Web Archiving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

By Russell White

The World Wide Web is the defining communications medium of our era, and a vital source of Canadian documentary heritage. At the same time, websites lack the durability of analogue materials and have a limited lifetime online.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was coming to a close in late 2015, there was concern in the archival community that historically valuable information created on the web since the TRC’s 2008 inception could be lost. To meet this challenge, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archivist Emily Monks-Leeson and LAC‘s web archiving team began preserving websites related to the TRC that were national in scope. We collaborated on the project with archivists at The University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, who were at that time working on preserving TRC-related websites focused on the province of Manitoba.

Making It Public

The result of this collaboration is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Web Archive. Launched jointly with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), The University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba in July 2017, the TRC Web Archive provides public access to a spectrum of voices from the web related to the commission itself and, more broadly, to the theme of reconciliation. These include official TRC and NCTR websites and related documents, blogs and personal sites on the residential school system, media articles, and sites with a community focus on survivors, commemoration, healing and reconciliation.

The websites in the collaborative TRC Web Archive were captured, described and made accessible through the Internet Archive’s Archive-It platform. To date, LAC has collected approximately 260 resources that, we believe, will be invaluable to researchers, students, survivors and their families, and anyone wanting to learn more about the TRC, its effects and legacy, and the responses to it from individuals, organizations, and media.

Here are a few examples of archived websites in the collection:

  • âpihtawikosisân: Meaning “half-son”, this is the personal blog of Métis writer and educator Chelsea Vowel, who writes about education, aboriginal law, and the Cree language. The archived blog includes observations on the legacy and public perception of residential schools.
  • We Were So Far Away – The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools: A virtual exhibit that presents the stories of Inuit survivors of residential schools, providing moving examples of what life was like for students.
  • “The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (Parliament of Canada): This paper by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service reviews the TRC‘s historical context, provides an overview of its terms of reference and its purpose, and discusses certain themes drawn from past truth commissions and other transitional justice initiatives conducted internationally.

About the Commission

The TRC, which began its work in 2008, spent six years collecting testimony from over 7,000 former students of Canada’s residential schools, in order to reveal the harmful legacy of the residential school system. The Commission concluded in December 2015 with the creation of the NCTR at the University of Manitoba and the release of the TRC final report, which included 94 calls to action for reconciliation and healing across Canada.

View the archived TRC reports and calls to action from the NCTR website.

Students in uniform standing in front of the Battleford Indian Industrial School in Battleford, Saskatchewan, 1895.

Battleford Indian Industrial School, Saskatchewan, 1895 (MIKAN 3354528)

What’s Next?

The TRC Web Archive is an ongoing project, and we continue to add resources to it. In the course of our work, we were also inspired by TRC Call to Action #88—in support of Indigenous sport—to create a separate online archival collection focused on the 2017 North American Indigenous Games, held in Toronto with more than 5,000 participants from across North America.

We welcome nominations from the public. If you know of a site related to the TRC, reconciliation, or Indigenous issues more broadly that would enhance our collections, please send an email to LAC’s web archiving team at bac.archivesweb-webarchives.lac@canada.ca, and we’ll assess it for preservation.

Library and Archives Canada sincerely hopes that the TRC Web Archive adequately preserves the history and legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a respectful and sensitive documentary and research resource.

 

Related Resources


Russell White is a Senior Project Officer in Digital Integration at Library and Archives Canada

Guest curator: Sarah Hurford

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta, by Sarah Hurford, 2014

Photograph of a booth covered in photos with a computer on the side. A brown-haired woman staffing the booth is finding a photo for a couple visiting the booth. Another booth is in the background.

View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta by Sarah Hurford, 2014. © Sarah Hurford, 2014.

When the first residential school opened in the 1870s, the idea had mainstream support. Today, Canadians find the policy abhorrent. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a major role in educating the public.


Tell us about yourself

I have been interested in records relating to Indigenous heritage since my first summer at LAC as a summer student in 1998. This is when I saw firsthand how much of a difference finding historical documents made to people.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

This photograph was taken in the middle of a huge arena with thousands of people in it, and many booths: government departments, church sharing circles, vendors, and many, many visitors. It really was shared space, and for that reason alone, the arena itself was a site of reconciliation. It was a very unique experience, and the air was charged with emotion and the smell of burning sage. People stopped at the LAC booth to share their stories with us, ask us questions, and look at the photographs we had on display. To me, the event was particularly special since it was the last national event planned, so it was the last time I thought I would be in such an environment.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

The other related item I would like to add to the exhibition is this photograph, which shows a group of boys who lived too far away from the residential school at Aklavik to return home during the summers. At the national event in Edmonton, I met the grandson of one of these boys, who immediately found his grandfather in the photograph. Every time I see the photo, I remember meeting his grandson, and that experience really underscored for me that it was important that we were there at the national events to hear these stories, and that we understand that historical documents in our collections have an effect on the present day.

Group of Inuit children dressed in overalls or coveralls standing on sandy, grassy ground with the school in the background.

Inuit children who lived too far away and had to stay at the Anglican Mission School during the summer by photographer M. Meikle (MIKAN 3193915).

Biography

A colour photograph of a smiling woman with hair parted on the side.Sarah Hurford has been an archivist at LAC since 2009, and specializes in records and search tools relating to Indigenous heritage. She has held positions in Reference Services and in Private Archives, and has provided reference support for two document disclosure research projects conducted for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is currently in the Government Archives Branch in the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada portfolio.

Residential Schools: Photographic Collections

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is presenting a series of galleries consisting of photographs of residential schools, federal day schools and other similar institutions attended by First Nation, Inuit and Métis children in Canada from the late 19th century to the 1990s.

Organized by province and territory, the images featured in these galleries derive from many collections held at LAC—both government and private—and represent a selection of our holdings. The majority of the photographs were taken by federal government employees who worked for the former Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. You can find photos of residential and federal day schools in Accession 1973-357, RG85 and RG10. Use Archives Search—Advanced to search for additional images not included in the galleries.

Two examples include the group of students at Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Manitoba and the page of six photographs showing different views of Lejac Indian Residential School and other buildings in Fraser Lake, British Columbia.

Black and white photograph of Aboriginal girls seated at their desks with a nun standing beside them

Group of female students and a nun in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School, Cross Lake, Manitoba, February 1940 (MIKAN 4673899)

Cream-coloured page with six black and white photographs depicting views of various buildings

Views of Lejac Indian Residential School, and other buildings, Fraser Lake, British Columbia, August 1941 (MIKAN 4674042)

Some of the images are found in the collections of other government departments, including the Department of the Interior (Accession 1936-271), the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys (Accession 1960-125) and the National Film Board of Canada (Accession 1971-271).

Photographs of the students, staff and schools are also found in a number of private collections—Henry Joseph Woodside, Joseph Vincent Jacobson, Kryn Taconis and Charles Gimpel—to name a few.

Black and white photograph of a group of Aboriginal girls and boys, nuns and two men posing in front of a building

Port Harrison (Inukjuak) Federal Hostel, group of students, nuns and Aboriginal men, Quebec, ca. 1890, by Henry Joseph Woodside (MIKAN 3193392)

 

Colour photograph of a group of Inuit boys posing in crouched positions on a large flat rock; two of them are holding rifles

Marksmanship group, Coppermine School (Tent Hostel), Kugluktuk, Nunavut, ca. 1958, by unknown photographer, Joseph Vincent Jacobson fonds (MIKAN 3614170)

You can access additional photographs of Aboriginal students and schools using Archives Search—Advanced. For tips on searching the database, see the Online and non-digitized photographs section in Residential School Records Resources under What is found at Library and Archives Canada.

If you have information about a photograph, please let us know. We will add this information to the record in the database. You will need to include an image reference number, for example, PA-102543, e011080332, e011080332_s3 or the MIKAN number—3614170.

Albums featuring sample sets are available on LAC’s Flickr and Facebook pages.