Moorby collection tells tale of 1960s Inuvik life

Anne Campbell made her mother's rare documents available. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Anne Campbell made her mother's rare documents available. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published June 1, 2011

“Can you draw me something?”

This was the question Mossie Moorby always asked children sent to the infirmary of Stringer Hall, an Anglican-run hostel in Inuvik for Indian and Inuit children, where she served as nurse in the 1960s. Moorby safeguarded the drawings and string art depicting life in Canada’s north-the budding artists’ names all carefully labelled-in binders.

Moorby died in 2000, but her collection lives on. Now, thanks to her daughter, Anne Campbell, it will be shared with former students and their families at the 2nd Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event in Inuvik, Jun. 28 to Jul. 1.

“She loved the kids and I just know that they loved her, too,” said Campbell in an interview. “If I can bring some happy memories back to the kids who lived at Stringer Hall, that would be wonderful.”

Moorby’s collection is a treasure trove for researchers, historians and the TRC, whose mandate includes setting up a research centre to document the legacy of Canada’s Indian residential schools.

The collection includes hundreds of photographs and slides-including portraits of children and staff–as well as clippings and artifacts assembled during the eight years Moorby spent at Stringer Hall.

Moorby’s correspondence with her grown children is part of the collection, as are letters she received from staff, students and their families.

Nancy Hurn, General Synod archivist, calls the Moorby collection, which documents day-to-day life at the hostel and provides a window into life in Inuvik from 1964 to 1972, “very rare” and “very valuable.”

Moorby’s letters offer poignant accounts of the children, some as young as six, who boarded for eight months of the year and returned to their homes for the summer.

“The children are really sweet. At first they would hardly whisper when they spoke to me, they were so shy,” she wrote in her first month, Sept. 30, 1964. German measles, chicken pox and black-fly bites were a common occurrence, she noted. Some had to be treated in hospital for tuberculosis. “A lot of the girls have beautiful braids,” she wrote in Nov. 1964. “Almost all have long hair, even 16- and 18-year-olds have braids. All kids help other kids with their braiding. Even the little ones soon learn to braid quite quickly.”

Moorby savoured the experience of being in Inuvik and forging relationships with the children and their families.

She kept the letters she received from parents, most of them thanking her for the care she gave to their children, and asking her to tell them to write home.

After she left Inuvik, Moorby’s interest in the students continued, and she saved newspaper clippings announcing the achievements of students who grew up to become community leaders.

Moorby’s collection also includes beaded slippers, beaded gloves, mukluks, carvings, native dolls and drawings, which she often bought from the parents.

She hopes former students will remember her mother when they view the collection. “…She was a very important person in their lives,” she says.

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