Residential Schools

Introduction

Dr. Peter H. Bryce, 1920. Source: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-042966.


The abusive and inhumane conditions in Canada’s Indian residential schools have been public knowledge for more than a century. Long before the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015, a federal health inspector for the Department of Indian Affairs raised concerns about the poor health and sanitary conditions of industrial and boarding schools for Indigenous children.

In 1907, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce submitted an inspection report to the Department of Indian Affairs on 35 residential schools in the prairie west. In that report, he drew attention to the dire health conditions of the children who were compelled to attend schools with buildings in subpar conditions. He found that students suffered widely from tuberculosis and that there was evidence of alarming rates of mortality. He made numerous recommendations to improve the health conditions of the children and to increase funding for the residential schools system.

In the wake of his 1907 report, the Department of Indian Affairs failed to implement any of his suggestions. Instead, the Canadian government made modest and ineffective changes that did not remedy the tuberculosis crisis. The deputy minister of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott, ignored the warnings of a widespread health crisis among Indigenous children. After his retirement in 1921, Dr. Bryce published a scathing book that exposed the devastating health conditions in the residential schools and accused the Canadian government of indifference toward the lives of Indigenous children. The book embarrassed the government, but it did not result in significant changes to the conditions of the residential schools.

In this module, you will read Bryce’s 1907 report and an excerpt from his 1921 book on health conditions in the residential schools.

Historical Documents

  1. Bryce, Peter H. “Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the North-West Territories” Ottawa: 1907.
  2. Bryce, Peter H. The Story of a National Crime. Ottawa: James Hope and Sons, 1922.