People in History
The People in History section offers an opportunity to learn about historical figures who were all involved in residential schools, from being the architects of the residential school system to whistle-blowers. By better understanding the balanced story of each individual, we can learn the lessons of history in a way that links to the contemporary injustices faced by First Nations children and families.
Dr. P.H. Bryce
Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce blew the whistle on the conditions of residential schools which led to the high death rates of Indigenous students. As part of his work as the Medical Inspector to the Department of the Interior and Indian Affairs, Dr. Bryce inspected residential schools. In 1907, he issued the Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories which was critical of the health conditions in the residential schools. The report found a clear connection between the sanitation and health conditions within the schools and the high number of child deaths. Although the report was shared widely within the department, it was ultimately shelved. Duncan Campbell Scott, then head of Indian Affairs, dismissed Dr. Bryce’s recommendations to establish proper hospitals and overhaul the Indian education system.
Dr. Bryce was eventually ousted from public service. He later published the results of his report in his book, The Story of a National Crime. Unfortunately, there were no concrete changes and the Canadian government continued operating residential schools in ways that were harmful to Indigenous children. It was not until 2008, when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the Apology for Residential Schools, that the Canadian government admitted to any negligence or wrong-doing which Dr. Bryce had so clearly shown over 100 years earlier.
In August 2015, Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa erected a monument to celebrate Dr. Bryce's work and legacy. Follow these links for more information:
- Reconciling History with Canada’s First Nations - Beechwood Cemetery’s program of national healing through truth and education (Ottawa Citizen)
- Recognition, finally, for doctor who sounded alarm on residential schools a century ago (APTN)
In the film, Finding Peter Bryce, Peter C. Campbell and Andy Bryce, traces Dr. Bryce's life and story. For more information on Finding Peter Bryce and P.H. Bryce, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duncan Campbell Scott
Duncan Campbell Scott is known as one of the architects of the residential school system and is a renowned Canadian Confederate poet. Scott became Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in 1913 after joining the department in 1879. He oversaw the development of policies aimed to suppress and assimilate Indigenous peoples, including the 1920 amendment to the Indian Act that made residential schools mandatory. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that the assimilation policy of the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide.
Historical records show that Scott was repeatedly made aware of the shocking abuse and death tolls among students in residential schools but did little to address the problem. For example, despite the findings and recommendations of Dr. Bryce’s 1907 report, Scott refused to improve the conditions of residential schools to prevent illness and death among the students. Meanwhile, Canada considers him a “Person of National Historic Significance” in light of his poetic contributions.
In November 2015, Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa erected a historically accurate plaque by the resting place of Scott. Follow this link for more information:
Nicholas Flood Davin
Nicholas Flood Davin, like Duncan Campbell Scott, is considered one of the architects of the residential school system. In 1879, Davin authored the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, also known as the Davin Report, which included recommendations on how Canada should institute a residential school system for Indigenous children. In his report, Davin recommended that Canada adopt a system similar the industrial school system established for Native Americans in the United States and expand its system of church-run schools for Indigenous children. The report particularly recommended that Indigenous children be removed from the influences of their parents, communities and cultures for assimilation and “civilization” to be successful. Though residential schools predated Davin’s report, the document represents an “official justification” and vision of assimilatory schools that guided John A. Macdonald’s government to expand the residential school system following Confederation.
In 2017, Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa placed a plaque near the resting place of Davin telling his full story. Follow this link for more information: