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For a fuller history of the school see The Children Remembered, United Church of Canada Residential School Project.
1895–1925 (Mission Board of the Methodist Church), 1925-1969 (United Church of Canada) 1969-1972 (Oblates of Mary Immaculate)
The Brandon Indian Institute, five kilometres northwest of Brandon, in southern Manitoba, was established in 1895 by the Department of Indian Affairs at the persistent urging of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. The Methodists, who assumed management of the school, wanted an industrial residential school for children from north of Lake Winnipeg, where most of their missions were established. The location, more than 1,000 km from the missions, was intentional: children would be better assimilated when far from home and culture. The Institute was conceived as an industrial training facility and concentrated on vocational rather than academic training up to the 1950s. Located on rich farm land, the school farm was a successful agricultural venture. Produce was expected to supplement federal funding for food supplies and federal grant amounts were fixed accordingly. Girls learned domestic skills. Attitudes about the abilities and needs of “Indians” limited the level of technical training students received, although this altered over time. In early years both boys and girls were sometimes sent to work on farms and in homes.
Initially, recruiting students for the school, with a target of 100, proved to be difficult, as northern Aboriginal parents did not want their children to go so far away, a difficulty that increased after the Residential School in Norway House was opened in 1899. Eventually that resistance lessened both through force of law and through a breakdown in traditional community strength, but by then the catchment was broadened to include children from Saskatchewan and more southerly reserves in Manitoba.
In the summer of 1929, still in the boom of the 20’s economy, the main building was demolished to make way for a new, larger school and residence which was completed in 1930. This coincided with increasing numbers of students attending high school and vocational school in Brandon, so the new school was extended to offer grade 10. Academic subjects begin to gain more attention. Some students continued to travel to town for teaching, business and vocational training. (See the 1938 document below)
Starting in the 1940s there were a series of management and staffing issues at what is then known as the Brandon Residential School. Debates between the government and church pitched blame back and forth; inadequate funding affected the ability to attract and keep good staff. (see 1944 document below) The Department of Indian Affairs was responsible for the financial support of the school and the payment of teaching staff. In some circumstances the Board of Home Missions allocated a supplementary grant. (See 1950 document below) The school Principal was nominated by the Board of Home Missions subject to the confirmation of the Department of Indian Affairs. The Principal was in turn responsible for engaging other school staff.
Post war, attitudes about the schools in general were beginning to change and more questions were being raised about their value, yet it took 20 years until they were closed. In 1951, the high school students from Brandon (Grades 9 to 12) were transferred to the Birtle Residential School (Presbyterian), north of Brandon. (See the 1951 document below) In 1957, the Department of Indian Affairs and the United Church agreed on a major reorganization of both Brandon and the school at Portage la Prairie. The younger elementary aged children were consolidated in Brandon. At this time the farm operation was discontinued. By 1959, there were 176 children at the school ranging in age from 6 to 13 years and attending grades one to six. In 1960, a government policy of integration resulted in a shift to a residence only, as children were bused to schools in town and in 1966 the name was changed to the Brandon Student Residence. Enrollment increased to reach 200. In 1969, the United Church divested itself of all interest in the property and the Federal government took over the Residence. They turned it over to the Roman Catholic Church who ran it as a residence until 1972. In 2006 the building was demolished.
Principals and acting principals of the school who have been identified are: Rev. John Semmens, 1895-1899; Thompson Ferrier, 1899-[ca.1927]; Rev. J. A. Doyle, 1929-1941; R. T. Chapin, 1941-1944; Rev. O. B. Strapp, 1944-1955; Rev. G. R. Inglis, 1955-1957; Rev. Harry Atkinson, 1957; Lachlan McLean, 1957-1959; M.D. Bannerman, 1959; and Ford Bond, 1959-1970.
The records held in this Archives related to the Brandon School are not extensive, and are primarily from 1938 to 1972. They include correspondence between the Principal and the Superintendent of Home Missions for Manitoba and between the Superintendent and the Secretary and Associate Secretaries of the Board of Home Missions based in Toronto. There is also a memoir written by John Semmens in 1915, the first Principal. Rev. John Doyle was Principal from 1929 to 1941. Some newsletters, yearbooks, student lists and staff records are in the collection,as well as photographs.
The Lenore Kirk Photos are from 1926-27, others are primarily from the 1940s and 1950s. Some records (including photos) are held at the United Church General Council Archives in Toronto. Records are also held by the Canadian government. In 2014, the United Church submitted all its records related to Indian Residential Schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and they have since been donated to the University of Manitoba National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The following documents (all from this Archives) are a sampling of the kind of records held and were chosen to provide a sweep through time. Each document provides a window on the context, revealing something about the various players: the school, the government, the church, the students, and so on. It is always important to remember that any one document cannot depict the whole reality. For an honest understanding of the complex nature of Indian Residential Schools a more thorough examination is required.
All the digitized records, as well as all the paper files, in the Archives are available to researchers. Please contact the Keeper of the Archives regarding requests for copies or use of these documents.
The language and views expressed in these historic documents are not censored. They are not reflective of the Church today. For information on current United Church of Canada right relations work -including apologies to survivors of Residential Schools please visit www.united-church.ca
1915 (circa) ‘Notes on Personal History’, by Rev. John Semmens (Rev. John Semmens Personal Papers, c278 d1)
This excerpt from his memoir describes the establishment of Brandon Industrial Institute beginning in 1895 until his departure in 1899.
1938 Letters between Rev. J.A. Doyle, Principal Indian Industrial School, Brandon and Rev. J.A. Cormie, Superintendent of Home Missions, Manitoba Conference (509/2-/2-5-2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Brandon Residential School File ‘Maintenance Claims’, Brandon Residential School Correspondence 1938-1953, Box 509/2/2-5; c99, d 1 & 2)
In the letters Cormie asks Doyle to share something about graduates of Brandon who are getting “incorporated into the life of the country.” Doyle responds with a one sentence bio of 19 graduates.
1944 Letters between Rev. J. A. Cormie, Superintendent of Home Missions, Manitoba Conference and Rev. George Dorey, Associate Secretary, Board of Home Missions, Toronto (509/2/2-5-2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Brandon Residential School File ‘Maintenance Claims’, Brandon Residential School Correspondence 1938-1953, Box 509/2/2-5; c99, d30)
Discussion about the search for a suitable Principal for Brandon and the possibility of hiring Mr. Strapp. (He does accept the position and is Principal for 11 years. His leadership is not without significant critique, then and in retrospect.)
1950 Financial Statement of Brandon Indian Residential School, December 31, 1950. (509/2/2-5-2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Brandon Residential School File ‘Maintenance Claims’, Brandon Residential School Correspondence 1938-1953, Box 509/2/2-5; c99 d50)
This summary statement includes sources of revenue and categories of expenditures, indicating the salary amounts paid to various positions.
1951 Annual Report of the Brandon Indian Residential School, December 31, 1951. (509/2/2-5-2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Brandon Residential School File ‘Maintenance Claims’, Brandon Residential School Correspondence 1938-1953, Box 509/2/2-5; c99 d66)
Report written by B. Strapp, Principal outlining conditions and changes in the school, includes enrolment and discussion of farming.
1953 Letter from Rev. Douglas McMurtry, Minister at Wolseley, SK to Rev. C.H. Best, Superintendent of Home Missions, Winnipeg (509/2/2-5-2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Brandon Residential School File ‘Maintenance Claims’, Brandon Residential School Correspondence 1938-1953, Box 509/2/2-5; c99 d94)
Rev. McMurtry raises a concern about Brandon School after talking to run away students from the Assiniboine Reserve who claim undue discipline.
1961 Brandon Indian Residential School Newsletter (509/1/3 Records of Churches in Indian Communities. – 1954-1980. Box 509/1/3-1-24a and 24b Residential School Information, c59 d1)
This is the first of what is promised as a series of newsletters for parents and friends of the school, edited by Ed Stonechild, on staff of the school as a Boys’ Supervisor
1967 The Presbytery Committee – Brandon Residence for Indian Children Research Committee Report (509/2/5 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – General Files – McMurtry & Smith, Church and Government Owned Indian Residences [ca. 1960 – 1967], Box S-4-2. (CA0211), c88 d28)
The report describes the establishment of the Brandon Residence Advisory Committee.