Looking at the archives

August 13, 2010

St. Paul's Indian Residential School - North Vancouver, 1890s-1950s

After my trip to Winnipeg to attend the TRC’s first national gathering, I traveled to Vancouver to continue my research and visit family. I had the pleasure of spending some time at the North Vancouver Archives where I tried to find more information about St.Paul’s Indian Residential School. Although some of the school’s records are held by the Catholic church, which ran the school, the municipal archives did have a few photographs and documents from the school.

For me, there is something really powerful about looking through these images. They are so personal, yet so removed from their personal histories. The images of school students posed for class photos have a somewhat universal feel; so many of us can recall these sorts of pictures from our own pasts. At the same time, the images from the Indian Residential Schools, particularly during the era that I was looking at on this trip (the 1950s), are tinged with a sort of sadness. I understand that perhaps this is only my personal reading of these images, and that others may look at them and find other emotions. Still, these images prompted me to imagine the difficulties these students may have faced.

After my trip, I wondered whether I should post some of the images I saw to my blog. I do think the photographs are moving and meaningful, but ultimately, I decided to wait. Even though the images are in a public archive, they are of individuals who may or may not want them circulated without their knowledge or consent. Particularly in the case of Native peoples in Canada (and elsewhere), photographic images have been circulated in problematic ways, often with little input from the “photographic subjects” themselves. So, instead, I’ve posted a few images of the St. Paul’s Indian Residential School from the past, and of what now stands in its place.

To some extent, my research focuses on how these archival images are circulated in the climate of the IRS TRC, and I understand that my own research will play a role in this process. I’ve seen these types of images used in the media without much context. In some cases, there are lists of names that accompany the images. In others, the students in the pictures are unidentified. Often, these pictures of individuals stand in for a general history, and I find this troubling. For this reason, I am hesitant to contribute to the circulation of these images without processing further what this circulation means/produces/activates.

The floor plan for the Indian Day school, which was built to replace St. Paul's Indian residential school. In the upper left hand corner, an image of the school after its completion.

The building today - now St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic high school.

One Response to “Looking at the archives”


  1. […] posted in the past about visiting various archives, and it never ceases to amaze me the stacks and stacks of information held within their walls. You […]


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