In late 2019, the Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives at MOA accepted a donation of 48 glass lantern slides from Dr. W.A. Geoffrey and Carole Jane Voss. Dr. Voss had acquired the slides when working as an art and antiques dealer, but decided the collection had important historical and social value and so belonged in a research institution such as MOA.
The collection came to MOA in its original wooden box, with little information about its contents. As part of my role as Library and Archives Assistant, I was asked to document and describe these slides. When I started working with the collection, three questions needed to be answered:
Who was the creator of the slides?
The donors of the collection named the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada as the creator. This Society’s history is well documented on the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada’s website. The Society was active in Canada during the first half of the 20th century, engaging in diverse missionary work, including residential schools.
What was the purpose of the slides?
Answering this question required some research, and I found my answer in an article titled “Into the Glorious Dawn: From Arctic Home Movie to Missionary Cinema.” In this article, the author, Peter Geller, documents Christian missionary societies in Canada hosting slide shows in the 20th century to promote church and missionary work, raise funds, and for proselytism. In many cases, missionary work promotion focused on residential schools.
What is the content of the slides?
Most of the slides portray four residential schools: Elkhorn (Manitoba), St. Michael’s (British Columbia), Shingwauk (Ontario), and Carcross (Yukon). The slides include photographs of the buildings and surroundings and staff, students, and families engaging in various activities.
Being a student in the Master of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies at UBC, every opportunity to work with historical records and artifacts is appealing. This time, it was also challenging. Processing the collection required reading and listening to institutional and personal records from the Residential School System.
The experience helped me identify and accept something that I had never experienced before—not while handling and describing historical materials, nor as a researcher: the emotional connection with historical materials, the recognition of what has been described in the archival literature as “secondary trauma,” and the realization that the unemotional archivist is a fiction.
The Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada Slide Collection can be viewed in MOA’s online archives database here.