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Girls line up in front of the School building constructed in 1913. Teacher is unknown. UCCArchivesWpg Bruce 24
Unknown staff member in Norway House School kitchen. Photographs showing interiors and the domestic arrangements are rare for this period. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce45)

Original caption: "The Graduate Boys, taken August 18th, 1932 just before service. The boy on the left is a stranger to you. He is Martha Kennedy's brother. Everyn Felix went home on the boat that day so is not in the picture." Probably written to Anna Bruce who had visited her sister in Norway House. (UCCArchives bruce012)
Four female students (names unknown) at school picnic on Mission Point, Norway House c 1929-32 (UCCArchivesWpg bruce018)

Matthew Crate, Andrew Grieves, Moses Apitikun, Tommy Alberts, Joseph Alberts Norway House students 1929. (UCCArchives bruce001)
Male students at Norway House, names unknown c 1929-32. Mary's photos reveal a level of comfort and amiability with the students. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 004)

Students playing on the shore, names unknown, Norway House c 1929-32 (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 022)
Norway House School staff at picnic, c. 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 037)

Original Caption: Norway House Indian Treaty [Day] August 1930 (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 93)
Original Caption: John Thomas Tower, Rossville (Norway House) Reserve Chief c. 1929-32 (UCCArchives bruce090)

An abandoned Askigan constructed in late fall as a winter lodging in a family's hunting territory. Logs, moss and snow would have been used as insulation. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce102)
Fish played an important role in the local diet and economy. Fish net on shore, Norway House c 1929-32 (UCCArchivesWPg bruce N149)

Women skinning small animals, possibly muskrat, Norway House c. 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 104)
Unknown family working in their garden, Norway House c 1929-32.  Mary's use of negative space around her subjects give a greater context to the story while her sense of pattern and space keep your eye engaged. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce N128)
School children on the community barge, Norway House c 1929-32 (UCCArchivesWpg bruce N169)
Original Caption: A relic of bygone days. An old York boat at the Fort. Norway House c 1929-32 (UCCArchives bruce173)
Original Caption: A fair wind - Indians going to church.  c. 1929-32 Delicately hand coloured the image demonstrates Mary's artistry in addition to documenting the era. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 94)
Norway House Anglican Church and rectory c 1929-32 (UCCArchives bruce 066)

Hauling wood that was used for heating and cooking in the school at Norway House, c 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg N112)
Women with children, Norway House community c. 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce n73)
Sled dogs, Anglican Church in the background, Norway House c 1929-32. (UCCArchives bruce 143)
Original Caption: Early morning on the 9th of May taken from my [Mary Bruce] window showing the ice going. c. 1929-32 Images like this one effectively capture the vastness of the landscape. (UCCArchivesWpg Bruce 137)

Anna Bruce, Mary's sister, standing in the Aboriginal cemetery at Norway House, c 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce212)
Original Caption: R.C.A.F. planes at Forestry Island, Norway House 1930. Photo hand coloured by Mary Bruce. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 171)
Original Caption: The Wolverine at Bull Head Landing. C 1929-32 The delicate hues of her hand-coloured photographs explore the traditional boundaries of the photographic medium of the time period (UCCArchivesWpg bruce 167)
Mary Bruce, photographer and teacher taken at Norway House, Manitoba c 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce N201)

Mary Bruce:

Selected Photographs from Norway House



Mary E. Bruce worked as a matron at Norway House Residential School in Norway House, Manitoba from 1929-1932. Her photographs provide a remarkable view of life at the school and in the larger community and illustrate her love of the local landscape and of photography.

Mary Bruce, photographer and teacher taken at Norway House, Manitoba c 1929-32. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce N201)

Mary Bruce: teacher, avid photographer and artist at Norway House, Manitoba 1929 -1932. (UCCArchivesWpg bruce N201)

Biographical details for Miss Bruce are incomplete. She was born in 1902 in the Bear Creek District of Manitoba and grew up on the family farm at Helston, near Gladstone. It is known that she was back at the family farm in 1950 helping to care for her widowed sister’s family (Anna (Bruce) Smirl). Anna visited Mary in Norway House and is in one of the images in this exhibit. Later Mary worked at Birtle Residential School and possibly did mission work on Vancouver Island. Mary died in 1982.

The Mary Bruce fonds is comprised of 280 images which were acquired in 2002 when a neice, Marilyn Dunham, donated them to the United Church Archives, Winnipeg.

Miss Bruce was also a watercolour painter. Several of the photographs have been hand coloured and it is evident that she experimented with technique. It is not known if her interest in photography continued after she left Norway House or if other examples of her photographic work have survived.

The Exhibit through the Eyes of the Curators

This exhibit was curated by Lorne Coulson and Maya De Forest.  (Short biographies follow their comments.)

Lorne: My role in this exhibition has been threefold: helping select the photos, restoring the digital copies to the condition of the original photograph and printing the final images.

The collection shows the broad range of subject matter that Mary Bruce chose to document — the northern landscape, the community and its people. The images contrast the traditional way of life of Canada’s First Nations’ population with that of white European Canadian society. Aside from the collection’s important documentary value, her work also exhibits a sense of artistry that is illustrated in her compositions. She has captured the vastness of the landscape. Her portraits and group shots show a closeness and familiarity with the people. There is a general sense of wonder and interest in her photographs of the community. The delicate hues of her hand-coloured photographs demonstrate a desire to expand and explore the traditional boundaries of the photographic medium of the time period.

Maya: The Mary Bruce Fond was the first series of photographs I scanned in my role of managing the United Church Archives Still Image Holding.  The benefit of scanning at high resolutions is the ability to see details in a photographic print that the naked eye can’t decipher, while also allowing time to sit with an image and ponder.

In my time spent with each photograph I could look beyond the document to get a greater sense of Mary Bruce the photographer, and the person. The variety shown in her work, from planes and boats to industrial artifacts, expresses a youthful curiosity and adventurous spirit that I believe was beyond many women of that time. What truly separates her from other photographers is her artistic eye. Her use of negative space around her subjects give a greater context to the story while her sense of pattern and space keep your eye engaged. Her colored photographs are quietly alluring: the use of dramatic colors within her small landscapes and her subtle color choices for more serene images. Her informal photographs of fellow staff members reveal fun and collegial spirit. Her photographs of the students at the School show a sense of comfort and amiability.

This exhibit was first seen at Artsfest 2013, a University of Winnipeg festival highlighting and celebrating the rich cultural artifacts held by several entities on campus. The exhibit of 26 framed images was officially opened September 30, displayed on the walls in the Archives Centre reading room. Interest in hosting the framed exhibit should be directed to the Keeper of the Archives.


Lorne Coulson has been involved in photography since the early 1970’s, working as a photographer for the Media Department at the University of Winnipeg and teaching photography and media production at the high school level for 26 years. Currently he is immersed in advertising, restorative, archival and fine art digital imaging. His work in the archival community has involved digitization, teaching and consultation with various members of the Association of Manitoba Archives.

Maya de Forest received her BFA in Photography from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Her avid interest in using the book medium as a focus for her photography led to her first photo based artist book titled I love here now, a portrait of her aging Japanese mother who immigrated to Winnipeg in the late fifties. Maya has a photo book design business DEFOZ which specializes in memory books for people with dementia and incorporates her interests in photography, books, design and storytelling.

Norway House

Norway House is situated near the confluence of the Nelson River and Lake Winnipeg, 800 kilometers north of Winnipeg by road. This area was familiar to the indigenous people of Northern Manitoba as a transportation route long before Europeans arrived. Swampy Cree communities were the most numerous in the area.

Norway House was established as a fur trading posted in 1814 and rose in prominence because of its location on the route to York Factory. It was a significant centre of operations and by the mid 1800s had attracted a large settlement of indigenous people employed in the fur trade. Treaty was signed in 1875 (Treaty 5) when steam navigation began to open up the area. Norway House was a popular tourist destination by the 1920s.

The Norway House Reserve was recognized officially in 1923. Today there are about 7000 Band members and 600 community members living in the adjacent off-reserve community.

Norway House Residential School

Reverend James Evans, a Methodist, established the Rossville Mission and day school at Norway House in 1840. At the request of The Methodist Church, the Federal Department of Indian Affairs opened the Residential School December 13, 1899; in 1925 the school was transferred to the newly formed United Church. The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1913 and replaced on a new site by the impressive building that Mary Bruce knew.

To learn more about Norway House Residential School and the history and legacy of the Schools click here.