Mar 052015

Overview of Indian Residential Schools

Brandon Indian Residential School

Portage Indian Residential School

Norway House Indian Residential School

The story of the United Church and Indian Residential Schools is more than a century long and does not end when the schools closed. Beginning in the early 1990s, people began to tell their stories publicly, calling the Church and the government to account.

This collection of documents, a small sample of the thousands of documents related to IRS in the United Church Winnipeg Archives, has been selected to provide a sampling of issues through the decades for which we hold records. (1880s to 2010s) These documents demonstrate the complexity of the context in which the schools operated, and in which healing is underway now. No one document can explain represent this complexity. Full understand requires an examination of evidence over time.

Follow the links in the box to the right for more on the three schools operated by The United Church (after 1925) and a general overview on IRS.

Students were sent to farms to work as part of their education.  Baird Papers, G1849

Students were sent to farms to work as part of their education. Baird Papers, G1849

The language and views of missionaries and Church members are not censored in these historic documents, however, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the modern Church. For information on current United Church of Canada right relations work – including apologies to survivors of Residential Schools- please visit

General Documents

1893 Letter from George Flett, Okanese, to Andrew Baird, Co-Chair Presbyterian Foreign Mission Committee regarding his resignation (Andrew Baird Personal Papers, c 240)

George Flett writes in defense of his statement that Birtle Residential School curriculum should include reading and writing not only domestic skills.

1896 Letters to Rev. A.J. McLeod, Principal Regina Industrial School from students regarding The Lord’s Supper (Andrew Baird Personal Papers, c245)

This is a sampling of about 25 letters written by students to the Principal requesting permission to attend a celebration of the Lord’s Supper being planned at the school. Some also request baptism. What initiated these requests, and what happened is not in the documentation.

1935 Series of Correspondences related to “An Evening Prayer” a poem by Mary Sinclair. Letter from Edna Jacques (Rev. John Doyle Personal Papers, c257 d35)

In 1935 Brandon IRS held a poetry contest for the students. The poem written by Mary Sinclair, a grade 5 student, was judged the winner by Edna Jacques, a very well known poet and lecturer at the time. There poems from over 50 students in the collection.

1936 Statement of Policy re Indian Residential Schools (501/1 Committees of Executive and Sub-Executive and Special Committees of Conference, Special Committee to Study the Indian Work in Manitoba Conference, Box 509/2-5, c12 d7)

Subtitle: Recommendations from Conference of Indian Workers, June 1936, and from Commission on Indian Education

1938 Excerpt from Report on recent visits to northern Indian Missions by Dr. Cormie, Superintendent of Home Missions, Manitoba Conference (United Church of Canada Archives Winnipeg, 509/2/-5 Special Committee to Study the Indian Work in Manitoba Conference: Box 509/2-5, Special Committee to Study the Indian Work in Manitoba Conference, c12 d1)

The focus of this report is on the communities in the north; to fully understand the context of the Residential Schools it is important to examine life in the communities.

1938 Canada Deserts Her Children, Toronto Star Weekly by Rev. Raymond B. Horsefield (509/2/2/8 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions, Norway House Charge File Maintenance Claims, Norway House Historical Information, Box509/2/2-8-18, c128 d2)

Discussion on ways to prevent death by consumption with an argument to close Residential Schools and convert them to hospitals.

1941 Letter from A.E. Caldwell, Principal, Norway House Residential School to R.B. Cochrane, (United Church Board of Home Missions?) regarding Roman Catholic and Protestant children attending schools (509/2/2/9 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions, Norway House Residential School Charge, Norway House Residential School, Box 509/2/2-9-7, c134 d16)

Letter includes a statement by parents, formerly Catholic, wanting their children to attend the United Church school.

1944 Telegram from George Dorey, Board of Home Missions in Toronto to J.A. Cormie, Superintendent of Home Missions, Manitoba 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

The subject is the appointment of Rev. Caldwell from Norway House to Alberni, in British Colombia, and then the decision to appoint Rev. Scoates to Norway House. The conditions at Alberni are also described. The process for appointing men as Principal was controlled by the church, and there was no consultation with First Nations people. There was no open competition, the church officials discussed potential candidates and made appointments.

1958 Dormitory Life: Is it Living? United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (509/2 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – ‘Property’ and ‘Maintenance’ Files – Portage la Prairie Residential School Charge, Box 509/2/2-10-8, c148 d 2)

This is an American publication, however it was in the files of the Portage School. The pamphlet invites staff to consider how the school’s set up affects student experience.

1964 Minutes from Meeting of Residential School Principals and United Church Committee (509/1/3 Records of the Conference Home Missions Committee, Churches in Indian Communities, Box 509/1/3-1-23, c58 d20)

Participants from the schools/residences: Ford Bond, Brandon, MB; Bernard Lee, Norway House, MB; J.O. Harris, Portage la Prairie, MB; J.A. Andrews, Alberni, BC; D.J. McBride, Edmonton, AB., C.J. Clark, Teulon, MB; M. Russow, Birtle (Presbyterian), MB

1964 Letters from Portage Indian Student Residence regarding why students drop out of school ” (509/1/3 Records of the Conference Home Missions Committee, Churches in Indian Communities, Box 509/1/3-1-23, c58 d70)

These letters are anonymous, likely part of the bigger investigations ongoing about why students dropped out.

1965 Correspondence from N.K. Campbell, Superintendent of Home Missions, Manitoba Conference to E.C. Prinselaar, Chairman of Sub-Committee on Churches in Indian Communities, and, to N.B. Rajotte, United Church minister in Nelson House, MB, and a report “High School Education – Problem of Drop Outs” (509/1/3 Records of the Conference Home Missions Committee, Churches in Indian Communities, Box 509/1/3-1-23, c58 d38)

Correspondence subjects: High School Education – Nelson House, Man., – Mr. Roland Lauze; High School Education of Indian Students – Problem of Drop-outs – Nelson House, Man. – Parents Statements; High School Education for Student of Indian Ancestry – Nelson House, Man. – Rev. N. B. Rajotte; Nelson House, Man. – High School Education – Problem of Drop outs; High School Education – Drop outs – Parental Discipline

1965 Questionnaire for High School Students of Indian Ancestry (Regarding dropping out of school) (509/1/3 Records of the Conference Home Missions Committee, Churches in Indian Communities, Box 509/1/3-1-23, c58 d64)

Three examples of the questionnaires that students completed under the guidance of George Millard, Minister at Island Lake. (from God’s Lake Narrows and Island Lake, Manitoba.) These have been redacted to remove identifying information.

Many other documents related to this study are in the Archives.

1965 Report of Special Committee on Residential Schools and Residences (509/2/5 Records of the Superintendents of Home Missions – General Files – McMurtry & Smith, Church and Government Owned Indian Residences, Box S-4-2. (CA0211), c88 d3)

1991 Minutes of the Executive, Conference Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, November 6-7, 1991 (500/2/1, Minutes of the Conference Executive and Sub-Executive Committees, Box 500/1-3, c8 d5)

Includes a report from members of Residential Schools Task Group; Doug McMurtry (former Superintendent of Home Missions) and Judy Delorme (a second generation IRS survivor).

1993 Letters to the Brandon Sun from Aboriginal elder and from former staff of IRS in response(Rev. Marguerite Miller Personal Papers, c275, d3)

“Residential Schools hurt aboriginal communities” an article by Harriet Nahanee appearing on the letters to the Editor page is challenged by former staff, Isabel and Jim Gilmour, Laura Long, Marguerite Miller and Wilbur Cochrane.

1997 The Healing Fund Connection, March 1997 Issue 2

The Healing Fund, with a goal of $1 million was established by the United Church to promote healing and reconciliation.

1998 Report from Residential Schools Task Group to the Annual Meeting of Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario (500/1/1 Minutes of Conference Annual Meetings, Box 500/1-1; 500/1-2; and 500/1-3, c1 d18)

The Task Group (formed in November 1990) reported regularly to the Conference through many mediums about their work.

2000 Service Bulletin and Sermon Notes St. Paul’s United Church, Beausejour, MB (Rev. Douglas McMurtry Personal Papers c270 d11)

Judy Delorme and Doug McMurtry, members of the MWNO Conference Task Group on Residential Schools made a presentation in worship to St. Paul’s United Church regarding their work. The Order of Service, Sermon notes (Doug’s) and a thank you from the congregation are here. The Task Group made many presentations throughout Conference.

2010 Report of Small Group Recommendations from Journey Toward Healing Together … Residential Schools Event (All Native Circle Conference Records, c286, d5)

An Anglican and United Church event bringing together Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal church people to further the development of healing and building right relationships.