National church archives seek school records

Published August 30, 2006

Nancy Hurn, General Synod archivist, is asking dioceses to assist her in compiling a central inventory of records (like photographs, parish registers and baptismal records) that contain information about students who attended Anglican-run residential schools.

General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn has sought the assistance of diocesan bishops and chancellors in compiling an inventory of residential school records owned by various Anglican entities in Canada in preparation for the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The Anglican Church of Canada, a signatory to the revised agreement, agreed to make copies of these records available to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would be established if the accord – which has to be approved by nine provincial courts – comes into effect. Ms. Hurn plans to create a central inventory of residential school records from the list compiled by diocesan archives. The central inventory can include parish registers that contain information on students who attended Anglican-run schools.

Ms. Hurn also noted that some diocesan archives have already seen a rise in the number of requests for baptismal certificates of former students, particularly those who are 65 or older and eligible to receive an advance on the common experience payment, as part of the settlement package. (A $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; it also includes a process allowing those who suffered sexual or physical abuse to receive additional compensation and provides funding for healing programs.)

Former students are required to provide documents proving their birth when they apply for the common experience payment and in most instances, baptismal records are their only source of birth information, said Ms. Hurn. The archivist also asked dioceses to 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 this could be helpful in establishing that they attended a residential school.

It was a common practice of missionaries and residential school staff and administrators to take photographs of students and staff at the school for promotional material and fundraising, noted Ms. Hurn.

There are continuing efforts to circulate digital and print reproductions of the photographs with aboriginal groups “so that names and dates can be sought for these valuable records,” said Ms. Hurn.

The courts will hold public hearings to consider whether the agreement is “fair, reasonable, and adequate.” The agreement could be implemented by June, 2007.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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