar, the answer was "hire a local genealogist or have a friend or relative come in person."

A further limitation is the size of the research area and the number of microform readers. Even though the room has been significantly enlarged and the seating rearranged before the reopening, the library is sometimes so busy one cannot find a place to sit nor can the shelves or drawers be easily accessed with several lined up waiting to look at the same book or same microfilm.

After waiting patiently to look at a volume of the blue Drouin while I consulted other books, I finally determined the item I wanted would not be returned to the shelf. Sure enough there it was on a table piled under other books fiercely guarded by another patron. After I asked very politely to only use it for a few minutes did the other researcher return my smile and hand the book over.

Another problem is that in spite of the extension of the floor space devoted to Salle Gagnon, only a little more than a quarter of the book and manuscript collection is actually onsite. The rest is in a warehouse. Therefore, for day or short term visitors the very item required may be offsite. I was told transfers could take one to two days with no service on weekends.

Resources Available

However, one of the reasons the Salle Gagnon is such a treasure is that it contains some very rare documents and resources and is the largest genealogical collection in Quebec.

When the new Civil Code came into effect on January 1, 1994 in Quebec, all documents dating from 1900 forward were to be restricted from public use for privacy reasons. This caused a great difficulty for Salle Gagnon since many of their microfilms were organized by name rather than date or contained both records from pre and post 1900s. It would have been far too much work to cut out the portions giving post 1900 records or would have restricted the access to the entire film collection until sometime in the mid 21st century.

For this reason Salle Gagnon is one of the few places you can find vital records information for dates beyond 1900 without going to the Director of Civil Records and knowing the exact date, location and parties to a vital event and being the principal person of the record or next of kin to a deceased named person.

No further recording and releasing of post 1900 vital records can be made but those in the collection dating to about 1940 remain available.

Other rare and unpublished manuscripts are found only at Salle Gagnon. For example, at John Dulong's website Bibliography for Tracing French Noble Families he mentions the two volume typed manuscript by Aegidius Fauteux called "Armorial du Canada français", which can be consulted only at Salle Gagnon.

A list of some of the resources in the Salle Gagnon can be found in Gary Schroder's article The Montreal Municipal Library: "Salle Gagnon" originally published in the June 1996 issue of Connections.

Therefore, I will not review the items in the collection at this time.

The indexes to the microfilms and microfiche are in red binders in Salle Gagnon but some of the microform and most of the books can be found through the online catalogue.

Searching With the Aid of Merlin

The automated catalogue of Montreal's public library is called Merlin and is accessible through the Web

Select either the English or French version and then use the button labelled "Local Search" in English or "Recherche locale" in French. The Z39.50 search is restricted to staffs of cooperating libraries.

You can search the catalogue by keyword in the Author, Title, Subject, Series, Publisher and Call Number fields. Of course, in the Call Number field the keyword will have to be the beginning of or an exact call number. The library uses DDC or Dewey Decimal Classification so 929 will be the genealogy sections and then the decimal place numbers will relate to specific locales and areas within the broader subject.

However, unless you are very familiar with DDC, are looking for a specific book for which you know the call number but cannot remember the title or want to see what items are next to each other on a shelf, you will probably not conduct searches using this selection.

Although there is an English version of the search engine what you retrieve will be listed in the language of publication. Furthermore, just because the prompts are in English does not mean an English search term will retrieve all the relevant documents, especially if the language of publication and indexing are French.

For example, I searched using the word "genealogy" as a subject term and retrieved only 9 items. When I used the French term "généalogie", the number of hits increased to 383. Using both the French and the English term in a combined search (généalogie or genealogy) I retrieved 392. Whether using the English or French version of the search engine, wherever possible type in the keyword in both languages separated by "or" or "ou".

This will retrieve documents using either the English term or the French term. This way you will retrieve more hits.

You may also limit the search by using two terms together meaning they must be found in the same document. You may separate them by "and" or "et" but it is not necessary as this search engine looks for them both together as long as you have not separated them by the search operator "or".

For example, try "généalogie drouin" as a subject search. You should retrieve one document.

Be careful though when doing combined searches as "généalogie or genealogy and drouin". When I tried it, the results retrieved were based on the first search term (généalogie) only. Unless you know how to search using Boolean logic and you know how this search engine utilizes this logic, stick to the "or" terms or combined terms only in a search statement. In other words don't mix your "ands" and "ors" unless you know what you are doing.

Also, like most library catalogues the results will not give you the actual record but the citation. You still would have to view the item onsite or borrow it from a library.

You can restrict the search by library but Salle Gagnon does not show up as searchable separately. To narrow it down you can choose the parent library listed as Centrale.

If a search is successful (that is, documents are found), a list of items will be produced.

For example, here is the first page of my search using "généalogie or genealogy" as keywords in the Subject field:

    Subject = généalogie or genealogy [Keyword]

    392 Records

    Records 1 to 10 /392
    1. 1996 Book list / [of the St. Louis Genealogical Society's library collection ; designed and edite... - St. Louis Genealogical Society [*7 rec.] - 1996

    2. 250 généalogies d'hommes célèbres ou plus ou moins célèbres. - Villeneuve, Amyot [*1 rec.] - 1963

    3. A la recherche de nos ancêtres : Guide du généalogiste. - Grégoire, Jeanne, 1898- [*14 rec.] - 1957

    4. A la recherche de vos ancêtres : guide du généalogiste amateur / Yann Grandeau. - Grandeau, Yann, m. 1979. [*1 rec.] - 1984

    5. ABC de généalogie / Valérie Gautier ; éditeur, Michel Grancher. - Gautier, Valérie. [*2 rec.] - 1994

    6. ABC de la généalogie / Jean-Louis Beaucarnot. - Beaucarnot, Jean-Louis. [*17 rec.] - 1992

    7. Les actes d'état civil et la documentation généalogique. - Barbin, Michel [*1 rec.] - 1983

    8. Ah, la famille! / Moka ; illustrations de Mette Ivers. - Moka, 1958- [*28 rec.] - 1997

    9. The American genealogist [Centrale] - American genealogist (New Haven, Conn.) - 1937

    10. Ancestor hunting / by Lorraine Henriod ; ill. by Janet Potter D'Amato. - Henriod, Lorraine. [*2 rec.] - 1979
    Page of 40

When you click on the symbol between the numerical entry and the title information (for example a symbol of a book), the full catalogue entry will be shown. Then if you click on the stack of books (copies) symbol at the top, it will show you each copy, the call number and which library or collection it is in.

For example, when I clicked on the copies symbol for a document in the Salle Gagnon collection, it showed the following:
    Chronica. 1 [fichier d'ordinateur] : jugements et délibérations du Conseil souverain (1663-1716) - Nouvelle-France. Conseil souverain [*40 rec.] - 1995
    · CENTRALE - Gagnon - Postes de référence CD-ROM
    1. For use in library only
    2. In processing
This means there is one copy available for use in Salle Gagnon and another that is not available as it is still being processed or prepared. It also shows that it in the CD-ROM reference section.

You will notice that the indication the item is in Salle Gagnon is by the listing Centrale - Gagnon. The name is listed first by the library branch name (Centrale) and then by the collection or section name (in this case abbreviated to Gagnon).

Another thing you will notice in the list above is there are different symbols used to indicate the type of document. There are several red books in the list above but one strange looking and different symbol.

My search below on the Keyword CD shows three different symbols:

    Title = CD [Keyword]
    295 Records
    Records 1 to 10 /295

    1. 3D studio max 2-2.5 (+1 cd-rom) - Springinsfeld, Serge [*1 rec.]

    2. L'AB-- CD-ROM : guide d'implantation d'un service d'information sur CD-ROM / par Gilles Deschatel... - Deschatelets, Gilles, 1945- [*2 rec.] - 1992

    3. Actualité/Québec [fichier d'ordinateur] : banque d'articles de presse / contenu et édition réalis... - 1992

    4. ADI. Anglais multimédia, CM [fichier d'ordinateur] : accompagnement scolaire / conception et prod... - 1996

    5. L'Allemand facile : méthode de langue sur CD et cassettes / [adaptation française, Gérard Bourcy] - 1995

    6. American book prices current : a record of books, manuscripts and autographs compiled from the au... - 1895

    7. American Medical Association family medical guide [fichier d'ordinateur] : the essential interact... - 1995

    8. L'Anglais facile : la nouvelle méthode de langue sur CD et cassettes. - 1995

    9. Annuaire du CD-ROM : liste des titres disponibles en France en ... - 1989

    10. L'Annuaire du télécopieur du Québec = Québec facsimile directory. - 1989
    Page of 30

Some of the symbols used in the catalogue are as follows:
    (includes manuscripts and other paper documents)

    (includes journals, newspapers, multi-volume texts)

    Paintings, postcards, posters
    or other (non-computerized) graphics

    Computer file
    (includes fiche, microfilm, CD-ROM, laser disc)


    Musical score

Another useful button on the search page is the one labelled as History (Historique), which will give you a recap of all your search statements once you have conducted at least one search.

If you find a number of citations that you wish to save and print as a list later, save the entries in the Basket (Panier) by clicking on the Save button when viewing an entry you want to add.

Remember this will retrieve items not just from Salle Gagnon, but will include items from all the Montreal libraries unless you restrict it to Centrale. If you do select Centrale from the menu you will retrieve documents from the entire Centrale collection, not just those in the Salle Gagnon section.

Certainly if the document is elsewhere, you may wish to know anyway.

However, if you are planning you are planning a visit to Salle Gagnon, you may wish to save the must-see items in your Basket and print out the completed list to take along.

Bonne Chance!

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