British Columbia

Catholic order that staffed some residential schools in B.C. to hand over archives to museum

Records that could offer insight into some residential schools in B.C. are being handed over to the Royal B.C. Museum, making them more readily available to survivors and their families.

Archives will be transferred to Royal B.C. Museum and some will be digitized

The Sisters of Saint Ann staffed more than 30 residential schools in Alaska, Yukon and B.C., including the Kamloops Indian Residential School, whose administrative building is pictured here in 1970. (Department of Citizenship and Immigration- Information Division / Library and Archives Canada)

Records that could offer insight into some residential schools in British Columbia are being handed over to the Royal B.C. Museum. 

Archives from the Sisters of Saint Ann, which include information about day schools, residential schools, hospitals and more, will be transferred to the museum. The religious group will also fully fund an archivist at the museum to manage those archives. 

The museum says they also plan to digitize the records — or at least those that can be digitized. Some of the content date back to as far as 1858 and may be too delicate to handle. 

"Transparent access to comprehensive residential school records is essential to truth and reconciliation efforts," museum CEO Alicia Dubois said in a media release.

The Sisters of Saint Ann was founded in Quebec in 1850, and moved to the west eight years later. Members of the order staffed four residential schools in B.C., including the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where more than 200 potential unmarked graves have been detected using ground-penetrating radar. 

Survivors from the school have shared stories of physical and sexual abuse. 

"All of us carry just enormous regret and sorrow for the suffering that children who were in our care suffered," Sister Marie Zarowny, president and board chair of the Sisters of Saint Ann, told CBC. 

"It's terrible to think that that happened when we were there and we didn't know about it."

The Sisters of Saint Ann were assigned to work at residential schools in Mission, Kamloops and Kuper Island near Chemainus. The religious order is handing over archives from the schools to the Royal B.C. Museum. (Royal B.C. Museum )

Last year Zarowny told CBC that they had provided documents about the residential school system to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but were unwilling to share some records outlining internal workings of the congregation.

The museum says it has worked with the Sisters of Saint Ann for a year now to get access to their full archives. Zarowny said she's been working to make the archives accessible since she joined the order in 1998. 

"We recognize access to archives is just a single step towards reconciliation and that reconciliation begins with truth," Zarowny said.

"It is our belief that this transparent search for truth will lead the way towards restorative healing."

Archivist Genevieve Weber said the volume of records is not large, and there are no school registers or individual student files, but there is a lot of other information about the time the sisters spent at residential schools.

Anyone will be able to access those through B.C. Archives. 

"We will do everything in our power to provide access to as much information as we can," Weber said. 

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School is seen in Kamloops, B.C. on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Andrew Snucins/The Canadian Press)

Zarowny says the Sisters of Saint Ann has responded to a request from Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc to collaborate with the First Nation's archivist to provide any records from the Kamloops Indian Residential School that they have. 

"Wherever there is an opportunity for us to engage interpersonally, with First Nations communities that want us to be involved we respond to that, and we're happy to do that," Zarowny said.


  • An earlier version of this story stated the Sisters of St. Ann staffed 30 residential schools in B.C. In fact, they staffed four.
    Jun 03, 2022 12:50 PM PT


Courtney Dickson is a journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at with story tips.

With files from Kathryn Marlow