Voices That are Never Heard
An excerpt from a chapter to be found in the upcoming 2nd edition of “From Truth Comes Reconciliation”
But thanks to the late Bernice Logan, some of those voices still come through.
Bernice (Mason) Logan wouldn’t have fit most people’s image of a fearless warrior who, facing powerful opposing forces, displays great courage and a dogged refusal to stop fighting. But I can think of no better description of this diminutive woman from the town of Tangier in Nova Scotia — a true warrior who battled fearlessly for truth and fairness and who sadly is no longer with us.
Bernice Logan at her modest home in Tangier, on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia
In her younger days, this plucky senior had been a teacher in two of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (IRS)—All Saints in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and Shingwauk in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—and the experience clearly made a deep and lasting impression on her. Years later, after viewing the CBC-aired movie Where the Spirit Lives, she began conducting a campaign of information and argument that ran counter to the spreading narrative that portrayed the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) as places of untold misery, cruelty, cultural denigration, physical abuse and sexual predation. She wrote letter after letter to anyone she could think of—Anglican Church leaders, the Anglican Journal, politicians, and even media people—pointing out parts of the IRS story that were repeatedly ignored and even suppressed.
For years, she collected photographs, documents, and personal testimonies of former IRS students and staff, assembling a collection that she eventually sent to both the Anglican Church’s archives and the National Archives in Ottawa. She formed a group called the Association of Former Indian Residential School Staff (AFIRSS), and she typed, duplicated, and mailed to people across the country a series of newsletters that largely consisted of the various testimonies she had collected. And in the early 1990s, following a reunion of former students and staff of the Shingwauk IRS, she wrote and self-published a 700-page book, The Teaching Wigwams, filled with information that, without a computer or Internet access, she had gathered over decades of letter writing and telephone conversations.
What follows is a selection of the testimonies that, without funding from any organization or government body, Ms Logan collected over a period of about 30 years, not only recording life at the two schools in which she had served but also the experiences of staff and students at other IRS institutions, including some in British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
One of her most valuable sources of information was Nancy Thompson, who. with Arthur E. Minchin. wrote in 1994 an unpublished manuscript entitled “An Anglican’s Experience of Indian Residential Schools,” parts of which she shared with Ms Logan:
My perspective is that of one whose growing up years were spent in the Indian residential school setting. My father (Canon A. E. Minchin) was the Principal of the Elkhorn School in Manitoba from 1936 to 1942, and the Shingwauk School at Sault Ste. Marie from 1942 to 1948. He had earlier been Principal of the school at Lac LaRonge in northern Saskatchewan (1918/19) as well as the Mackay School at The Pas, Manitoba, from 1919 to 1921.
I have my father’s lifetime diaries which include those early years. My mother was in charge of the senior classroom at the Mackay School, and served as Junior Boys’ Supervisor from 1918 to 1923. I attended High School in Sault Ste. Marie together with many Shingwauk students, and was a temporary staff member for two spring/summer seasons while attending university in Toronto. Following graduation, I taught in a mixed school at Whitefish Falls, Ontario. I continue to have contact with my friends from Shingwauk. My first-hand experience and special knowledge through numerous stories told by my parents span 76 years of continued association with our native people.
At Christmas time I received a note from a Shingwauk graduate which read: ‘There was a letter I saw posted at Walpole—a letter from a top-level Anglican apologizing to the natives for ‘disrupting’ their lives and causing untold anguish. I would like to write to him and tell him it was the best thing that ever happened to me. People forget, even my brother. I believe he dreamed up the deprivation of the Indian language—I went to Shingwauk when I was 6 years old and never recall an instance when it was enforced.’
Ms Thompson went on to write:
I quote from letters I have received from time to time from Shingwauk graduates: ‘If it had not been for Shingwauk, we would have been outcasts on the Island. Who would have helped us — three illegitimate children? It would never happen again. That era was complete chaos—extreme poverty. Indians then were not privileged to all the programs, welfare, etc. allotted to them now. Many would not have survived childhood. The majority of us were all products of extreme poverty. Take my brother—he came to Shingwauk at about 11 years old and had to start from Grade 1 or 2. Without the help of Mrs. Moran tutoring him, he would never have gone to high school. There was an article in the Walpole Island Community Newsletter in which Shingwauk is referred to as the ‘dreaded residential school’ by someone who was never there. This pains me. It was the only home I ever knew, and many former students feel the same.’
Students of the Shingwauk Residential School at play
Ms Thompson happily recalled
… the excitement and pleasure shown by many of the students, especially older girls, on returning in September to the physical safety of the school setting. In stark contrast, on that June day when word came from the Department of Indian Affairs that Shingwauk was to be closed, there was a spontaneous outpouring of tears at the realization that they would not be able to return to the school—an opportunity briefly glimpsed, now forever denied.
In her book, Bernice Logan described a 1981 reunion of former Shingwauk students:
It was a joy for me, and a deeply moving and meaningful experience for my husband, to be in Sault Ste. Marie for the first Shingwauk Reunion in 1981, and to join with 450 others in 3 days of fun and remembrance. Organizers had expected fewer than 200 to attend. Many of those who came were from the 1940s when I was there. One elderly lady hitchhiked and walked many miles in midsummer heat in order to be present. Those attending did not act like victims, but like people overjoyed to be back together again in a happy childhood setting.
Here is part of another message Ms Thompson sent to Bernice:
Not only do many residential school graduates retain a realization of what their school did for them, but they have a special affection and loyalty toward individual staff members. The positive influence of those special people and of the residential school experience continues to the present day.
The pages and pages of laboriously typed documents that Bernice Logan had in her collection also yield the following testimonies, some of them uncredited:
The daughter of a residential school graduate writes in the Walpole Island newsletter: ‘My mother had a desire since childhood to be a nurse. In her 40s, she decided to go for it. …She graduated near the top of her class and we all went to her graduation as proud as peacocks.’
The schools produced a great many native leaders. I found this in the August/September 1993 issue of “Up Here” magazine, published in Yellowknife: According to Guido Tigvareark, an administrative officer for Pelly Bay, ‘the first indications of a gradual transition toward Nunavut began surfacing 20 years ago when the first wave of Inuit boarding school graduates entered the Northern work force. Many of today’s elected Inuit regional councillors, mayors, members of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) and the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN), as well as Inuit federal, territorial, regional, and municipal public servants are a testament to that.’
Also from that issue of Up Here magazine:
Charlie Evalik, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association’s director of communications says, ‘There is no question about it. The boarding school graduates of the late 60s and early 70s were the initial vanguard of the Inuit leadership.’ Jack Anawak, MP (Member of Parliament). for the Eastern Arctic, remembers ‘the hurt of not being able to speak his own language at school,’ and how happy he was to get home and back on the land after his first year at Chesterfield Inlet. But he is grateful to for much of what the missionary teachers taught him. ‘We concentrate too much on the bad things,’ he says, ‘The education I got was first rate.’
A good many of the positive testimonies Bernice Logan collected come from the 1990s, a period during which the current narrative of residential school “horrors” was just beginning to gather steam. In 1990, Phil Fontaine had given the CBC interview in which he described abuse he had suffered at the residential school he had attended, and that widely-publicised interview helped spark a transformation in the public’s — and the media’s — idea of conditions in the IRS institutions.
And that transformation did not go unnoticed by former IRS staff and students. Bernice writes:
But there was somewhat of a change of tone at the second (Shingwauk) Reunion in 1991. Reporters were everywhere. Young native persons spent much time talking about troubles they encountered at school.
And two years prior, there had also been a Bruce Pittman-directed film that reached a wide Canadian television audience.
The CBC-aired film Where the Spirit Lives, first broadcast in 1989, had also introduced to many Canadians the idea that residential school children were very badly treated, and here is what a friend and former IRS student named Nellie wrote to Nancy Thompson:
I saw the CBC film, “Where the Spirit Lives”, depicting teachers as monsters. It is a shame the movie was so negative. The good far outweighs the bad….My brothers and sisters, as I call them, would never have achieved the education or self-help, on the reserve…. I had a chance to attend school in Detroit, but I told your dad that I preferred to stay at Shingwauk.’”
The Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
But here is a further assortment of the testimonies that provide a far more nuanced picture of the Indian Residential Schools, testimonies that Bernice Logan laboured to type, duplicate, and distribute at a time before computers would have made those tasks far easier. Readers can judge for themselves if the Summary Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) does justice to the reality of the residential schools and the men and women who served in them.
I’d like to thank Sister Gilberta for all that she taught me. I’ve never seen a more caring person; she just never stopped working from morning till night. I don’t know when she ever had time for herself. She was like a mother to me. I remember her bringing hot lemon up to my room when I was sick…. I loved her like a mother.” —Catherine Willis
“Indian kids raped. Beaten in schools”—that was a headline in the “Toronto Star”. This is the last straw. It is clear that nothing can be done or said now to remove the stigma that has been attached to the schools and staff ever since the film “Where the Spirit Lives” was made and shown over and over again.” —Canon Norman Pilcher
I hugged Shirley Fletcher on Monday as we were leaving (the reunion)—seems she lives in B.C. now. Shingwauk gave us an opportunity (to talk to each other) and I would never have known them otherwise, along with many others I have kept in touch with since the 1981 reunion. Let us keep in touch.” —Nellie McDowell
I recently buried a dear old lady whom you might have known at the school—Elsie Stewart—and she spoke of the children there with great affection. —Rt. Rev. Anthony Burton
Canon Scrase was a quiet, caring and gentle man, and he will be sadly missed by the multitudes of students to whom he was like a second father. His love for and his involvement with the Native people, which stemmed from his childhood at Kinosota, carried on to Moose Lake where he was teacher as well as minister, and later that led to his many happy years of service at the residential schools. —From the obituary of Canon Archer Scrase, Principal of All Saints’ IRS
Canon Scrase with Louisa Hunt, Shingwauk IRS, circa 1950. From the Bernice Logan fonds at the Anglican Church of Canada’s Archives
Here is more testimony that fleshes out the picture of the Indian Residential Schools:
I didn’t mind going (to the school) because everyone was having a hard time at home. We were sure to be fed, clothed, and housed at the school. I don’t remember ever going hungry. At supper there was always a big pot of stew and there was a lot of fish. —Evelyn Louie
E. Ryerson Young Jr. was born at Norway House, and as a child mingled with the Native children. He spoke Cree, took part in Native games and was cared for by a Native girl whom his mother had saved from terrible beating by a drunken husband. His Dad, Egerton Ryerson Young Sr. wrote several books that told of the legends and life of Canada’s Native people. —Rev. Bernard Lee
Every day there was delicious fresh bread, porridge, peanut butter, and lots of stew… the food was always very good. … We lived in a cabin at home, my dad did a little trapping; we had to survive somehow. I remember nights at home that were so cold, and we never had enough blankets. Sometimes my mother’s bread wouldn’t rise because it was so cold. I also remember that if we got some second-hand clothes, mother would cut off the sleeves and we used them for socks. —Dora Cardinal
I really enjoyed my time at the school. Not only did I learn to work with other people, I also learned to respect them and respect myself. —Uncredited contribution by a former student at St. Paul’s Anglican IRS
My mother attended the residential school in Lebret in Saskatchewan from 1909 to 1916, and she loved it. The nuns taught her everything—how to sew, cook, read, and write. —Rod Lorenz
Students and staff at the LeBret (Qu’Appelle) Industrial Residential School in Saskatchewan
I had many friends and relatives who attended residential schools. … Today those people are now productive citizens, professionals, consultants, and business people. They learned the ethic of hard work. —Rita Galloway
This is only a tiny sample of the positive testimonies provided by former IRS staff and students and which appear in Bernice Logan’s The Teaching Wigwams. Yes, the testimonies come from only a small sampling of the thousands of IRS staff and the 150,000 IRS students during the 113-year period of the Indian Residential Schools.. And compared to the thousands of troubling, even heart-wrenching testimonies of former students obtained by the TRC, Bernice Logan’s hard-won collection may seem insignificant. But let us keep in mind that these are testimonies gathered together by a single individual, using a typewriter and the postal system, and paying for duplication and mailings herself. When one considers that the TRC, with its millions of dollars, its professional staff of researchers, and the ability to use the most modern technology, recorded about 7,000 testimonies—approximately 5 percent of the estimated150,000 IRS students — the relatively small size of Bernice’s sample suddenly takes on more significance. And the sincerity in the very human voices one hears in these heartfelt recollections gives added weight to their importance.
A fitting way to conclude would be to quote from a letter sent to Bernice Logan by 92-year-old Helena Kingston, a resident of Bay du Vin, New Brunswick, who served on the staff of the Pelican Lake IRS:
Why is the dark side always the one that seems to get the publicity? There are so many good stories that could be told. It’s a wonder some students don’t take up their pens and make public some tales of love and happiness that they experienced. It does hurt us that all of our students are letting us go undefended. I had so many lovely worthwhile students… Excuse my shaky penmanship… I still dream of being in my classroom there.
Telling those “good stories” was the mission on which this intrepid woman from Tangier, Nova Scotia, embarked many years ago, and it is a mission that may yet bear fruit. The Indian Residential School story is a very human one, and the humanity that shines so clearly and brightly in the stories she gathered may yet be recognized by all Canadians. When that happens, it will be a testimony to Bernice Logan’s indomitable spirit and her devotion to the truth.