About the project
Welcome to our website on the history of the United Church’s Indian Residential Schools. This project was initiated by the United Church’s Steering Committee on Residential Schools, comprised of Survivors from different residential schools across Canada and of United Church leaders and staff. Here you will find photographs from the collections in our national archives in Toronto, as well as photos from the Pacific Mountain Regional Council Archives in British Columbia. By digitizing the photographs, we hope to make them more accessible to Survivors, First Nations communities, and other interested people.
We consider this project a form of repatriation to First Nations communities and recognize that we have a responsibility to engage in truth-telling about the Church’s role in the residential school system and in colonialism in general.
If viewing this site or the photograph causes you or someone you know distress, please call the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. The crisis line will help Survivors get emotional support and crisis services. Please see further details and contact information under “Health Support” on the home page of this site.
The Residential Schools of The United Church of Canada
Since Canadian Confederation, it was the policy of the government of Canada to provide education to Indigenous peoples through a system of church-run residential schools. The schools were part of the federal government’s goal to assimilate Indigenous people into Canadian society. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches and, by 1925, the United Church of Canada explicitly supported the goals of assimilation and Christianization.
The United Church and its predecessors managed schools in Ontario and Western Canada – the number ranging from thirteen in 1927 to four in 1966. The United Church also ran a number of day schools in First Nations communities. By 1969, the federal government took over the management or closed all of the United Church residential schools. The residential school system brought harm and cultural dislocation to children by removing them from their families and communities.
Survivors began to recount their experiences of cultural, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in United Church residential schools and brought legal action against the different bodies responsible for the schools. In response, the General Council of the United Church delivered an apology to the Native Congregations in 1986 and the Moderator of the United Church offered an apology in 1998. Since 2003, the United Church has worked with other denominations and Survivor groups to promote a national truth-telling and healing process. On June 1, 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The Photograph Archive
The General Council Archives of the United Church of Canada (in Toronto) holds a substantial collection of photographs depicting the students, staff, and buildings of their residential schools. In many cases, church officials and principals took these photographs for the purpose of promoting the schools and the assimilation of Indigenous children. They are a concrete expression of the Methodist and United Church’s role in colonization.
At the same time, these photographs speak to the strength and resilience of the children and their families and communities. While many photographs are of students, they often remain unidentified in the records. We have provided the opportunity for viewers to contribute any information they may have about these images to provide a deeper understanding of the photographs’ context. Any information about individuals in the images will not be posted online, for privacy reasons. The purpose of gathering this information is to ensure the records are as helpful as possible for the Truth and Reconciliation process.
Please note that descriptions may include outdated cultural references, stereotypes, or problematic wording that is no longer used or considered appropriate and does not reflect the views of the United Church of Canada and their commitments to equity. Please see The United Church of Canada Archives Equity Statement for more information.