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Healing and Education Through Digital Access – Residential School Digitization Project

22 Jan 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous

Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) has launched the results of the “Healing and Education Through Digital Access” project funded by the National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS). Rooted in community archival practices, this project received $86,890 in funding to digitize and make available unique archival records which document the early years of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools.  

We see this project as meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action directed at archives and post-secondary institutions. By preserving and providing community access to these records the SRSC seeks to enhance Canada’s understanding of Residential Schools and reconciliation. The project made a great deal of information about Residential Schools as accessible as possible to the wider public, with an emphasis on centering Survivors and intergenerational Survivors who may not be able to travel to Sault Ste. Marie to view the documents in person. The involvement of Survivors in archival work is essential to any reconciliation work connected to Residential Schools. Likewise, the realization of Indigenous ownership, control, access, and possession of documents which discuss Indigenous communities played a key role in this initiative. 

This project was driven by Indigenous community needs and priorities. The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA), a group of Survivors and intergenerational Survivors who govern the SRSC along with Algoma University, were very involved with the project from the beginning. Their needs and priorities were taken into account when choosing what to digitize, how to digitize, and how to make the documents available to the public. The NHDS included in the budget money to bring CSAA members to Algoma in order to discuss the digitization and description process.  

This initiative was focused on making accessible three Anishinaabemowin and Cree language books and ten letter books from the early history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools. The letter books range in date from 1876 to 1904 and include letters from the first principal Edward F. Wilson and the fourth principal George L. King to various recipients including government officials, church representatives, white and Indigenous community members, former students, and more. The letters are of particular relevance for understanding the social, political and intellectual network in which Residential Schools operated.  


2013-112-003_001_0737: This letter describes the clothing students would have worn in 1887 and includes sketches of the student uniforms designed by the first principal of the school Edward F. Wilson. Clothing was usually donated second hand or made and donated by Ladies Sewing Societies. Being Western style, they illustrate the assimilationist agenda of the schools.   


These documents in particular were selected for multiple different reasons; much of the information the public has learned about Residential Schools relates to the later years of the system based on Survivor testimonies. These letter books cover the early history which is not as well known and allows people to see how the system developed and where Shingwauk and Wawanosh specifically fit into the system. Their age also makes them very fragile and so preservation was a high priority in selecting these items for digitization.  



2013-112-004_001_0173: This letter from September 1888 discusses specifics for an issue of Our Forest Children, a magazine which covered Anglican missionary work among Canadian Indigenous People and information about the Shingwauk Residential School. Magazines like this were used as fundraising tools for the school, spreading information as a way to encourage donations and monetary support. The header of the magazine included on this page was designed by Principal Edward F. Wilson.  



 2014-017-002_001_0062: This image is the first page of one of the monthly Principal's Reports that Principal George Ley King was required to send to the Department of Indian Affairs as a condition of the government funding the school received. These reports included information on student health, school admissions and discharges, student activities, staffing, and much more. It illustrates the kinds of information the Government was collecting on Residential Schools in addition to being a great source for information on daily life at the school.  


The letters books and their descriptions are now available on the  Algoma Archives Website, as well as on the Internet Archive. The information in these letter books is invaluable to researchers, Survivors and their families, and the wider public. 


Jenna Lemay


Jenna Lemay is the Digital Archives Technician at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. With a background in history and information studies, Jenna has been working in the archival field for 3 years. She is interested in the history of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, particularly in Ontario, with a focus on individuals, as she is also a Genealogist.  



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