Dr. Peter Bryce; residential school whistleblower

OTTAWA – Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Department, may not have been the first to publicly expose the horrible conditions of the residential schools in the early 1900’s, but he was the most qualified to do so when he wrote the report that would cost him his job, and the closure of his entire office.

It’s a story the Canadian government, in collusion with the Church, tried to keep hidden for generations. But it has all come to light again after several class action lawsuits, launched by former pupils of these so-called schools, and a renewed media and public interest.

Of course, these are horrors the former students of these institutions located across Canada and their families have known about all along but have been reluctant to talk about, until recently.

By now, most people will have been made at least somewhat aware of the allegations of intentional genocide being conducted towards an entire race of people, all hidden behind colonial law and a church frock.

There may not be a more damning indictment against both the church and the state than their own records. This including Bryces scathing report. Rather than consider and make steps to enforce the recommendations contained, however Minister of Indian Affairs at the time, Duncan Campbell Scott, buried the report, fired him and discontinued his office and its mandate.

The Order in Council that gave Bryce his orders and responsibilities recites:

“The undersigned has the honour to report that there is urgent necessity for the appointment of a medical inspector to represent the Department of the Interior and Department of Indian Affairs. The undersigned believes that the qualifications for the position above mentioned are possessed in an eminent degree by Mr. Bryce in his report, M. D., at present and for a number of years past Secretary for the Provincial Board of Health of Ontario, and who has had large experience in connection with the public health of the province. ”


Minister of the Interior and

Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.

All was well until Dr. Bryce came back with a scathing report from the field that demanded immediate action. At that point, Bryce became the enemy of both Scott and Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

In 1907, he was sent out to conduct a special inspection of thirty-five Indian schools in the three prairie provinces, but the recommendations contained in the report were never published and the public, therefore, knows nothing of them.

The Bryce report states that 24 percent, of all the pupils which had been in the schools were known to be dead, while of one school on the File Hills reserve reported that 75 percent of that school’s attendees were dead by the end of the 16 years since the school opened.

A previous medical report from the schools was made by Dr. J.D. Lafferty who examining 243 children of 8 residential schools in Alberta.

This was his report: (a) Tuberculosis was present equally in children at every age; (b) In no instance was a child awaiting admission to school found free from tuberculosis; hence it was plain that infection was got in the home primarily; (c) The disease showed an excessive mortality in the pupils between five and ten years of age; (d) The 10,000 children of school age demanded the same attention as the thousand children coming up each year and entering the schools annually.

Despite these serious warnings, Scott blocked any mention of TB or other diseases at the 1910 National Tuberculosis Association, of which he was then president.


A personal letter, written by Prof. George Adami, Pathologist of McGill University to the Minister dated March 16th, 1911, regarding the inaction of the Department with regard to the recommendations of Bryce and others. This letter refers to the many promises of Mr. D. C. Scott that the Department would immediately take steps to put the suggestions contained in the report into effect. The letter further says:

“It is now over 9 months since these occurrences and I have not received a single communication with reference to carrying out the Suggestions of our report. Am I wrong in assuming that the vanity of Mr. D. C. Scott, growing cut of his success at manipulating the mental activities of Mr. Pedley, has led him to the fatal deception of supposing that his cleverness will be equal to that of Prospero (a character in Skakespeare) in calming any storm that may blow up from a Tuberculosis Association or any where else, since he knows that should he fail he has through memoranda on file placed the responsibility on Mr. Pedley and yourself. In this particular matter, he is counting upon the ignorance and indifference of the public to the fate of the Indians; but with the awakening of the health conscience of the people, we are now seeing on every hand, I feel certain that serious trouble will come out of departmental inertia, and I am not personally disposed to have any blame fall upon me.”

On June 8th, 1920, the Indian Department’s Mr. Beland asks. “Is tuberculosis increasing or decreasing amongst the Indians?”

To which the best news he could offer was, “Mr. Meighen, I am afraid I cannot give a very encouraging answer to the question. We are not convinced that it is increasing, but it is not decreasing.”

With still no success in improving conditions, in 1921, a frustrated Dr. Bryce would publish his report independently, but unfortunately, no one was listening.

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