Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Truth and Reconciliation

Sitting Bull's Camp
I would like to offer for your interest the following account from the autobiography of The Rev Canon P.L. Spencer, of his trip to the Residential Schools across Canada in 1892. This has impact upon the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation process in Ottawa Canada. I have added a number of lantern slide pictures from this period to illustrate the text.

Canon Spencer emigrated with his family from England to Hamilton, Ontario as an eight year old boy in 1853 and became one of the five founding clergy of the Diocese of Niagara. He had a great interest in photography and left a legacy of over 2300 glass lantern slides (many of them hand painted) of his visits and experiences all over the world. He became a popular speaker and writer and gave lectures before the advent of cinema on topics such as "Ship and Shanty in the Early 50's", "Olden Days", and "Around the World in an Hour and a Half" illustrated by these same magic lantern slides. He served in Parishes for over half a century in Niagara Diocese before passing away on May 25th 1932 at the age of eighty six. (see his biography at

Passenger and Conductor
It is not often that we can read the actual accounts, hear the thoughts and see pictures of the Residential Schools and native peoples in Canada from 118 years ago. These extracts are offered without comment on my part, but it seems to me that they do illustrate the deep concern that Canon Spencer and other supporters in England had for native people in the Canadian mission field at that time. Here is a partial transcription of Canon Spencer's autobiography, (p. 115-122) provided courtesy of his family.

"In 1892, I was able to carry into effect a long-cherished desire to visit my native land (England). Having by correspondence with the venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel learned that I could be useful in England. I resolved to make a journey through the prairie region and go as far as the coast of British Columbia in order to see with my own eyes the chief mission establishments situated within convenient reach of a passenger traveling by the then slow trans-continental, The Canadian Pacific Railway.
"Who is afraid?"

"Having explained my object to the officials of that great railway corporation, I obtained a remarkably favorable concession, the favor enabling me to travel at a minimum cost and allowing me to break the journey at any desired point. At several places, I gave a lantern lecture on Eastern Canada. I also took a fairly large number of photographs of natural scenery, mission-buildings,  men, women and children, besides some views of Chinese life and worship."

"Among the places to which I gave attention were: Winnipeg and St. Peter's Reserve, Broadview and Grenfell villages, Crooked Lake Reserve, Fort Qu'Appelle, and the Touch Wood Hills Reserves, Calgary City and the Sarcee and Black Foot reserve, Lytton with its Christian Indian settlement, Vancouver and Victoria, each with its Chinese mission and Nanaimo, my farthest point of observation, with its relic of a Hudson' Bay Fort and its coal-mines of untold value."

Swift Current Blanket Shawls
"In Broadview I met "old auntie", a well-known Indian woman of many summers. How old she was could only be guessed, but an approximation of her age was afforded by the fact that she had a daughter who was known to be 80 years old.

"... A few days afterwards when the C.P.R. train was waiting at Swift Current, I saw on the station platform several Indian women engaged in the mercantile pursuit of exchanging highly polished Buffalo horns for their equivalent in silver coins,

"Lest I forget, I will here state that when returning from the coast a fortnight later, I made a closer acquaintance of the same buffalo horns vendors and purchased from them a pair of the prairie souvenirs, thus showing my good-will."

The Lantern Slide Photographs described here and many others can be viewed in the HiVu Photos Gallery in my collection (100 First Nations pictures displayed) at and go to HiVu Photos Gallery. The titles, by the way, are the exact ones written on the magic lantern glass slides by Canon Spencer himself, and I have not edited the autobiographical account in any way, only to modernize some of the quaint English terms no longer in use and strange views expressed as typical of the Victorian era. I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I hope that this is both enlightening and helpful to us all in our own quest for truth and reconciliation.

That's what I think anyway.

Rev Ron

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