The story as laid out by Producer Peter Haworth, is startling Haworth was working on a documentary about my great-grandfather Peter Bryce for the CBC radio show Ideas in 1976. He had read about Peter Bryce while doing research on Duncan Campbell Scott, the Canadian poet who ran the Department of Indian Affairs for over 40 years. Haworth read Bryce’s 1922 pamphlet The Story of a National Crime and had successfully pitched a story to Ideas. That’s when he started to ask questions.
I began my search at the Department of Indian Affairs. “Yes” an official said, he had heard of Bryce. They had a file on him. Yes, the controversy had been documented. He seemed to remember that there were questions raised in the Commons about it. Would I phone back when he’d had a chance to look into it? I did so, but within that period of three hours his manner had changed. He was apparently “wrong” about the Commons debate. There was no record of it..No, they had nothing on Bryce, and anyway all the material from that period had been sent on to the National Archives.
At the Archives, I looked at Bryce’s file. It was empty except for an obituary: Peter Henderson Bryce (1853-1928). “It’s been stripped,” the archivist said. “That happens sometimes.” There was nothing in Hansard, either or anywhere else for that matter, about Bryce. Even the Archives catalogue, which seems to contain everything, did not list his pamphlet. Bryce might just was well have never existed.
When I read this last winter, I was familiar with some of my great-grandfather’s file because information from it was used in Dr. Adam Green’s thesis Humanitarian MD, but I had missed the opportunity to vet the file when I was doing research at the archive the year before. So, when my fellow producer Peter Campbell and I decided to do principal shooting in Ottawa in August, I put the archive on my To Do list, and filed a request to view Dr. Bryce’s personnel file.
Despite a couple of stumbles with Library and Archives Canada (I could write an entire column on that experience, but in the end they were helpful and accommodating) Peter and I managed to take a look at the file, and to my surprise, I found nothing to do with Bryce’s time at the Department of Indian Affairs. He had been relieved of his duties at DIA in 1913, but this file only extended back to 1919, the period from 1904 until 1918 was entirely missing. Here’s my reaction as captured by Peter Campbell:
This fall I filed an Access to Information request and a couple of weeks later I received a notice that said there was nothing confidential in the file and that I had indeed seen the entire Peter Henderson Bryce file. Is it coincidence that these files are missing? Well, my bet is the file was cleaned out sometime in the distant past – perhaps 1932, when Peter Bryce died, or maybe in 1976 when Peter Haworth started asking questions. We will probably never know, but there are more questions to ask. We are waiting to hear back from the Archive on the process of how personnel files get moved from government departments to the archive, and then we will try to determine if the file was cleaned out before or after it was stored.
Either way, this episode shows how at some point, whether it be in Peter Bryce’s lifetime, in Duncan Campbell Scott’s tenure at Indian Affairs, or some later time, someone saw fit to erase his role in the DIA from the records of government.