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September 28, 2021

Interview with Gilbert Abraham, a residential school survivor, and Oblates of Mary Immaculate films – Submitted by Gilbert Comeault, former archivist, Archives of Manitoba

This submission deals with topics that may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former Residential School students. Please call the Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 f you or someone you know is triggered while reading the content on this blog.

“When I was starting a master's program at the University of Manitoba in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one of the few times I remember bringing up the subject of First Nations was in the context of the history of New France. After 1760: total silence, as if they had ceased to exist. They slipped into anonymity, even faded into oblivion. Even the master's-level specialization courses in Manitoba and Western Canada did not touch on this past, let alone the present.



“It was not until 1985 before this topic began to concern me. It was due to an oral history program undertaken by the Archives of Manitoba which included workshops. To practice what I preached, I did a few interviews, one of which survived.



“The subject of residential schools was not new to some of us. But for me, it was new. In 1985 I began an interview with Gilbert Abraham, of the Saulteaux tribe of the Objibwe Nation, who told me about his childhood experiences in a boarding school where he had been sexually assaulted in all possible ways, where he was being washed, mouth with soap if he spoke his native language, where he was called a pagan and where he had to work seven days a week gardening in the summer and doing various chores in the winter. The trauma of his childhood began when he was separated from his family and loved ones.


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Archives of Manitoba, Interview with Gilbert Abraham, 1985, C279.

“I also remember Father Adrien Darveau, o.m.i., from the parish of Saint-Pierre du Lac Caribou in Lac Brochet, who contacted me about a 16mm film of which he wanted to obtain a video copy. When he came to the archives to pick up the VHS copy, we watched the film together. Father Darveau explained to me that the native children were boarding a seaplane that took them to a native residential school about 400 miles from their home. Suffering from tuberculosis, dying of malnutrition or abandonment, some of these children would not come back. For the young people who returned home, sometimes they could only speak English, while the parents spoke only Cree. In this film, parents could be seen standing on the shore of Lac Brochet, watching their children board a seaplane leaving their childhood behind.”

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black and white image of men standing on a dock
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Archives of Manitoba, Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection, screenshots from St. Peter's Mission, Reindeer Lake (St. Pierre du Lac Caribou) film, 1948, V82.


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August 27, 2021

Two photographs of the wreck of the HBC ship Cam Owen taken in 1889 by James McDougall, HBC post inspector – Submitted by Jean-Luc Pilon, Former curator of Central Archaeology, Canadian Museum of History

“In the early 1980s, I carried out archaeological research along the Severn River in northwestern-most Ontario. At that time, I was told about shipwrecks lying to the northwest of Fort Severn, in the direction of the Manitoba border. My interest then was focused on the region’s Indigenous ancient history and so I never visited those wrecks. However, in 2017 I had the opportunity of returning to Fort Severn. This time, the omnipresence of ATVs allowed us to travel to a half dozen wreck sites along the coast. Three of these appeared to consist of sections of the same wooden-hulled sailing ship. These three sites were sprinkled along a two-kilometer stretch of the same raised beach, which is today over one kilometer from the shore of Hudson Bay. Preliminary observations suggested it dated to the second half of the 19th century.

“Anthony Dalton published a compilation of HBC shipwrecks in 2014, The Fur-Trade Fleet: Shipwrecks of the Hudson’s Bay Company. His work helped me narrow my search for the identity of the ship and the best candidate to emerge was the Cam Owen. This twin-masted brigantine was one of the rare Canadian-built ships in the HBC fleet, built in Prince Edward Island in 1883. It met its end a mere three years later during a violent storm near Cape Churchill, Manitoba, and according to Dalton’s research, ‘the ice carried her away to a private burial at sea’. That, it would seem, was that. However, a search through the online HBC Archives produced an incredible find: two photographs (HBCA 1987/13/043 and HBCA 1987/13/044) identified as the wreck of the Cam Owen taken by James McDougall in 1889 while travelling from York Factory to Fort Severn. The clearly visible, bent iron chainplates (to which the masts are tied off) in McDougall’s photographs are identical to those of the wrecks I visited. Most importantly, McDougall noted that the wreck was near ‘Sandy Head, Hudsons Bay’.



“In the fall of 2017, I spent an afternoon with the late John Macfie, a former Ontario Lands and Forest employee, who photographed two of the ship hulls in 1955 while banding migratory waterfowl. At one point he showed me a picture of a low hill that he told me was called Oosteguanako or Oostegwan-aski meaning ‘Sand Head’. In Macfie’s opinion this name reflected the shape of the sand hill or dune. This elevated land feature, so rare in the very, very flat lowlands adjacent to Hudson Bay, was located just a few miles to the northwest of the ship hull wrecks and the place name seems closely related to the one McDougall noted in his 1889 photograph catalogue entry. Chris Koostachin of Fort Severn, who brought me to see the wrecks in 2017, informed me that there is a hill near East Pen Island is called Ooshdikwanahkahk, meaning ‘beach with skulls’ and it is believed to attest to a battle which once took place near East Pen Island.



“Had McDougall never taken those two photographs and had he not noted the local place name, the identity of the ship would never have been firmly determined. While the vessel did not serve the HBC for very long, it nonetheless was part of the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the fur trade, and Canadian shipbuilding. Located as it is far from the edge of Hudson Bay, it is also a witness to the dynamic and changing landscape of the Hudson Bay Lowlands which continue to this day to rebound from the incredible weight of the glaciers of the last ice age which ended more than 10,000 years ago but whose effects are still felt in these remote and distant lands.”



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July 23, 2021

Photographs of the Manitoba Developmental Centre – Submitted by Mary Horodyski, researcher and archivist

“These photos show wards for residents at the Manitoba Developmental Centre (MDC). This is a provincially-run institution for people with intellectual and other disabilities that dates back to 1890. The photos are not dated, but could possibly be from the 1950s or early 1960s when the institution was named the Manitoba School for Mental Defectives.



“I choose these photos both for what they show and what they do not show. At first glance, we see rooms that are clean and tidy, with not a sheet or blanket out of place. In one of the rooms, we see that the cleanliness is overseen by two starched and forbidding uniformed women. But if we consider the photos a bit longer, many questions and some uncomfortable answers arise.

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Archives of Manitoba, Portage La Prairie – Buildings – Provincial – Manitoba School for Mental Defectives [Manitoba Developmental Centre] 19, [19--?]

“We may first notice that apart from the staff, the wards are empty of their residents. The history of people with intellectual disabilities has often been described as a history of people who were “hidden away” and these photos provide yet another degree to their segregation: they are removed even from photographs of what for many was their ‘home’ for many years. Then, we can count the beds and estimate the distance between each bed and imagine daily and nightly life in these conditions. In many of the wards, 30 to over 100 people lived together for years and even decades. Notice also the utter lack of personalization, each bed the same without any individual belongings. And who are the cribs for when young children were housed at other institutions, like St. Amant? We learn from other accounts that the cribs were for adolescents and grown adults with physical disabilities. Finally, look closely at the doorway at the back of the room – it has bars as the residents were locked in at night. Tragically, it was barred doors like these that contributed to the deaths of several residents when a fire broke out in a ward in 1977 and some of the residents were unable to escape.

rows of empty beds and cribs in an institutional ward
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Archives of Manitoba, Portage La Prairie – Buildings – Provincial – Manitoba School for Mental Defectives [Manitoba Developmental Centre] 16, [19--?]
empty beds in an institutional ward
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Archives of Manitoba, Portage La Prairie – Buildings – Provincial – Manitoba School for Mental Defectives [Manitoba Developmental Centre] 18, [19--?]

“Archival evidence of the lives of people with disabilities is not easily come by, and when it exists, the records are often shielded by privacy laws. It behooves us, when evidence is available, to closely examine it, to read the records ‘against the grain’ as historians say, and to look, as much as possible, through a disability lens.1



References:
  1. ^ For more information about the Manitoba Developmental Centre, see Mary Horodyski’s Masters of Arts thesis: https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/handle/1993/32118 and her article “’A Very Serious Matter’: The Manitoba Government’s Institution for People with Intellectual Disability” in Prairie History, Number 1, Winter 2020.


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July 9, 2021

Winnipeg fire insurance atlases – Submitted by Jim Blanchard, Historian

“In all my work on my histories of Winnipeg I have made extensive use of the fire insurance atlases. One that was especially useful was the atlas that includes maps of Roslyn Road and River Avenue.

“My Winnipeg 1912 book contains a good deal of information about the community leaders who lived in this neighborhood. Using the atlas maps I can reconstruct such information as exactly where they lived, who their neighbours were, whether their homes were brick or wood and what property they owned and the outbuildings on it. This information is all very important in establishing a description of this group of Winnipeggers, many of whom were influential in the city.”



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June 11, 2021

Records by Peter Fidler from his time at the Hudson’s Bay Company – Submitted by Paul Hackett, Historical Geographer


“It is impossible for me to identify a single record among so many, but I would instead point to the records left by the trader, Peter Fidler, from his time in the Hudson's Bay Company.

“These journals, letters, maps, and other materials provide incredible insight into the nature of western Canada at the time. From a personal standpoint they were extremely important for me as they served as the initial building block (and inspiration) for my career, as I became interested in the diffusion and impact of epidemic diseases within Indigenous communities during the fur trade era.”

Want to know more? Search Keystone for more information.

Want to participate in Your Archives? See Submit Your Story for details. You may e-mail us at yourarchives@gov.mb.ca with a comment about this blog post and your comments may be included on this page.

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