Archives, Libraries, and Repositories
All records used in genealogical research were originally generated for other purposes. The information collected was that required for those purposes. Records are transferred to archival repositories (such as the Archives of Ontario) when no longer needed for the original purposes. Archival records will generally be stored and filmed (if microfilmed) in the form and order in which transferred, and there may or may not be some sort of index or finding aid. Archivists and others may have made additional indices or finding aids; these can be very helpful. An index, no matter how helpful, remains only an index. The indexed item will almost always have more information than the index can contain, and the index may contain errors.
Archives have as their main function the preservation of the documents and artifacts in their collections. Access and usage are governed by rules designed to preserve those collections for future generations. Please help them towards that goal by learning and following the rules.
Other repositories similarly have purposes which may be different from assisting genealogical research. Public libraries build and preserve collections for the use of the people of the area that provides their funding. University libraries develop their collection to serve the educational and research needs of the academic community. Both are generally hospitable to outside researchers but may impose rules or fees on those not otherwise supporting them financially.
You should first find out what is held by your local public (and university) libraries and what they can provide via inter-library loan services. If you have a Family History Center (FHC) which you can use, you have access to the many Ontario records held by the Family History Library. Check the Family History Library Catalogue under Ontario as a place for details of their holdings. If they list a microfilm or microfiche copy of an item, it can usually be brought, in that form, to any FHC.
Many genealogically significant Canadian publications have been copied on microfiche by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction - Early Canadiana Online (CIHM) and many libraries have part or all of the CIHM fiche collection even if they do not have a particular book in their catalogue.
Some records may be available only at a particular repository, and may require travel. Always consult the repository in advance of any trip for hours and access restrictions.
Increasing resources are available on the internet, but only a limited amount are actual scanned original records. Indexes can be useful, but even the best transcriptions contain errors and omissions, and not all that is out there is even very good or very complete.
See the Links page for contacts to some repositories.