The Connection between Peter Bryce and Alexander Graham Bell

It was one of those stories that my Mother would tell us when the talk around the kitchen table got to family matters. “You know the Bryces knew Alexander Graham Bell,” she would say. Usually when Mom said that we would turn to our Dad who was ambivalent about his Bryce relatives and ask him, and he would say something noncommittal.

“They were all Scottish and they lived in the same place or something,” he would say before changing the topic.

It was such a fantastic assertion, that I never really talked about it as a kid. Later on I did some research into the rumour and came up empty. I had assumed the Bryces knew the Bells in Scotland. But the Bells were from Edinburgh, while the Bryces came from the village of Doune – north and west of Edinburgh. It was unlikely they knew each other in Scotland.  Also, the Bryces emigrated in 1843 and the Bells in 1870, disproving the idea that perhaps our ancestors emigrated with the Bells.

The Bell family moved to the new world after Alexander Graham’s brother Edward had died of tuberculosis.  Alexander Graham himself was considered “sickly” and his father wanted him to live in a place with better air – both Edinburgh and London had pollution problems due to the heavy use of coal for heating and power.  So in 1870, the Bell family bought a farmhouse and ten acres at Tutela Heights in the south end of Brantford.

bell-homstead-12

The Bell Homestead at Tutela Heights

I had known from grade school that the Bells had lived in Brantford, but I didn’t make the connection that maybe the Bells and the Bryces really did know each other until I read The Work of Their Hands, a history of the village written by Dr. Sharon Jaeger. It turns out that Bell had carried out a key experiment using the Ellis General Store in Mount Pleasant.  He had strung wires between Tutela Heights and Mount Pleasant – a distance of about four miles.  He used the store as his receiving post, since it had a telegraph office and the needed infrastructure.  Bell had instructed his uncle David, who was back at the Bell homestead, to quote Shakespeare into the machine at an appointed time.  Jaeger quotes Bell’s recollection from a speech he gave 30 years later.

Bell later recalled during a 1906 speech for the Brantford Board of Trade that he sat in Mr. Ellis’ store and waited “with the receiver and my watch in my hand.” Suddenly he heard a preliminary cough, and then the words, “to be or not to be.” “Gentlemen,” exclaimed Dr. Bell, “it was to be…and for the first time between Brantford and Mount Pleasant.”

A week later Bell made the first long distance call between Brantford and Paris, Ontario and that call went down in history, while the experiment in Mount Pleasant was forgotten. But what really caught my attention was an illustration in The Work of Their Hands.

heritage book-FINAL

It turns out that not only did the Bryces know the Bells, but they witnessed this important episode of history.  I have yet to find any reference to this event in Peter Bryce’s writing, but one has to wonder how much impact this event would have had on him.  Peter Bryce was 23 years old at the time and going to school at the University of Toronto.

“It was the forefront of just about everything to do with our modern society,” says Brantford historian Bill Darfler.  “It was the beginning of scientific exploration for just about anything you can imagine. The medical world went through a revolution at that time.  Our political system changed – our country confederated in 1867.”

This event signifies what we often forget about Peter Bryce.  It’s easy to look at his portrait with the stiff white collar and walrus moustache and think of him as old-fashioned.  But nothing could be further from the truth – he was on the cutting edge of medicine and science at a time when change was in the air.   Bell’s telephone would transform society, but so would Bryce’s vision for good public health.  And for one brief evening the two  came together at the Ellis General Store in Mount Pleasant, Ontario.

The documentary film Finding Peter Bryce is currently in post-production but it needs funding to be completed.  If you are interested in contributing, you can give through our partners, the Canadian Public Health Association and receive a tax receipt in return.  Go to How to donate to the Film to find out more. Click here to see the promotional trailer.   If you have other questions, suggestions or thoughts, please contact me at andyj.bryce@gmail.com

Peter Bryce and the Six Nations Reserve

“So let’s go see the downtown,” said Peter Campbell, the director of Finding Peter Bryce.  We were driving down Mount Pleasant Road just south of Brantford, and we were coming up to a four way stop.  There was a house on one corner, a bistro on another, and across the street a market with a windmill on top and on the other corner, a cemetery.

“This is it,” I told him.  “This is all there is to Mount Pleasant.”

Peter wanted a downtown to shoot some incidental scenes, and he had imagined Mount Pleasant to be a classic Ontario downtown with brick buildings and lamp posts and the like (the next day we shot in Port Hope, which was just the kind of place Peter was imagining).  Mount Pleasant is more like a collection of houses – hardly noticeable as a community anymore.  But 160 years ago, this village represented opportunity for settlers.  The land was fertile, and Mount Pleasant was beside the Grand River which emptied into Lake Erie and gave access to markets across the lake in the U.S. It was an important transportation route in the days before railroads or even basic roads.  Mount Pleasant had location, location, location.

Mount Pleasant is also remarkable because it was the first plot of land leased out to settlers by Six Nations Chief Joseph Brant.  The Six Nations are made up of the six Iroquois bands which supported the British in the American Revolutionary War.  To reward their Indigenous allies (who were also facing punishment and perhaps death in the U.S.A.), the British offered them the Haldimand tract in what is now Ontario.  It was an enormous grant – 10 miles on either side of the Grand River from Lake Erie to what is now Mount Forest.  But Chief Joseph Brant started leasing out land to settlers.  He figured the land would bring in money, and encourage the settlers and Indigenous to work together.  He didn’t see the Indigenous lifestyle of hunting and trapping in the future and wanted his people to adopt the agricultural lifestyle.  At least, that’s the history that we have inherited as the descendants of the settlers. As I have found on this journey more than once, Indigenous history and Settler history are different in their interpretations.  My next piece of research will be to flesh out how the Indigenous view their relationship with Europeans at that time.  This should help to answer a question that is core to Peter Bryce’s story; Did he have regular contact with Indigenous people while growing up?

“Peter Bryce had acquired a sensitivity to the Aboriginal population,” says historian Bill Darfleur. “I’m sure that’s because Six Nations is on the other side of the town line. “

It’s not the first time I have heard this interpretation; my cousin Kevin Best had talked to me about this more than a year before.  Kevin knows more about the Indigenous world, than any other non-Indigenous person I have met.  Well before Kevin knew about his ancestor’s advocacy of Indigenous people, he had developed a deep appreciation for Indigenous culture and spirituality.    At a ceremony in Toronto in 2015, Kevin offered me his eagle feather as support when I was about to give a thank you speech on behalf of the family.  It was a generous and personal offering and I was touched.

“There was definitely contact in the early days,” says Kevin.  “The Haudenosawne (Iroquois confederacy) had a real problem at Six Nations because so many of their men had been killed fighting for the British. On the other hand many of the settlers around Mount Pleasant were officers from the British military who were single.  There was a lot of intermarriage.”

It’s easy to find the results of this intermarriage.  We were hosted in Mount Pleasant by Linda Guest, who ran a B&B and is a descendant of Joseph Brant’s assistant, Epaphras Phelps.  He was from the Mohawk valley of upper New York state and he moved to the area and married a Mohawk woman named Esther Hill in 1798.  Despite some rocky moments during the war of 1812 when Epaphras predicted the Americans would win and was charged with treason for his comments, the Phelps family has many descendants living in the Mount Pleasant area.

But all of this happened well before George and Catherine Bryce (Peter’s parents) arrived in 1843.  According to the book The Work of their Hands, by the 1840s Mount Pleasant was well established as a commercial centre, and the fertile land and active farming community was bringing money in for the merchants and tradesmen of the village.

The Work of Their Hands is an interesting story all on its own. The book was commissioned by a group called Heritage Mount Pleasant.  It hired a researcher from the University of Waterloo named Dr. Sharon Jaeger to research and write about Mount Pleasant from 1799 to 1899. Remarkably this book is 296 pages long, and among other things, it outlines how the two Bryce brothers (Peter and George) played major roles in the development of Canada.  But the village was also home to Arthur Sturgis Hardy, who went on to become Premier of Ontario.  As Premier, Hardy would often lock horns with Dr. Emily Stowe on suffragette issues.   Stowe was the first female medical doctor in Canada, and she had been educated in Mount Pleasant.

work-of-hands

In the book, Jaeger quotes local journalist Jean Waldie who in 1854 describes Mount Pleasant as a hub of activity with inns, taverns and stores, a carriage shop and at least one blacksmith.  In this era a number of substantial homes were built, and many of them still line Mount Pleasant Road.  It was the heyday for Mount Pleasant, and all that economic activity helped the Bryce, Hardy and Stowe children to have influential lives in the new country of Canada.

But history has not been kind to Mount Pleasant.  By the end of the 19th century, much of the industry in Mount Pleasant had moved to nearby Brantford and by the time of the automobile in the 20th century, Mount Pleasant’s future as a sleepy village was cemented.

What keeps me going on this journey is how I peel back a layer of history, only to find another.  In researching Mount Pleasant I found a story about a village with great prospects which got left behind by history. It’s a story that has been repeated dozens of times in Canada.  But now I am left wondering about the next layer, and that involves the other people in this story – the people of Six Nations. In researching that story, I suspect I will find yet another layer that will tell me more about this country.  Such is the nature of history.

The documentary film Finding Peter Bryce is currently in post-production but it needs funding to be completed.  If you are interested in contributing, you can give through our partners, the Canadian Public Health Association and receive a tax receipt in return.  Go to How to donate to the Film to find out more. Click here to see the promotional trailer.   If you have other questions, suggestions or thoughts, please contact me at andyj.bryce@gmail.com

Peter Bryce Anticipates the Modern Welfare State

Over the last few weeks I have been laying out the history of Peter Bryce’s involvement with residential schools and public health in Canada’s early years.  I have made the argument that he is one of the key figures in both of these fields and that he is one of the unknown characters of Canadian history.  But on my last post of 2016,  I want to advance that argument one step further, to say that Peter Bryce’s actions anticipated Canada’s modern welfare state.

The woman who has said this most clearly is Megan Sproule-Jones.  In 1996 she published Crusading for the Forgotten: Dr. Peter Bryce, Public Heath, and Prairie Native Residential Schools in the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History.  In this article she outlines the rise of the public health movement and its impact on the Indigenous community through Peter Bryce’s efforts.  It turns out Bryce was not alone in his approach to solving the problems of Canadian society in the late 19th century.  He had grown up in a prominent Presbyterian family in Ontario, and was a member of a movement called the Social Gospel which had emerged from the pulpit-driven religion of his father’s generation.

“That movement emerged in response to Canada’s transition from a rural society to an urban one,” says Sproule-Jones.  “For those Christians the gospel was a call to action. They felt an obligation to help those in society who may not have been able to help themselves.  Those Christians formed organizations like the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YWCA and the Salvation Army.  They were all out there working to deal with issues like poverty, hunger, poor sanitation, and poor housing.”

For Peter Bryce, public health brought together his two great personal influences: science and religion.  By using the fundamentals of scientific research he could prove how public health measures could result in social change and uphold a sense of morality and justice – good public health is for everyone since no one group in society is totally isolated from the rest.  The problem for the public health movement was that the federal government had remained resistant to legislation and public policy surrounding public health.  Going to work for the federal government in 1904 would have been an important step for Bryce.

“They were trying to lobby the government for changes in legislation and they believed firmly that government had a role to play in insuring the health and welfare of all Canadians,” says Sproule-Jones. “They were never very successful in convincing the federal government of that so I would imagine that when Peter Bryce had this opportunity to take on the role of Chief Medical Officer, he would have been very excited because he would have been right in there with the people would have been framing public policy and legislation that could have affected change. I’m sure that would have been his hope when he took on that position.”

Perhaps Bryce knew that he would have a difficult path in the federal government.  At Queen’s Park he held considerable influence, but in Ottawa he would have  to answer to layers of bureaucracy above him, and he would be working for a government whose main focus was economic expansion.  It is little wonder that he met resistance, but as Cindy Blackstock says, “Someone had to be first – someone had to blaze that trail, and that person was your great-grandfather.”

“I think Peter Bryce really anticipated the rise of the welfare state in Canada” says Sproule-Jones.  “He was a very strong proponent of government intervention.  He believed quite firmly that the government did a have a role to play in the health and the well-being of Canadians.  He was calling for government intervention in Indigenous health and Indigenous education at a time when many people really still believed in a more ‘fend-for-yourself’ approach – a laissez-faire principle that people should really be able to look after themselves.“

To put this in perspective, when the Social Gospel finally ran out of steam in the 1920s, it left a vacuum filled by the Canadian Commonwealth Federation in 1932.  The CCF’s early leadership included figures like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, both of  whom had been figures in the Social Gospel just a few years before.   The CCF, and later the New Democratic Party would be effective advocates for the modern welfare state, and without them social benefits such as socialized medicine may never have happened.

I will be taking a break over the holidays but will be back with more about Peter Bryce in the new year.

The documentary film Finding Peter Bryce is currently in post-production but it needs funding to be completed.  If you are interested in contributing, you can give through our partners, the Canadian Public Health Association and receive a tax receipt in return.  Go to How to donate to the Film to find out more. Click here to see the promotional trailer.   If you have other questions, suggestions or thoughts, please contact me at andyj.bryce@gmail.com

Peter Bryce and the Golden Whistle Award

 

goldenwhistle

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
– Albert Einstein

It’s a wonder anyone blows the whistle on wrongdoing; whistleblowers never fare well in the aftermath.  Take the case of Alan Cutler, for instance.  He was a senior procurement manager at the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services Canada in the mid-1990s when he noticed irregularities in the spending of federal government funds in Quebec.  We now know these irregularities as Adscam, or the Sponsorship Scandal.  Auditor-general Sheila Fraser found about $100 million in fees and commissions was paid to communications agencies in what now looks like a program which was basically designed to generate commissions for these companies.

And Alan Cutler?  In a 2012 article written by journalist Michael Harris, Cutler reveals how he was being watched for insubordination after he blew the whistle.  “For three months, they let me rot. Every working day, nothing to do and no one would take my calls. I spent the mornings writing numerals on a pad — 800, 801, 802 … and then crossed them out in the afternoon. I was literally crossing out time. I played out chess openings in my mind. They wanted to nail me for insubordination, so I remained silent. They were watching everything so I didn’t even read a book. They were listening to everything so I never made a personal call. I went home with blazing headaches and ended up on stress medication.”

Cutler was relatively “lucky” (if you can call it that) – many whistleblowers face worse financial, professional and personal losses.  Eventually he moved on to another ministry, and was exonerated by the Gomery Commission.  On the other hand, Cutler’s boss, Chuck Guite spent 3 and a half years in prison and the scandal helped bring down the federal Liberal government in 2006.

5th Annual National Golden Whistle Award

Peter Bryce and Alan Cutler are both recipients of the Golden Whistle Award, presented by Canadians for Accountability and Peace Order and Good Government.  Peter Bryce first blew the whistle on health conditions in residential schools in 1907.  That’s when he reported that 24% of all children in Indian Residential Schools on the prairies were dying of tuberculosis.  He submitted his report to the head of Indian Affairs, Frank Pedley in June 1907.  Pedley and his assistant, the infamous Duncan Campbell Scott, did nothing with it while Bryce issued the report to all MPs and church leaders.  Eventually it was leaked to the Ottawa Citizen which published the details six months later in November 1907.

That’s when the report’s recommendations were called into question and a campaign to undermine my great-grandfather’s credibility was started by Scott. Eventually, when he took over Pedley’s job in 1913, Duncan Campbell Scott told Peter Bryce that the department no longer needed a public health officer, and there was no need to continue issuing reports which showed how poorly the department was handling the public health of Indigenous people.

Bryce took another shot at it in 1922, after he had retired from the civil service and was no longer bound by confidentiality agreements.  In his short book The Story of a National Crime, Bryce recounted his time at Indian Affairs, and blamed the inaction on health issues on Duncan Campbell Scott.  Bryce also outlined how he had been treated by the federal government.  From the beginning of his tenure in 1904, Bryce had advocated for a ministry of public health.  Eventually in 1919 the government called on him to draft legislation for just such a ministry, but it denied Bryce the honour of being the first deputy minister in 1920.  Instead, the government retired him in 1921 and put him on a pension worth about ¼ of his annual salary.

The Indian Residential School program devastated the Indigenous community in Canada for well over one hundred years.  As well, the effects of the system will linger for many years to come, even though the last residential school was closed in 1996.  Just like all whistleblowers, Peter Bryce paid for his revelations financially, professionally and personally.  But we as a society owe Peter Bryce, Alan Cutler and all whistleblowers a debt of gratitude, for as American president Dwight D. Eisenhower said “a people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

 

The documentary film Finding Peter Bryce is currently in post-production but it needs funding to be completed.  If you are interested in contributing, you can give through our partners, the Canadian Public Health Association and receive a tax receipt in return.  Go to How to donate to the Film to find out more. Click here to see the promotional trailer.   If you have other questions, suggestions or thoughts, please contact me at andyj.bryce@gmail.com

 

Peter Bryce and the Politics of Fear and Hatred

I seem to relate everything to Peter Bryce these days, and in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s win this week I found myself linking Peter Bryce to the news of the day through the lens of immigration.  As has been well-outlined in the last few months, Trump’s position on immigration is exclusionary and based on the politics of fear and hate.  On his website, Trump proposes building a wall between Mexico and the U-S, vetting immigrants to see if they share American values, and restricting immigration from places where terrorism is active.  It seems Trump and his supporters only want immigrants who fit a narrow profile.   This is not the first time that race and immigration have been tied together – they have also been issues in Canada.

Well before Peter Bryce joined the federal government, Canada first faced the issue of race and immigration.  In the country’s early years, the government’s plan was to populate the prairies with the poor of Great Britain.   This proved to be a disaster because poor immigrants from the slums of Britain’s big cities had no idea how to farm, much less survive the brutal weather extremes of the prairies.  In 1896 Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in the Laurier government, promoted the idea of bringing in immigrants from places like Scandinavia, Germany and the steppes of eastern Europe.  Despite protests from Canadians who wanted the country to be populated only by the British, this radical idea worked, and more than two million immigrants would pour into the country in the next few years.

clifford_sifton_2

Sir Clifford Sifton

Peter Bryce was a supporter of immigration, and that may surprise many who see him strictly as the man who lobbied for better health conditions among Indigenous people.  He was a believer in the colonial approach to economics and he saw Canada as an empty land full of economic potential; all it needed was a willing workforce to make it happen.  Bryce also believed that Canada’s future lay in being an agrarian superpower, with numerous small communities servicing a vast agricultural factory which would help feed the world.

As the chief bureaucrat for the board of health in Ontario, he worked to improve health conditions for immigrants who were flooding into the slums of Toronto, and actively fought racism caused by the belief that immigrant populations brought disease to the city.  Later in the federal government, he was the chief medical officer for two departments:  Indian Affairs, and Immigration.   His biggest impact in the Immigration department was the construction of hygienic and efficient immigration depots, and screening for communicable diseases.

But his support of immigration went deeper than that.  In 1928, long after he had retired, Bryce published a collection of papers called The Value to Canada of the Continental Immigrant.  The impetus for this collection was the narrative of the day that immigrants were to be feared because of their differences.  By this time Bryce was in his mid 70s, but he had spent six months travelling Canada to visit many of the communities which arose from the immigration first promoted by Sir Clifford Sifton, who he also interviewed.

The value to Canada of the continental immigrant: a series of ar

Among the places he visited were Castlegar B.C., where he spent a day with Doukhbours who had been persecuted in Russia because of their radical views.  He also travelled to the Selkirk region of Manitoba, and central Saskatchewan and Alberta where communities of Scandinavians, Germans, and Ukrainians had been established.  Bryce’s theme was consistent; these people shared Canadian values, and they were working hard to bring wealth to their communities and to the country in general.

Today among my friends and family are the descendants of those immigrants. My brother’s wife is from the German community in Fort Saskatchewan; my wife’s sister is married to a descendant of the Scandinavian community; a friend and colleague is a descendant of the Doukhbour community.  The fact that we mix so easily and yet celebrate our ethnic backgrounds contradicts the racist politics which characterized Donald Trump’s campaign, and reminds me that strong voices like Peter Bryce’s are needed today, more than ever.

The ghost of Duncan Campbell Scott haunts the halls of INAC

I couldn’t help thinking of Duncan Campbell Scott when I read Doug Cuthand’s article this weekend.  Cuthand is a member of the Little Pine First Nation and a columnist for both the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and Regina Leader-Post.  Before making his living as filmmaker and writer, Doug Cuthand spent fifteen years with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.  He is well-qualified to write about Indigenous issues.

In a column published November 5 called Replace hidebound INAC with a 21st century ministry, Cuthand takes a critical look at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and calls on the government to replace it with something more modern, and less redolent of the colonial era of Canada’s development.

“It also has a long history of meddling in First Nations affairs and providing substandard services,” says Cuthand. “The department has been a law unto itself for generations.”

Well, definitely since 1913 when the department came under the control of Canada’s mandarin/poet Duncan Campbell Scott.  This was a man who joined the department in 1879 (when family friend Sir John A. MacDonald recommended him) and left in 1932 – a 53 year career in one department.  No one person left a greater stamp on Indian Affairs than Duncan Campbell Scott.

duncan-campbell-scott-library-archives-canada

Duncan Campbell Scott

It was Scott who advocated for the assimilation of Indigenous people, and increased residential school attendance from 11 thousand in 1913 to 17 thousand students in 1932.  He did this by forcing students to go to residential schools, all the while knowing of the health problems at those schools, and failing to get enough money to adequately pay for their care, feeding and education.  Scott was the most parsimonious of bureaucrats, ultimately valuing dollars over lives.   This could well have been due to his belief that Indigenous people would disappear because of their perceived “inferior qualities.”  In 1920 he explained in parliament

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…

Of course there was one voice that said these people could stand on their own, given half a chance.  That voice belonged to my great-grandfather, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce and he had the evidence to back up his statement.  One of the first things Bryce did when he was hired in Indian Affairs in 1904 was study the evidence to see if the myth that Indigenous people were spiritually, emotionally and physically inferior was true.  Bryce’s minister, Sir Clifford Sifton had said just that in a committee meeting in 1900, so it was a career-limiting moment when Bryce reported that there was no indication of physical inferiority in Indigenous people.  What he did find instead was that European people who lived in the same conditions as Indigenous people had similar rates of disease and mortality. This was not news that the penny-pinching Duncan Campbell Scott would have welcomed, so instead Scott did his best to discredit my great-grandfather.

“It was Duncan Campbell Scott who received Peter Bryce’s report (on conditions in residential schools) and moved to suppress that report and discredit your great-grandfather,” says Cindy Blackstock.  When Duncan Campbell Scott became deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1913, he relieved Peter H. Bryce from his duties as Chief Medical Officer, and discontinued the practice of issuing an annual report on the health of Indigenous people.

The First Nations case against the Federal government at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal proved that the federal government spends less on social services for Indigenous children than on non-Indigenous children.  I also note that INAC lapsed (meaning “didn’t spend”) 900 million dollars last year.  These two facts alone make me think Mr. Cuthand has a good point – it seems not much has changed since the colonial days of Duncan Campbell Scott and Peter H. Bryce.