Principal Hugonard Advocates for Better Construction, Heating and Ventilation at Lebret/Qu'Appelle Industrial School

Summary

In a letter to the department of Indian Affairs (17 Sept 1895), medical doctor M.M. Seymour, having examined the Qu’Appelle Industrial School, critiqued a number of aspects of its construction in light of the need to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. The complaints centered on insufficient dorm size, poor ventilation and poor heating and were described as follows: “The boys dormitory is also about four times too small for the number of boys who sleep in it. The beds are packed in it as closely as they can be and from the ceilings only being about eight feet, and from the deficient ventilation the boys have consequently to breathe and rebreathe the same air many times during the night. The smell in this room half an hour after the boys have been in it is strong, and before morning it is simply awful. As overcrowding and breathing vitiated air are two of the best recognized causes predisposing to consumption there can be very little hopes of lessening the present very high death rate from this disease until the children are provided with such room as it will allow them to be in a healthy atmosphere during both the day and night….A great improvement could be made in the boys dormitory by doing away with the coal stoves now in use, and having it heated by hot air from a furnace, then by building a good larger dome, the amount of cubic breathing space in the room would be very largely increased besides allowing for such ventilation as would enable the air to be frequently changed. The putting in of a furnace and building the dome would not cost so very much and if it could be done this Fall, would be the means of saving a number of lives...The matter is all the more important when dealing with Indian children who do not bear confinement well being all more or less predisposed through hereditary taints to Tuberculosis.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The acting Indian Commissioner replied (14 Nov 1895) by stating that it was inappropriate for the principal of the school to be forwarding such demands to the department: “The present application appears to the Department somewhat extraordinary…The Department is perfectly clear as to the foregoing and has moreover a strong impression that apprehending the possibility of what has now occurred, the Principal was informed at the time by the Regina Office, that what was given was on the distinct understanding that no further demands of a kindred character should be subsequently made, and that if they should, no expectation need be entertained of their being granted...In view, however, of the strong terms in which the medical officer appears to feel justified in pressing for improved dormitory accommodation, the Department will not refuse to leave in the estimates for the proximate fiscal year, provision for the furnaces and dome...The Department does not feel the alarm such a statement might otherwise excite, because it is aware that some temporary arrangements can be devised for making some of the boys sleep elsewhere, which, even if not entirely convenient, will obviate the suggested danger to their lives and in this connection it would be glad to learn whether its suggestions for the ventilation of the dormitories have ever been carried out...In conclusion the Department observes that it is quite unable to reconcile the statements made about the insufficiency of existing accommodation with the application for a considerable increase in the number of pupils for next year.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Principal Hugonard responded (9 Dec 1895) by stating that according to department policy, it was, in fact, appropriate for him to make such demands: “The boys dormitory will be relieved of the smallest boys as soon as it is practical to occupy the new building, but without an increase in the number of pupils we will have no funds to pay the two Sisters required for the hospital and small children, or to defray the cost of heating the building, etc. When I ask for or suggest improvements it is because in memorandum No 14422, of June 10th 1894, approved by the late Sir John A. Macdonald it is stated, that the Principal shall have at all times the privilege of tendering any suggestions that he may consider advisable in the interests of the institution while, from the tone of the Department's letter, one would think I am asking for my private benefit, which is not the case but as circumstances arise I deem it to be my duty to offer suggestions as to the best way of using them.”

Implications
In comparison to non-Indigenous primary and secondary schooling, the federal government implemented far lower standards for the quality of instruction and school buildings used to educate Indigenous children (In a House of Commons debate from 1906, Mr. Roche asked Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver, “Do the teachers in these Indian schools require to have the same qualifications as the teachers in the public schools of the province?” Minister Oliver avoided a direct response to the question by stating “The desire of the department is to secure teachers who hold at least third-class certificates, but it is not always possible to get such teachers.” Minister Oliver was referring to the British undergraduate ranking system, in which third class is the lowest classification of honours in the British system. If you did not have a third class degree, you would receive an “ordinary” degree in which you simply passed. In saying “it is not always possible to get such teachers,” Oliver was making reference to the fact that the government offered lower wages for teachers who instructed Indigenous children. In fact, it was often difficult for the government to obtain and maintain teachers of Indigenous children because of low wages. Government standards for teachers of Indigenous children were lower than for those who taught non-Indigenous children.) ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The correspondence between the Commissioner and Principal Hugonard demonstrate a lack of concern over the welfare of Indigenous students regarding the prevention of the spread of tuberculosis. This pattern of disregard was justified by a lack of available funds. More realistically, however, it reflected a lack of prioritization as the needs of non-Indigenous citizens were perceived to be of greater importance than those of Indigenous children.
Date
1895-09-00