Many people still haven’t heard of this project that has been in the works since about 2008, so I wanted to make sure to put this information on the website.
If you’re Inuit looking for loved ones taken south during the TB era of the 1940s to 1960s, you might be able to find information through Nanilavut – “Let’s Find Them“. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. asked the Federal Government to do this and since then, Indigenous and Northern Affairs staff have worked with different organizations to amass about 1 million documents and stories connected to about 4500 different Inuit patients.
My understanding is 5240 Inuit (from CBC article below) were sent south during this time, so there isn’t information on everyone yet. Also, the information on individual cases can be incomplete.
But it’s something!
Natan Obed of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) says the plan is to have Inuit make requests through their respective Inuit land claim organizations, which will then prompt staff with the federal government to search the database. They can’t make it all public because of privacy issues and the sensitive nature of medical records.
According to recent media stories like the one from Nunavut News below, they expect to launch the program later this year.
A while back, I received a list of names and other details for Camsell patients who were from the Sahtu Region (Deline, Fort Norman, Good Hope and Fort Providence) of the Northwest Territories. I wanted to double-check where it came from and how it was created – and also to make sure I could ethically share it online.
I had a good chat with Leeroy Andre, who lives in Deline, and was the one who forwarded the list when I was searching for information on Joseph Elulik. He told me that a Catholic priest who used to work in the Sahtu, Father Denis, kept track of patients from the area who died while at the Camsell and were buried in Edmonton. About fifteen years ago, when Father Denis was in retirement in St. Albert, he brought Leeroy to the (Catholic) Winterburn Cemetery by the Anthony Henday and gave him this list.
Leeroy told me he’s already been in touch with family members of the people listed here, and he thinks it would be okay to share this information publicly in case it’s useful. I’ve also shared it with my colleagues at Enoch Cree Nation, which is trying to compile information on all the patients buried in cemeteries on Enoch land.
Please note: this is a direct transcription from a hand-written, photocopied document.
Jean Baptiste Karkagie. Born May 1914. Died March 11, 1948.
Adele Ferdinand (nee Tutcho – widow Mackeinzo). Born 1904. Died August 1952.
Henri Takazo. Born 1884. Died March 29, 1956.
Athanase Naedzo (Sonny). Born 1916. Died July 7, 1956.
Augustin Sewi. Born 1889. Died September 21, 1962.
Baby Harry Beyonnie. 7 months.
Linda Kay Baptiste. Jan. 31 1970. Died April 6, 1970.
Fort Norman (Tulita):
Rosie Campbell. Born Nov. 1931. Died December 31, 1961.
Frederick Cleary. Born 1921. Died 1949? 1950?
Rosa Widow (nee Cleary). Born August 12, 1922. Died? (Buried in Holy Cross says her husband, Fred)
Thank you to Ann Hardy and other former patients for standing in their truth, and finding enough courage to come forward. Your healing journeys have led you to the place where you can help speak for others who have already passed – or who aren’t in a place where they can speak up.
I can imagine this might be a tough time for some former patients and family members as it gets more and more public, and more memories are dredged up. I hope anyone affected will take extra gentleness with themselves, and will reach out for the help they need.
And, in the name of reconciliation, I hope that those who used to work at these hospitals or in the system, will open their ears and minds and hearts, to sit with the knowledge as the nurse who was interviewed in the Edmonton Heritage Council’s documentary did. To not go immediately to defensiveness or fear or hurt or anger, but to listen and try and hear these experiences.
As for me, I will continue my research into the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital and my own blind spots. Because I truly hope that when we know better, we do better.
If you’d like more information on the class action suit or would like to come forward as a witness, please contact lawyer Steven Cooper: Steve@cooperregal.ca. This is the website for Steven’s firm in AB/North, which is working in conjunction with Koski Minsky.
Holly Moore and the APTN Investigates team recently looked into the history and legacy of Indian Hospitals and tuberculosis in Canada. Out of their work, they produced a 25-minute video that provides context and dips into experiences at various hospitals, including the Camsell. In addition to interviews with several authors and researchers (such as Dr. Maureen Lux and Dr. Ian Mosby), they speak with Dorothy Wanahadie and Marilyn Buffalo about their experiences – or their family members’ experiences – as patients and staff at the Camsell.
I think what Stephen Lewis, Director of AIDS-Free World said, resonates. There’s a sense of “angry bewilderment” at the treatment of Indigenous people during the era of the Sanatoriums, but also at the lack of information today.
Hopefully all of our work to illuminate this past, and get answers, will be helpful.
In this post I’ll try and step you through looking for patient records for you or your loved one at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.
Step 1. Check out this website to get you started. Melissa, a Metis nurse living in Edmonton, was born at the Camsell, and created it as part of a recent university project to help people find out what happened to their loved ones. It will help you figure out what information to have ready and what records you might be able to find online or in Edmonton.
Step 2. Download and print this form from Library and Archives Canada, or complete it online. It’s called a Personal Information Request form. Usually you can only request information for yourself or a deceased next-of-kin. You might need to have their death certificate or other records in this case.
Step 3. Fill the form out with the following information (if you get frustrated and need help, you can call Library and Archives Canada during business hours: 613-996-5115 in Ottawa or 1-866-578-7777 toll free)
When it asks for “Federal government institution” at the top, write in Library and Archives Canada
Check the appropriate box for “as it is” or to have the records “in English” or “in French”
When it says to “provide details regarding the personal information being sought (e.g. subject matter, date range, type of records), you can use this template: Any and all records, photos, etc related to [INSERT NAME – this should include any possible alternate spellings or additional names/last names so they can be thorough] and their time at the Charles Camsell Hospital. I believe they were a patient there [DATES]. I would also like any information connected to their travel to and from the hospital, and where they might have been buried [if applicable].
“Method of access preferred” you can select the first one for them to mail you copies, the second one for them to email you digital copies, or the third if you live in Ottawa or nearby and want to go in person.
Based on my research and help from the archivists at Library and Archives Canada, the most likely spots for Charles Camsell Hospital records are in the following locations. You can include these in your “details” section if you can squeeze them in, or write them at the bottom of the page like I did:
Records from the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital (graphic material and textual record) RG29, Accession 2001—11-03 EFRC 2003-01384-9; Mikan number 4166162. [FYI There may be photographs in this accession of records, but the ledgers and registers are not complete – going only up to 1958.]
*As you read these descriptions, you will note they are Code 32, or restricted material. This doesn’t mean you can’t have this information, only that first you must apply to theAccesstoInformation and Privacy Officer because it’s not public access (that’s a good thing, since this is private, sensitive medical information in many cases!).
Step 4. Write a cheque or money order for $5 application fee (or use your credit card with the online form).
Step 5. Submit your $5 fee and form online or mail it to:
ATTN: ATIP Section
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
A couple of things to keep in mind:
The records you receive may be ‘redacted’ – this means that parts relating to other patients will be blacked out to protect their privacy (just like yours or your loved one’s would be blacked out to protect your privacy if someone requested those records).
My experience has been that the archivists at Library and Archives Canada are happy to help but often have a heavy workload, so there can be a bit of a delay (it took me four months to get a reply about an inquiry in 2015/16, for example). I’ve also found it’s best to call on the phone for clarification rather than email – just faster and easier (and less room for confusion).
If it takes them more than 5 hours of research, they may request more fees (this hasn’t happened to me yet).
A big part of my search for Joseph has been learning to navigate the official hospital and government records. I’m a trained historian and it’s been tricky and intimidating at times, so I can only imagine what it’s like for former patients or people trying to track down what happened to their loved ones.
I’ve been keeping notes about my process, like breadcrumbs, so I’ve got a sense of how to do this work. My plan all along was to then share a ‘how-to guide’ so all of you out there could have the tools to do it too (and not have to make my mistakes and fall into my research holes).
We’re all fortunate that someone else was thinking along the same lines and got there faster. Melissa Cardinal, a nurse in Edmonton, decided for her MA project to focus on this. And she’s come up with a really great, easy-to-understand website.
One thing she highlights that is a huge boon to all of us trying to figure out these things is that the Province of Alberta has made its vital statistics (birth and death records, etc) available and searchable ONLINE! For deaths, this is just for anything fifty years old or more (so, May 16, 1967 and older, as I write this) for privacy/legal reasons. But still, this will help so many people doing research far away from Edmonton.
Melissa also has a great interactive map on her site to help you figure out if it’s likely you or your loved one was a patient at the hospital (versus one of the other two dozen or so Indian Hospitals in Canada).
As Melissa says on her site, I’m working on a ‘how-to guide’ for people who have checked at the Provincial and local level and want to see what might be available at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Off I go!
As part of the upcoming Reconciliation Week and in support of ongoing truth and reconciliation work in our city, RISE is pleased to be hosting two upcoming events related to the history and memory of the Charles Camsell Hospital. Both events are free and everyone is welcome. Donations will be accepted at the door and online to make the events possible.
Connecting to Camsell – Screening & Discussion
Tuesday, May 30 from 6-8PM at the River Cree Resort & Casino
What do you know about the Charles Camsell Hospital?
Learn more about the layered history from a segregated Indian hospital to a present-day housing development through a series of short films and a panel discussion.
“The Longer Trail” (1956, National Film Board of Canada)
“Lost Songs” (1999, National Film Board of Canada)
“Camsell” (2016, Edmonton Heritage Council)
The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion including former patients, local researchers and community members.Free event, everyone welcome. Please RSVP.
Donations gladly accepted at the door.
Sponsored by: Enoch Cree Nation Archives, River Cree Resort & Casino, City of Edmonton, and Edmonton Heritage Council.
In case you missed this, the Edmonton Heritage Council recently commissioned and released a documentary about the Camsell Hospital. I was very happy to lend a bit of historical consulting support and point the crew in the right direction for historical photos. I sure wish I could have been at the screenings in Edmonton in November, though, when hundreds of people gathered to watch and discuss this film – as well as the hospital’s history and legacy!
I was walking around my new neighbourhood here in Houston, Texas, and all the pumpkins, witches and ghosts decorating homes got me thinking about the Charles Camsell Hospital and how far we’ve come.
In 2014, when I first started researching the Camsell in earnest, most news stories and internet hits talked about its status as a haunted building. There were “Top 10 Edmonton Haunted Sites” lists and shivery stories about breaking in after dark. But, as I’ve been learning, urban legends keep knowledge shallow. They keep us from looking into the complex nature of places and experiences, and the roles we play in them.
This video was released in May by the Inuvialuit History Timeline project.
I knew the Camsell’s story was deeper than that, and intimately connected to the work Canadians are doing around reconciliation. I wanted to dig into the history, but didn’t want to repeat past mistakes. So last year, when I set up this blog, I tried to do it with as much humility and compassion as I could. I’ve had missteps, to be sure, but I have learned from them. This blog has also connected me with the “Camsell Community,” as I’ve come to think of it – all those former patients, staff members, volunteers, and others – as well as other researchers, artists and spiritual leaders who are trying to make sense of this building’s history and legacy.
These individuals, and Edmonton as a whole, have made huge leaps toward understanding in the past two years. There are so many people passionate about holding these bits and pieces up to the light, finding answers, and moving toward reconciliation. There are Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics at the University of Alberta (and other institutions) contributing their skills, for example, to create an archival finding aid families can use to track down information about loved ones. Others are building knowledge about the Occupational Therapy Program and the arts and crafts patients created while at the hospital.
In April of this year, the Edmonton Heritage Council (EHC) hosted a gathering of Elders, former patients and staff, community organizations, and academics at a symposium. All the videos, reports and other information presented and discussed can be found on its website by clicking here.
The EHC also commissioned a short documentary, Camsell, that has been screened to sold-out audiences (free of charge) this fall, followed by Q&A sessions. It will soon be online and I’ll link to it when it’s up.
After the first screening, the Edmonton City as Museum Project podcast team asked people about their experiences at the Camsell, which led to an insightful 10-minute recording (below). It really shows, in quick fashion, how many voices are woven together in this work.
Finally, in book form, Maureen Lux released her work on the Indian Hospital system in Canada, Separate Beds, this spring (from University of Toronto Press). And I’ve been told Gary Geddes has a title coming out early next year on the topic, Unbundled Medicine, from Heritage House, based on his interviews with Elders who were at Indian Hospitals across Canada.
My own work continues as well, for Joseph Elulik’s family, who have been wonderful in their support and understanding on this journey. And for me and other Canadians of all backgrounds who want to know better – and do better. I just keep taking small, tentative steps forward, testing my approach, doing self-reflection, and trying to understand.
There is something about the long Edmonton winter. The snow lays on the ground, freezing it, making construction hard and digging up answers sometimes harder. But I like to think of it the way some farmers and other folks have talked about it with me: the earth is lying fallow, gathering energy and strength for spring.
Before I left for Houston, TX in January, I madly copied anything related to the Camsell Hospital’s history at the Edmonton Archives and Provincial Archives of Alberta. I was able to save a few trees by digitally copying much of it, but I still created a veritable snowstorm of paper from any collection or fonds or newspaper I thought might have something useful. I have copied just about every single page from the Camsell Arrows and Pictorial Reviews that were put out by the hospital staff and patients over 20+ years. You can’t tell by looking at my new home office, but in that hard drive and rolling file boxes are a mountain of information.
I also trudged out to Winterburn Cemetery in the deep January snow with Laura from Alberta Culture and looked for – well, anything. She had sent me some information and maps, and agreed to meet me and my rowdy three-year-old who was off from preschool that day. But beyond this lovely monument, the snow was hiding any clues as to what might lie beneath.
Still, I was able to pass along that photo and much information to Cathy, Louisa and their family members, and earlier this month I was able to walk the cemetery with them. Because this is where we believe Joseph Elulik, Louisa’s father and Cathy’s grandfather, is laid to rest, along with several other Catholic patients who died at the Camsell Hospital.
There are still many mysteries we’re working to unravel, and a lot of work to be done to figure out the complex history and legacy of the Camsell. But there’s new energy and commitment from many quarters. On April 1, for example, an initial gathering of people representing the site’s stakeholders – patients, loved ones, staff, scholars, community organizations – took place. People like Cathy and Louisa traveled from as far away as Cambridge Bay, Nunavut to take part, and we all know it was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of who is connected to this site and has stories to tell. The proceedings from the symposium will be made public in a little while and I’m honoured I get to be the one to prepare the report. From there, I foresee a lot of positive movement to make sure the history is fully documented, and that individuals and communities tied to this history have a voice in communicating and commemorating that history.
One of the people who attended the full day of the symposium was Gene Dub, who has just spoken publicly about his firm’s plans around the site to the Edmonton Journal. Gene addressed the crowd of about sixty at the symposium on April 1, talking about the challenges he and his investors have faced over the past decade. They have encountered costly asbestos removal work that constantly set back their budget and timeline, and have faced the ire of community members who are sick of the ‘eyesore’ in the Inglewood neighbourhood. But now with the asbestos remediation complete, they can apply for construction financing.
Interestingly enough, Gene noted in his impromptu speech at the symposium that there are silver linings to the delays. For one, it has allowed him to become more familiar with the complex history of the site, something that his participation in this symposium only underlined. And as he sat in his group working through questions about history, commemoration, access to information, and more, I wonder what he was thinking.
I do know the Edmonton Journal wrote:
Dub said a 0.4-hectare healing garden at the Camsell site will be designed with the help of aboriginal groups and families of former patients to commemorate the hospital’s history as a federal facility to treat aboriginal people with tuberculosis and other diseases.
As he noted, there are limits to what he can do on the site because of permits and so on, but it’s an idea many in the community and room agreed with. There were also a lot of nodding heads when Gene said that when the site is completely safe from asbestos, he would welcome Elders to perform a healing ceremony.
I hope those things come to pass as members of the Indigenous community that I’ve spoken with would really like them. I know there are two other areas people always ask me about that I can share some information around now as well:
The mosaic in the hallway of the Camsell by Alexander Svoboda, is being preserved during construction by Gene Dub and Associates. The graffiti will be removed and it will be restored to its 1960s-era glory.
The development group hired St. Albert-based historian Michael Payne to do research into possible burial sites where the former Camsell Hospital is located. Payne apparently said there is no evidence of this and that any bodies found would likely be from the pre-1900 period from along the St. Albert Trail. They assured the City of Edmonton, however, that all work would immediately stop if a bone of any kind were found. I understand that the Provincial Government is also examining other types of evidence such as aerial photos for any clue. And I will, as always, keep my eyes and ears open.
So here we are, a year after this blog began, with everyone talking about the Camsell Hospital it seems. Sharing stories and memories. Looking at its complicated history with unflinching eyes. Figuring out ways forward for healing and reconciliation.
As Miranda Jimmy, the person who has walked beside me on this journey wrote on a card recently, “Out of something so dark has grown something so beautiful….” For the Camsell, it’s still spring’s tender shoots breaking through the soil. We need to keep nurturing this growth, for all of our sakes.