Church receives ‘rare’ photo archives

By on February 1, 2007

Girls play with dolls and teepees at the Anglican Mission at St Peter’s, Lesser Slave Lake, Alta. The family of a former principal, Rev. Montague Levason, donated his photographs to the General Synod archives.

The daughter of a former principal of an Anglican-run Indian residential school in Alberta has donated rare and unique photographs depicting students and life at the school to the archives of the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod in Toronto.

An article in the September issue of the Anglican Journal which reported that the archives is seeking residential schools records in preparation for the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Agreement prompted Madeleine Levason to turn over her father’s photo collection, said General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn. Ms. Levason is the daughter of Montague John Cecil Levason, who was principal at St. Peter’s Anglican Mission at Lesser Slave Lake, Alta.

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The extensive collection includes “very rare photos” of the interiors of the mission house, and some “unique” ones, including that of young native girls playing with miniature teepees on the school grounds, said Ms. Hurn. It also includes unusual photographs of boys wearing masks during the flu epidemic of 1918. Ms. Hurn said the photo, which shows how people coped with the epidemic in native schools and communities, would be of interest to many archivists across the country.

“Of particular interest are the photos of students at school, unfortunately unnamed, but it does reveal life at schools and the community at that time,” said Ms. Hurn.

Ms. Hurn said these new images “helps us to fill gaps in the photo collection that we have; it helps us to provide more information.” Ms. Hurn added, however, that the archives does not have full documentation of student involvement in the schools.

Another relative of a former school employee is contemplating donating a collection, which has been sent to the archives for examination, said Ms. Hurn.

Earlier, Ms. Hurn had sought the assistance of diocesan bishops and chancellors in compiling an inventory of residential school records owned by various Anglican entities across Canada.

The Anglican Church of Canada is a party to the revised agreement and has agreed to make copies of its records available to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be established.

Ms. Hurn had also noted that some diocesan archives have already seen an increase in the number of requests for baptismal certificates of former students, particularly those who are 65 and older and are eligible to receive an advance on the common experience payment, as part of the settlement package (see related story, p. 1). The $1.9 billion package provides each former student with a payment of $10,000 plus $3,000 for each additional year spent in residential school. Former students are required to provide documents proving their birth, and their attendance in these schools. Ms. Hurn has requested that dioceses review their archival holdings such as photographs, newsletters, reports and correspondence for detailed student information since some students lack attendance information in their records and have been seeking help in establishing their attendance at residential schools.

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