Definitions of the categories

The categories used to classify most artifacts held by the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation are based on the Parks Canada classification system (adapted from The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloguing. A Revised and Expanded Version of Robert G. Chenhall's System for Classifying Man-Made Objects, by James R. Blackaby, Patricia Greeno, and The Nomenclature Committee; AASLH Press, 1988).

The category definitions given here are extracts, abridged and adapted, from the publication Canadian Parks Service Classification System for Historical Collections, Environment Canada, 1992, and revisions supplied by Rosemary Campbell, National Collections Manager, Parks Canada, reproduced with permission.

Not all of the categories, nor all of the examples given in each category, are represented in the Collections Storage space of the Virtual Museum.


Artifacts originally created to define space for human activities or to be used as components of space-defining artifacts.
  • permanent structures, such as buildings, or portable structures, such as tents;
  • architectural samples integral to buildings, such as wall sections or roof sections;
  • interpretive models of buildings;
  • building components that function as integral parts of larger structures but were created as separate, distinct and generally interchangeable structural or decorative parts of a building, such as doors, mantels, and window frames;
  • site features created as a distinct element to complement other structures, such as birdbaths, flagpoles, and gates.


Artifacts originally created to facilitate human activity and to meet the physical needs of people generally by offering comfort, convenience, or protection. Clothing is excluded from this classification as it addresses only the needs of specific individuals. Furnishings are not artifacts used as active agents in other processes such as tools or equipment; they passively enable human activity.
  • artifacts used on a bed or in association with sleeping, such as blankets, and pillows;
  • artifacts created as a portable or temporary covering for a building floor, such as rugs or carpeting;
  • furniture, such as desks, tables, and chairs;
  • accessories that enhance, complement or facilitate the maintenance of the household environment, such as soap dishes, vases, waste-baskets, and table covers;
  • artifacts created to provide illumination, including accessories such as candlesnuffers, portable devices such as lanterns, and fixtures such as streetlamps;
  • plumbing fixtures attached as an integral component to water and sewer lines;
  • artifacts created to enable people to control the temperature of their immediate environment for human comfort, such as stoves and woodbins.
  • coverings or adornment for windows, doors or doorways, such as curtains or valances.

Personal Artifacts

Artifacts originally created to serve an individual's personal needs such as clothing, adornment, body protection, or grooming aids.
  • objects worn on the human body or on clothing for adornment (rather than for protection or simply as a body covering), such as rings, necklaces, and pendants;
  • clothing created as a covering or protection for the human body, including boots, stockings, hats, bonnets, coats, dresses, petticoats, and corsets;
  • accessories used in association with clothing -- worn, such as belts, gloves or cuff links, or used for minor care of clothing, such as shoe-polish applicators;
  • gear used by an individual as a carrying device (such as a wallet or knapsack), as protective apparatus (such as an umbrella or goggles), as a physical aid (such as a cane or eyeglasses), or as smoking equipment and supplies (such as a pipe), as well as military accoutrements (such as canteens or pouches) not directly associated with armament;
  • toilet articles used for personal care, hygiene, or grooming, such as razors and cosmetics.

Tools and Equipment for Materials

Tools, equipment, and supplies originally created to manage, oversee, capture, harvest or collect resources and to transform or modify particular materials, both raw and processed. These artifacts are normally created in response to problems inherent in the materials themselves. Wood requires certain kinds of cutting devices, fish require certain lures, food requires certain serving utensils.
Includes tools, equipment, and supplies for:
  • farming and gardening, including implements used in planting, tending, harvesting, and storing crops and in processing food for animals;
  • the care, breeding, and study of animals, such as instruments used in veterinary medicine or the tools a farrier uses to shoe animals;
  • capturing animals by any means other than weaponry, such as nets, traps, and fishhooks;
  • processing, storing, and preparing food or beverages for human consumption, such as churns or cheese slicers;
  • the service, presentation or consumption of food or beverages by humans, such as cups and saucers;
  • cutting, handling, or processing timber or for harvesting forest crops (e.g. bark, sap), such as bark shredders or felling axes;
  • fabricating objects from homogeneous complex compounds (e.g. glass, clay, plastics), such as candle molds and glazier points;
  • processing materials that are animal in origin (e.g. fur, hides, shell, horn, bone, feathers), such as beaming knives, awls, or a harness maker's bench;
  • working with natural stone or with aggregate materials (e.g. concrete, brick, plaster), such as bushhammers and trowels;
  • casting, forging, machining, or fabricating metals or metal products, such as anvils or a sheet metalworker's snips;
  • for extracting materials in solid, liquid, or gaseous state from the natural environment, such as equipment used for mining, prospecting, and ice or salt harvesting;
  • working with materials that mask large surfaces (e.g. paint, wallpaper, gold leaf), such as putty knives or wallpaper brushes;
  • manufacturing paper;
  • preparing materials made from fibres and preparing woven fabrics, such as sewing needles, embroidery scissors, and cotton gins;
  • fabricating objects from wood, such as clamps, saws, planes;
  • fabricating objects (e.g. baskets, brooms, brushes) out of fibrous materials that are generally coarser than those used for textiles;
  • fabricating nonfood products (e.g. cigars) out of tobacco and related vegetable products;
  • fabricating objects out of crystalline materials, such as jewellers' gem-cutting tools;
  • manufacturing soap from hardwood ash residue, such as potash cauldrons or soap sticks;
  • fabricating wigs and hair pieces from fibres.

Tools and Equipment for Science and Technology

Tools, equipment, and supplies used to observe natural phenomena or to apply knowledge gained from such observations. Tools in this category tend to be made to enlarge or record our understanding of the world or to help express such understanding.
Includes tools, equipment, and supplies for:
  • studying sound and its effect upon hearing, such as tuning forks;
  • hunting, target shooting, warfare or self-protection, such as firearms (e.g. rifles, pistols), edged weapons and tools that launch edged weapons (e.g. bayonets, crossbows), armament designed to batter or crush by weight or momentum (e.g. clubs, sling-shots), artillery (e.g. cannon), ammunition, body armor, and accessories associated with armament (e.g. cartridge boxes, sword belts);
  • observing, measuring and documenting objects and events outside the earth's atmosphere, such as astrolabes;
  • observing, measuring and documenting physiological or anatomical aspects of organisms for purposes other than diagnosis or treatment;
  • studying or manufacturing chemical substances, such as beakers or stills;
  • moving earth and building structures, such as paving machines, jackhammers, and pile drivers;
  • observing, measuring, and documenting electrical and magnetic phenomena, such as ammeters and fuseboards;
  • generating, converting or distributing energy or power, such as motors or generators;
  • observing, measuring, and documenting geological phenomena, such as geologists' picks;
  • cleaning or laundering activities, such as clothes wringers and irons;
  • studying, measuring, or utilizing the static and dynamic properties of solids, liquids, and gases, such as hoists and pressure gauges;
  • examining, testing, diagnosing, and treating humans, such as dental tools, dose spoons, and splints;
  • facilitating or enabling the exchange of goods and services, such as counters as well as specific product packages;
  • observing, measuring, and documenting atmospheric phenomena, such as weather vanes and barometers;
  • studying atomic structure and elementary particles as well as the physical properties of the universe;
  • observing, measuring, and recording light, such as binoculars and microscopes;
  • regulating the behaviour of people, providing security or protection for property, and carrying out non-ceremonial activities of governmental organizations (e.g. police protection), such as handcuffs and whips;
  • determining the position of an observer relative to known reference points or to indicate the form and extent of a region, such as sextants;
  • observing, measuring, and documenting heat and its effects, such as thermometers;
  • recording and measuring time, such as clocks;
  • observing, measuring, and recording weight or physical dimensions, such as precision gauges or folding rules.

Tools and Equipment for Communication

Tools, equipment, and supplies used to enable communications, including literal (e.g. printing) and abstract (e.g. musical). This category does not include things produced as communication, such as works of art and documents, which are listed under Communication Artifacts.
Includes tools, equipment, and supplies for:
  • processing data by manual, mechanical, or electronic means, such as abacuses and computers;
  • precision drawing, such as T-squares and drafting tables;
  • producing musical sounds, such as drums and violins;
  • capturing permanent visual images by optical and chemical means, such as cameras or film-processing tanks;
  • reproducing written, photographic, or artistic material, such as handpresses and engraver's blocks;
  • amplifying or storing music, spoken words, or other sounds, such as foghorns or megaphones;
  • facilitating communication at a distance, such as telephones, radios, and televisions;
  • use as visual signs or signalling devices or as means of viewing photographic or other visual images, such as signal flags or motion-picture projectors;
  • facilitating communication by means of written documents, such as pens.

Distribution and Transportation Artifacts

Artifacts originally created to transport or distribute animate or inanimate things. This category includes artifacts originally created to facilitate such transportation or as an accessory to such transportation. The category also includes propelled vehicles as well as containers that facilitate distribution.
Includes artifacts created for:
  • packing, shipping, or holding goods and commodities, such as boxes and casks;
  • for transporting people or goods above the surface of the earth, such as airplanes and propellers;
  • for transporting people or goods on land without restriction to a fixed route determined by a track or other guidance device, such as dogcarts, bicycles, snowshoes, and automobiles;
  • for transporting people or goods on or along a fixed route determined by a track or some similar device, such as train trucks;
  • for transporting people or goods on or under water, such as canoes, paddles, life rings.

Communication Artifacts

Artifacts originally created as expressions of human thought. Communication artifacts comment on, interpret, or enhance people's environments. They can function symbolically or literally. This category excludes the tools and equipment used to create communication artifacts.
Includes artifacts created for:
  • advertising a product, service, or event and eliciting a specific response (e.g. to acquire), such as posters, banners, or catalogues;
  • expressing and communicating ideas, values or attitudes through images, symbols, and abstractions, such as paintings and statues;
  • carrying on organized and sanctioned societal activities (usually rituals or ceremonies) intended to evoke, symbolize, or express aspects of the traditions or heritage of a community or group of people, such as altars, coffins, flags, and masks;
  • communicating information, such as documents, photograph albums, commemorative plates, and instructional model figures;
  • use as a medium of exchange or a means of obtaining specific services, such as coins and postage stamps;
  • communicating a particular personal belief, achievement, status, or membership, such as fraternal rings, crowns, medals, and religious pendants.

Recreational Artifacts

Artifacts originally created to be used as toys or to carry on the activities of sports, games, gambling, or public entertainment.
Includes artifacts created for:
  • competitive activities based on chance, problem solving, or calculation (rather than physical effort), such as dominoes, marbles, and card decks;
  • the production of non-competitive spectator entertainment, such as puppets;
  • a participatory, usually non-competitive, recreational activity other than an athletic game or exercise, such as a carousel or a pinball machine;
  • a physical activity that is often competitive, including athletics and sports, such as ice skates, baseball bats and toboggans;
  • use as a plaything, such as toy ships and dolls.

Date created: October 3, 1997Last updated: January 15, 2003