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.

bryce-window-single-shot

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 Debunked the Myths of His Time

It is easy to stand back from the story of Peter Henderson Bryce, and wonder just what all the fuss is about.  After all, as my second cousin David put it, “He was only doing his job.” It is the summer of 2014, the day after a Bryce family reunion where I had met dozens of other descendants of Peter Bryce – people I didn’t even know existed just a few months before.  We are sitting around the remains of breakfast when the topic comes up.  In today’s context, the actions of Peter Bryce seem relatively innocent; he was asked to go out and report on the conditions in residential schools and make recommendations to the government about a course of action, and that’s just what he did.

A year after that breakfast, Peter Campbell and I are interviewing Marie Wilson at a ceremony to unveil a plaque in Peter Bryce’s honour at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.  Her very presence at the ceremony means that indeed there was something very special about what Peter Bryce did.

“What is heroic about doing what you should be doing?” asks Wilson.  She was one of three commissioners on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  She heard thousands of hours of testimony from residential school survivors, and read over the information and evidence gathered by the Commission.  “What is heroic about doing the right thing?  What is heroic about practicing your profession to the best standards you have sworn your career to?

“It’s heroic because the circumstances and the political framework of the day would not allow him to do the normal right thing,”

Dr. Adam Green agrees; in the late 1990s he was working on his Masters’ degree at Queen’s University when he ran across Peter Bryce.

“I am looking in one class at the early Canadian labour movement; I’m in another looking very much at what is called state formation in the early 20th century.  Ultimately in doing research for two different papers, I come across Peter Bryce and this is because on one hand he is producing material on immigration and manpower, and on the other hand he is also working on the Aboriginal file,” says Green.  We are interviewing him in the dining room of his suburban Ottawa home.  Now Adam Green is a researcher for the federal government who also teaches courses in history at the University of Ottawa.  All around us, just out of camera shot, are high chairs and kids’ toys.  His life has moved on since researching and writing about Peter Bryce, twenty years ago.

“I was shocked that I actually found somebody who was perfectly at the centre of all of this,” says Green.  “From a very human angle he’s turning science into something that is debunking every major myth you can think about in the early 20th century. “

Adam Green’s thesis Humanitarian, M.D.: Dr. Peter H. Bryce’s Contributions to Canadian Federal Native and Immigration Policy, 1904-1921 is probably the most comprehensive look at Peter Bryce available today, and I was lucky enough to find it on my first search.  I clearly remember the winter evening I spent reading the thesis, and waking up a few nights later to refer to it, because something in the thesis had infiltrated my dreams.  I am thrilled to be interviewing him.

“As much as he’s being scientific about it, he’s being very human and saying ‘forget about all of the myths and urban legends, here’s what the hard evidence tells me,’” says Green. “’The evidence tells me that Aboriginals are not by their nature unsanitary, and new immigrants from the steppes of Russia are not unsanitary.’  So while he’s delivering cold hard facts, he’s also flying in the face of what the commonsense knowledge was of new immigrant populations and of Aboriginals and it would be the reverse of what almost every Canadian thinks at the time.”

As we pack up at Adam’s house I remember my parents’ lessons about integrity: “Don’t follow the crowd. Do the right thing.  Stand up for yourself.”  I chat with Adam and help move equipment before driving to our next interview. It is a pretty normal scenario, one I’ve played out dozens of times.  But on the inside I feel different; I feel like now I am more complete.  Now I know where those lessons came from.

 

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.

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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.

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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.