Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects (Parks DVD)

The Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects (Parks DVD web application) is no longer being updated by Parks Canada; this application will be decommissioned in 2019. However, the Parks DVD has been harmonized with Nomenclature 4.0, and the new combined standard is now available at For more information, consult the notice about the Nomenclature web application.

Look and Learn about our Collections of Objects

Based on the Parks Canada Classification System for Historical Collections

About the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects
From Chenhall To Parks Canada
A Scientific Tool Serving Collections Management And Research

About the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects

Parks Canada and CHIN have collaborated to create this Web version of the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects. The Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects is a bilingual museum classification system and vocabulary standard used in Canada for humanities collections. It helps museums cataloguing collections to identify, name, and classify objects using definitions and illustrations. This classification system is based on an object's original function (the purpose for which the object was created).

Museums can consult the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects online, navigating through the hierarchical classification structure, or searching for definitions of categories, classes or object terms. Images and descriptions of many terms are included.

From Chenhall To Parks Canada

In the early 1970s, few specialized and standardized tools existed for identifying and classifying objects. Curators and registrars were often the only ones to have memorized entire collections and their classification systems. In the years 1974-1978, Robert G. Chenhall, assisted by a team of professionals from historical museums, developed a classification system for material culture collections based on models used for scientific collections. This classification system is particularly based on an object's original function, which corresponds to the needs for which the object was created. Original functions can be identified in almost all cases, even though objects evolve over time and sometimes change function.

In 1979, Parks Canada began using the Chenhall system, which was officially adopted in 1983 as the reference framework for classifying historical objects and reproductions. To properly cover the variety of themes handled in the Parks Canada national historic sites and national parks, much had to be added to the Chenhall system. This classification system covers the same categories and classes, but also reflects the distinctiveness of the Parks Canada national collection, and thus the Canadian reality. As examples, we might mention military objects, items connected with the fur trade, as well as costumes and product packaging.

Moreover, Parks Canada, as a countrywide agency, has had to deal with the coexistence of English and French terms. To link the two list of terms in the collections management data base, an alphanumeric code was assigned to each term in the list in order to bridge the gap between the English and French terms. For example, RECEIVER, HAIR and BOÎTE À CHEVEUX have the same code (C180:03-00533).

A Scientific Tool Serving Collections Management And Research

As custodian and manager of the national collection encompassing over 500,000 historical objects and reproductions, Parks Canada has developed tools to provide enhanced management of its objects and thus a more effective fulfilment of its mandate; to safeguard and promote Canada's heritage. Amongst these tools is featured:

  • The Artifact Information System (AIS), which is highly effective in providing rapid computerized access to the whole national collection.
  • The Canadian Parks Service Classification System for Historical Collections.
  • The Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects to facilitate the identification of an object by the appellation, definition or illustration.


From the very beginning of the project, Parks Canada worked in collaboration with ethnologists, linguists, translators, terminologists and technical writers from the University of Ottawa and Laval University. Furthermore, during the entire development process of the Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects, Parks Canada also benefited from the expertise of numerous other specialists in the fields of language and objects.

We would particularly like to thank Parks Canada's Christina Cameron, who prepared the preface for the first volume published; Carol Sheedy, whose indefatigable support enabled us to develop and publish the Dictionary (the English and French versions); as well as Laurent Tremblay, Bruce W. Fry, Richard Lindo and Louis R. Richer who supported the project on an on-going basis, as well as Louise Bernard, Rosemary Campbell, Richard Gauthier and Rodger McNicoll, who were responsible for overseeing the production of the printed version.

Editorial Committee: Louise Bernard, Rosemary Campbell, Leslie-Ann Chang, Marc Duhaime, Paul-Aimé Lacroix, Diane LeBrun, Renée Martel, Timothy Mellin, Anna Nieminen, Miriam Pearse, Raymond Pepermans, Lenka Podzimek, Adèle St-Pierre, Gynette Tremblay and Jean-Luc Vincent.

With the participation of: Myrna Andrew, Angèle Aubin, Pierre Auger, Nicole Barge, Monique Barrette, Carlos Bazan, Robert Beevaj, Heather B. Belhumeur, Stacey Bennett, Gaston Bergeron, Yves Bergeron, Anne Bérubé, Élaine Bouchard, Charles Bradley, Annie Brisset, Gail Cariou, Nadia Chaboa, Élaine Charron, Isabelle Clerc, Rosemary Covert, Derek Cooke, Elizabeth Crook, Simon Courcy, Paul-André Cyr, Hélène D'Amours, Micheline Daigle, Stephen Davis, François Miville-Deschênes, Anne-Marie Desdouits, Valérie Desmeules, Donna Desprey, Leslie Dodds, Brigitte Donvez, Élise Dubuc, Sylvie Dumesnil, Phil Dunning, Jean-Claude Dupont, Danielle Duval, Ahmed Elkhamloussy, Monica Fehlner, Yvan Fortier, Ruby Fougère, Jasmine Fréchette, Lucie Gagnon, Terrence Gartland, Julie Gauvin, Geraldine Getchell, Marie-Claude Giroux, André Gousse, Yves Goyette, Gérard Gusset, Dany Hamel, Irma Hebert, Patricia Houle, Holly Hunter, Dave Jenkins, Annette Jennen, Olive R. Jones, Nancy Lafontaine, Normand Lafrenière, Sue Lambeth, Caroline Lanthier, Luc Lapointe, Esther Lartey, Yvon Legendre, Virginia Lockett, Stephen Lohnes, David Lowe, Armelle Mongé, Jennifer Marcoux, Julie Marcoux, Jennefer McAlleer, Ruth Mills, Kristen Mackintosh, Diane Michaud, Éric Morin, François Morrisette, Gilles Paré, Madeleine Pastinelli, Miriam Pearse, Audra Poirier, Hélène Quimper, de Isabelle Richard, Nadia Ringuet, Sylvie Robitaille, Jacqueline Roy, Lucie Roy, Margo Magee Sackett, Marie-Géraldy Seide, Céline St-Pierre, Catherine Sullivan, Sue Surgeson, Lynn Sussman, Hélène Tardif, Allyson Tolley, Jacques Toussaint, Louis-Claude Tremblay, Robert Vézina, Malcolm Williams and Adrienne Yuen.

And with the collaboration of: Sonia Adolphe, Myrna Andrew, Jean Audet, Béatrice Baffert, Jeannot Bélanger, Jean-Claude Boulanger, Jennifer Brooker, Tim Campbell, Claudia Chauvet, Debbie Cochrane, Tiphaine Crenn, Réal D'Amours, Pierre Demers, Leslie Dobbs, Normand Dubé, Patrick Duffley, Maurice Dufour, Jean-Marie T. Du Sault, Jean Etcheverry, Catriona Fagan, Alaric Faulkner, Chris Frost, Julie Gagnon, Julia Gdowski, Kim Goodman, Solange Harvey, Patricia Houle, Robert Innes, Clémence Jacob-Bernard, Ellen Justynski, Frank Klingender, François Latulippe, Richard Latulippe, Joel Laurier, Paul-André Leclerc, Lynne Leslie, Dorothea Larsen, Valerie Lister, Nancy McCarthy, Noémie Morisset, Magella Paradis, Dale Pegg, Viateur Perreault, Gisèle Piédalue Carol Pillar, Hélène Porter, John R. Porter, Michel Thomas Poulin, Danielle Roy, Nicole Royer, Denis Tremblay, Genny Tremblay and Daniel Vallée.

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