Photos of boarding schools discovered in Roman archives

An archivist with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) hopes to soon be able to digitize photos of the Canadian residential school system found in Rome in hopes of helping identify the children who were in the schools.

Raymond Frogner, responsible for the archives of the NCTR, was recently in Rome, where he discovered the photos of the Oblate Archives.

“There was a group of documents called audiovisual photos in the archives that essentially documented public missions around the world since the 19th century,” he said. “In all of these photos, I was able to find five jars that actually relate to early 20th century residential schools in Canada.

« I reported this to the archivists and just noted that they looked like original photos and could potentially document the lives of children who we know are missing. And you know, we could obtain other information on the life of these children.

Frogner estimates there are between 700 and 1,000 photos in the collection. He said the photos had information written on the back, mostly locations and dates, but no information about the people in the photos.

“Another potential component of this project would be to provide access to the communities where the children come from and ask the community if they can put names on these children, because at the moment they do not have any,” said Frogner said.

Discussions with archivists in Rome about the project are ongoing, but Frogner said once approved it would take no more than two months to digitize the photos.

He added that these photos are primarily meant to document this time in Canadian history, especially as Canada continues to grapple with the legacy of the residential school system.

“We are in a period of profound change and documenting it, understanding it better with this documentation is vitally important,” Frogner said.

If you are a distressed residential school survivor or have been impacted by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour residential schools crisis line: 1-866-925- 4419

Additional mental health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.


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