The University of Calgary has been given 5,000 books, detailed ship records and 50,000 photographs — the work of two individuals who have spent their lives building the collection.
Naval historians John Burgess and Ken Macpherson originally gave their work to the Naval Museum of Alberta Society, which in turn donated the extensive collection to the University of Calgary.
It offers a unique perspective on Canada’s maritime history and the Royal Canadian Navy from the late 1800s to the early 21st century.
It was the book "Manual of Seamanship for Boys' Training Ships of the Royal Navy" that caught the fancy of Commodore David Craig.
"Just to look at what they were teaching our young sailors then and to compare it to what we're teaching our young sailors now. They're both eager, keen, but the world of 1898 is not the world of today and it's fascinating to see the changes," said Craig, who is commander of the naval reserve.
The collection includes ship plans, correspondence, a blueprint for a 1943 German U-boat and — the highlight for many — top-secret documents.
Several of those documents called "Pink List" give detailed information on ships' capabilities, armament, weaknesses and battles.
"This book is invariably to be kept locked up when not in use and is not to be taken outside the ship or establishment to which it is issued without the express permission of the commanding officer," states a warning on the book dated June 2, 1944.
"I think this has national and international significance," said retired commander Greg McKenzie from the Naval Museum of Alberta Society.
"Those top-secret papers, other than in the Admiralty in England, we don't think ... exist anywhere else, so those are remarkable documents."
The vice-provost of the University of Calgary's libraries and cultural resources said the new additions put the city's Military Museums on par with the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
"We were so excited and the experience has been exhilarating through the whole process," said Tom Hickerson. "We didn't know just how good it was."
It is expected the entire collection will be digitized so it can be made available to researchers around the world. It's an important part of Canadian history, said Craig.
"These generations who have gone before us, they are our mentors, our leaders," he said. "The memories of those who served at sea in wartime are beginning to fade, so this contribution and these records are a vital part of connecting Canadians with the history of Canada and the service of those sailors who served."