Peter Bryce and The White Plague

According to the World Health Organization, World Tuberculosis Day is marked every March 24, on the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had found the cause of tuberculosis, the TB Bacillus.  According to the WHO site, at the time “TB was raging through Europe and the Americas, causing the death of one out of seven people.”

Once I saw that statistic, I understood more clearly why Peter H. Bryce had decided to pursue public health over neurology.  He had studied in Paris with some of the pioneers of neurology, but then he came home to Canada and went into the civil service in order to work on public health issues, including TB.  Public health held none of the prestige (not to mention compensation) of neurology and I had always wondered why he chose it.

But when I think of one in seven people, I think of a class of 27 students I teach at the moment.  In that class, about four people would die of tuberculosis if this were the late 19th century.  In 1882, the same year Koch identified the bacillus, Bryce joined the civil service in Ontario and started working on the first public health code in Canada – a document designed to reduce such death tolls.

When Peter Bryce reported on the appalling health conditions in the Indian Residential School system in 1907, most of the deaths were caused by TB.  By then, in most of Canada the death rate due to tuberculosis had been reduced dramatically. But in the IRS system nearly one-quarter of all children would die or were dying of TB.  When the story broke in the Ottawa Citizen on November 15, 1907, the headline was Schools Aid White Plague – white plague being a popular description of tuberculosis at the time.

Tuberculosis impacted Peter Bryce throughout his life.  A note in my family tree says that Peter’s sister Katherine died of TB in 1876 at the age of 17.  Further, Bryce’s son Henderson died of TB on December 31, 1931 at the age of 42.  Henderson was the only one of Peter Bryce’s six children who went into medicine.  After graduating from the University of Toronto with his medical degree, Henderson went to Haida Gwaii and worked as a doctor in Port Clemons and later at Stave Falls in the Lower Mainland where a huge hydroelectric dam was being built. Later, he did a residency in surgery at the University of Chicago and became the head of surgery at Vancouver General Hospital before discovering he had TB.

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Dr. Henderson Bryce, ca. 1914

This is where the story gets personal for me, because Henderson was my grandfather and this is my family’s story. Granddad found out that he had TB sometime after my Aunt Helen was born in 1916.  At the time, wisdom was that he would have a better chance of surviving if he moved to a drier part of the world, and so Henderson took a locum assignment in Princeton B.C., where my father was born, before settling in Kelowna in 1920.  It seems Henderson was in remission for much of this time, because he worked at Kelowna General Hospital for a few years, but by the late 1920s, the TB had re-emerged, and he was dying.

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Grandmother Jessie, Aunt Helen, my father Bill and Grandfather Henderson Bryce, 1927

A few years ago my Aunt Helen (who was 15 in 1931) told me she remembered taking the ferry up Okanagan Lake to meet her Uncle Bill, who had been sent by Peter Bryce (my Aunt called him “the old man”) to be with his brother, and to take the body back to Ottawa for burial.  Shortly after my grandfather died on New Year’s Eve 1931, Uncle Bill transported his body back to Ottawa by train, arriving in time to hold a funeral service on January 9th.

A few days later Peter Bryce came home and told his family he was leaving to take a trip to the West Indies the next day.  On January 12, he got on the Empress of Australia at New York City, and two days later on January 14, 1932, Peter H. Bryce died in his cabin, alone.

It is a tragedy that a man who did so much for so many, died alone at sea with the knowledge that the very disease he had spent his life fighting, had killed his son.  But for me the real tragedy is that my father lost his father at the age of 13, and moreover watched his father die so slowly and painfully.  The ravages of TB have the power to reach across generations, as so many in the Indigenous community know all too well.

A 15-year-old Canadian girl died of tuberculosis in January this year. Her name was Ileen Kooneeliusie and she was from the hamlet of Qikiqtarjuag in Nunavut. Andre Picard in the Globe and Mail writes about her death and the high prevalence of TB in the territory (in the interests of giving credit where it is due, the story was first told by Nick Murray of the CBC).  In Canada, 4.7 people out of every 100,000 die of tuberculosis.  In Nunavut, the rate is 229.6 per 100,000.  It’s a disease that can be stopped, but early detection is a key, and Picard notes that this child’s death was caused by cultural and language differences

The mother of Ileen Kooneeliusie said that the principal barrier to getting care for her daughter was an inability to communicate the severity of her condition – because none of the nurses at the clinic spoke Inuktitut.  She was not taken seriously.  The language gap, and the condescension of health workers from away, have consistently been identified as an impediment to care in Nunavut and other Indigenous communities.

Peter Bryce would not be surprised.

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At the Bryce family plot in Beechwood cemetery

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

 

The Stories of Those Who Worked in Residential Schools

Far be it for me to comment on the speech defending the residential school system, given by Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak this week.  People with far greater authority and much more knowledge than I have already done that. But there is something that Beyak said that sparked my interest, and that was her acknowledgement of the people who actually worked in the schools with those children. “I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part,” she said.

This is an opportunity to consider those who worked on the frontlines. For one moment, let’s set aside the obvioiusly mentally ill and evil people who lurked there and assume that there were good, competent people who served in that system.  I wonder what kind of trauma they suffered from working in some of those schools? Certainly, it won’t compare with the trauma suffered by the children, but I am sure that many people were scarred by what they saw and experienced.

John Milloy, in his book A National Crime, outlines what happened to some of them, and how their complaints and concerns were handled by Duncan Campbell Scott.  It is important to remember the big picture here – this was an underfunded system, and these schools were often caught in a bureaucratic dance between the federal government and the churches.  Milloy says the impact of these two factors can be seen at the level of the teachers, principals and administrators who ran those schools.

For many staff the schools were not peaceful, rewarding places to work; they were not havens of civilization. Rather they were sites of struggle against poverty, the result of underfunding, and, of course, against cultural difference and, therefore against the children themselves. Locked away in an establishment often distant from non-Aboriginal settlements, always impenetrable to the gaze of almost everyone in Canada, they carried on this struggle against the children and their culture within an atmosphere of considerable stress, fatigue, and anxiety.  The conditions may well have dulled the staffs’ sensitivity to the children’s hunger, ill-kept look and illness, and often perhaps inevitably, pushed the application of discipline over the line into physical abuse and transformed what was to be a culture of care into one of violence.

Milloy’s best example of a competent man thrown into a dysfunctional system is the Reverend Lett, who along with his wife and baby arrived at St. George’s school in 1923.  The building was falling apart, the farm and orchards were neglected and the children were starving.  The family lived in the main school building, primarily in one bedroom.  The living and dining rooms were public and shared with the other members of the staff, with whom they also shared a bath and toilet.  On one side of their living quarters was the students’ dining room; on the floor above were the dormitories, and below were the play rooms.  They got little to no peace or privacy, and the time and effort required to run the school brought Mrs. Lett to the point of breakdown.  Reverend Lett wrote to Duncan Campbell Scott about the situation to no avail and it would be another four years before the Department of Indian Affairs would do anything about his calls for a new and better facility.

Milloy also recounts how Scott dealt with other letters of complaint from staff and school administrators and even other departmental officials.  W. H. Graham, an inspector in the western provinces wrote to Scott about the poor conditions at Round Lake over a number of years.  Finally Scott answered him and denounced his most detailed report because it was based on complaints from a teacher named Miss Affleck.  In Scott’s mind, Affleck was a malcontent to be ignored because she had reported on the incompetence of her principal (who fired her upon learning of the complaint).  We are lucky to have at least this one account – most of the complaints submitted by staff at the schools were not even put on file.

The residential school system never paid well enough to attract trained teachers, so the people who worked in those schools often had no experience or qualification. Some came from the churches, where residential school work was considered “mission” service.  For many poor people who couldn’t afford to go to college, working in a residential school was the only way to become a teacher. I can just imagine the shock of being a young person, just away from home, going to work in a remote residential school where the children were uncared-for and unloved, where there was no pretense of teaching them anything, and where the strap was the only method of control.  I can also imagine their horror in those schools where the abuse was sexual as well as physical.

So perhaps Senator Beyak is right – perhaps it’s time to hear the stories of those who worked at those schools.  Let’s hear from the descendants of people like Reverend Lett, W.H. Graham, and Miss Affleck, and the many others who went to work in those schools.  Tell the family stories, and bear witness to this part of our history.   But be prepared – the evidence indicates those stories will not likely recount the remarkable works and good deeds imagined by the Senator.

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

Digging for Peter Bryce’s Spiritual Roots

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Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church

Here we were in Ontario in late May and the temperature was over 30 degrees, but inside the church, it was cool.  Peter Campbell and I were in Mount Pleasant, Ontario to interview a local historian and get some footage of Peter Bryce’s hometown for the film Finding Peter Bryce, and we were looking for a stained glass window that was tied to the Bryce family.

Peter Bryce grew up in a far different Canada than the one we live in today.  In an era without computers, televisions, and radios the church fulfilled not only a spiritual role, but it gave everyone an identity, and in a time when most people lived in small communities the church all but defined who you were.

“The social aspect of the church in those days was enormous,” says local historian Bill Darfleur.  “A lot of what we now see as society’s responsibility in social welfare, employment and those sorts of things, those roles were filled by the church.  So, your boss would be in the same congregation as you. It was very important.”

“Religion for the average Canadian in the late 19th century is the centerpiece of their life in a way that we don’t understand today,” says historian Adam Green. “People got their identity from their religion, more than their language, more than ethnicity and to some extent more than their national background.”

Peter Bryce’s parents arrived in Mount Pleasant in 1843, and George and Catherine Bryce took a leading role in the Presbyterian congregation.  The book, The Heritage of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, has a section on the Bryce family.

George Bryce was one of the first and most devoted members of the church.  He was the first president of the Board of Managers and was also one of the church trustees who signed the indenture for the purchase of the two lots where the church is located.  He was among the faithful who helped build the church.

George Bryce’s commitment rubbed off on his children.  His eldest, George Jr., studied theology at Knox College (University of Toronto) and was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in 1871. He moved to Winnipeg shortly after to establish Knox Presbyterian Church and serve as its minister.  He also played a major role in the education system of Manitoba.  He founded Manitoba College, and assisted in founding the University of Manitoba.  So, while Peter Bryce is known for his work in the mostly secular world of public health, his personal influences included a heavy dose of Protestant religion, along with a classical liberal approach to life.

“The one life lesson that I managed to tease out (from research on Bryce) was this notion that when you encounter somebody that is not like you, you don’t cast them off, you bring them into ‘the circle,’” says Green. “There was this missionary state of mind that your job, being someone who was educated, was to bring that light to the masses. For the time, it is an open-minded way of looking at the world.”

Bryce’s religion led him to the Social Gospel, a group of people who felt the church’s role was to help those who were struggling in the new industrial economy of the late 19th century.  From the Social Gospel we get political leaders like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, and it was the Social Gospel which made public health not just a career, but a calling for Peter Bryce.

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Photo Courtesy of June Adlam

Peter Campbell and I never did find the correct window on that hot spring afternoon.  We had snuck in after another event, and the organizers were waiting to lock the doors and go home.  The next day, we missed our connection with June Adlam from the church so we never got a shot of the window.  But June and I connected through email, and she sent me a CD with photos of the Bryce window.  According to the The Heritage of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, the window was erected in 1904 to honour Peter Bryce’s parents.  The inscription underneath is “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” and the window depicts the story of the Good Samaritan. It seems Peter Bryce’s persistent advocacy for the Indigenous came from a far deeper place than just the science of public health.

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

 

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“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

 

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.

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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.