Contextualizing Early Residential Schools

From its very inception, Huron University College has had ties to the operation of residential schools. This journal looks at Huron’s founding as a seminary to train Anglican priests, comparing it with the founding of two Anglican-run residential schools: the Mohawk Institute (Brantford, ON) and the Shingwauk school (Sault Ste. Marie, ON). The overall research project examines each of the schools’ founding figures, the funds they raised in support of the schools, as well as the social and political networks that sustained them, seeking to understand the similarities and differences in how, and why, each institution was established. The posts are written by Natalie Cross a senior English and Political Science student at Huron and the primary Research Assistant working on the project.

John Esquimau: A Prospective Huron Student

As another school year approaches, I am reminded of the narratives of past, present, and future Huron students – especially in the context of this project. So far, the research over the summer has identified through E.F. Wilson’s letters the extensive network of church Sunday Schools across Ontario, Quebec, and the Eastern provinces, that sponsored some of the students to attend the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes in their early years of operation. As mentioned in the previous post, wealthy English families also swayed the activities of the school by not only sponsoring one child or multiple, but also in sustaining the schools through donations to maintenance and building funds, and providing supplies. Ultimately, the earlier letter books demonstrated the financial system that Wilson created by relying on his fundraising tours for the schools and donations from Canadian and British church networks. Yet many of his letters illuminate student narratives – told through the lens of Wilson’s framework and evangelical influences – which contextualize and embed Huron College within the residential school network even further.

This summer I visited the Shingwauk Residential School Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, and while walking through the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibit, the photos of many students gathered my attention. One student came to my mind as I walked through the halls: John Esquimau makes an appearance in Wilson’s letters as a top student at the Shingwauk Home. I have been following John and his siblings’ history at the school closely for a couple of reasons, but mainly because John’s story includes a connection to Huron and the London area. The family had roots in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. Further, Wilson wrote to the warden of the Penitentiaries Kingston in order to reach their father, Henry Esquimau.[1] John Esquimau is the oldest of four Esquimau children who attend the school – Joseph, Martha and Susan.[2]

The family’s experience at the school has generated many questions and contextualizes Huron’s identity as a theological college in the 19th century. Wilson attempts to send both John and Joseph alongside another student named William Sahguhcheway to Huron College.[3] Wilson also suggested that the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) could also pay for half of John’s tuition. One of the letters addressed to “My dear Lord” exhibits Wilson’s attempt to contact the College and arrange their studies:

“We have several…Indian fellows preparing to be teachers or clergymen + I would like to look upon Huron College as the medium through which our boys may be prepared to enter the ministry…We have I am thankful to say some thoroughly earnest Christian fellows ages 24, 18, + 16.”[4]

Further, Wilson mentioned his intention on sending John to Huron in an 1882 letter to Miss Peache, possibly invoking her family’s connections to the College as benefactors and consequently tying the relationship with the success of the Shingwauk Home and its ability to foster Christianity with Indigenous students.[5] Ultimately, John did not end up going to Huron and sought to pursue schooling in Montreal instead.[6] However, it is clear that Huron College – perhaps identified through Wilson’s connection as an alumni – provided the standard of Anglican training that Wilson desired for his top students at the Shingwauk Home. Huron was an identifiable institution in the Great Lakes area where Indigenous students could continue their schooling in the Christian tradition beyond what the early residential schools offered – and consequently what the assimilative system aimed to achieve when students left the schools. What must be emphasized was that it was possible for an Indigenous student’s tuition to be funded in some capacities at Huron – paralleling the system of sponsorship at Shingwauk – asking whether this financial sustentation is contingent on the student’s indigeneity or if other non-Indigenous Huron graduates had financial support. It must be considered that the global religious networks which were sustaining Huron and the Diocese in the late 19th century were also connected to supporting Indigenous students in religious and missionary training.

Esquimau goes on to teach in Garden River before he seeks interest in attending theological school,[7] echoing similar paths chosen by Indigenous students like former Mohawk Institute pupil and Huron College student Isaac Bearfoot, an Onondaga man. Norman sets up a reminder: “not all of the Indigenous (or non-Indigenous) teachers who taught in reserve day schools, however, attended a school like Huron College or the Toronto Normal School before they began teaching, and the path to a career was not always straight or easy.”[8] Clearly, students educated in the residential schools go on to take complex roles in missions and schooling in the presence of both Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples – many of which are enabled by Huron as a centre for training and learning in the Anglican faith, and its involvement in diocesan affairs.

John Esquimau’s story must also be flagged because both he and his brother were supported by the Labatt family in London; a family whose legacy due to the famed Labatt brewing company also begs analysis and a place in the construction of regional settler colonial histories. R.P. Labatt, George Labatt and a “Mrs. Labatt” are amongst those named within the family that have ties to John’s sponsorship. Both George and Mrs. Labatt send separate funds to Wilson in the late 1870’s throughout the early 1880’s – perhaps suggesting the two were not married but still demonstrating a family-wide involvement. Wilson also addresses a Mrs. R. P. Labatt in his early letters, demonstrating the divide. John Esquimau’s success in his studies also prompted Wilson’s need to have John’s tuition at one of the top tiers being $100 at the time, exhibiting how this student sponsorship was reliant on wealthy settler families as compared to Sunday School donations.[9] A letter to the Bishop of Algoma about the operations of the Shingwauk Home also emphasize the Labatts’ financial involvement:

“The news about Mrs. Labatt is most encouraging – I hope her agent may soon put the impression that my wants are immediate – literally I had not a penny in bank or pocket for several weeks.”[10]

Clearly, Wilson was suggesting their prominence as a wealthy colonial family to be a major benefit for the school when he was pressed for funds in its early years. This flow of resources also demonstrates his reliance on benefactors as a source of funding for the schools compared to large government or church grants. The Labatt connection to the Shingwauk Home, John Esquimau, and to E.F. Wilson, ultimately reconstructs narratives of Great Lakes regional connections as demonstrated through the residential schooling experiences of Indigenous students.

While I brought light to John’s story due to Wilson’s desire for him to attend Huron College, this post is clearly focused on the experience of a male student. Much of the primary research in this project has demonstrated a gendered factor in the schooling fundraising through influential colonial women, like Mrs. Labatt or Miss Peache, donating to the Wawanosh and Shingwauk Homes. These women, amid many other Women’s Societies and their donations, are often recognized in the Algoma Missionary News and the Shingwauk Home school newspaper Our Forest Children. This summer, I participated in the 2019 Manitoulin Island Historical Summer Institute at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, where the theme of Anishinaabe women (Anishinaabekwe) leadership has prompted me to consider the way this project has been approached as I analyze these historical figures. Wilson’s letters and direct involvement with the boys can overshadow some girl student narratives, while concurrently, the prominence of settler women and sympathy for the mission cause equally appear in Wilson’s correspondences with donors. Ultimately, the experiences of the Esquimau sisters also deserve attention; they are funded by Sunday Schools such as All Saint’s School in Toronto (for Martha) to St. Matthew’s School Quebec (for Susan). Susan Esquimau also goes on to teach on Birch Island.[11] I hope to investigate the siblings’ time at the Homes and post-schooling life more as Wilson’s letters unfold, and as I attempt to recall the research themes from MISHI. We all were reminded that stories of Anishinaabekwe may not be dominant in the archive, but they are certainly there and have influence. The Esquimau family’s experience at Shingwauk and Wawanosh demonstrates networks of place, land, Anglicanism, and more importantly: resiliency of the students as they navigated a settler-colonial society.


[1] E. F. Wilson, to The Warden of the Penitentiaries Kingston, September 24th 1877, Letter book series, 1876-1878, p. 308.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Shingwauk Narratives: Sharing Residential School History,” Open Library Pressbooks,

[4] E.F. Wilson, to My dear Lord, February 17th 1880, Letter book series, 1878-1881, p. 162

[5] E. F. Wilson, to Miss Peache, February 11th 1882, Letter book series, 1881-1882, pp. 242-243.

[6] E. F. Wilson, to the Honourable Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, June 30th 1884, Letter book series,1883-1885, pp. 247-252.

[7] E. F. Wilson, to Mrs. R.P. Labatt, September 18th 1878, Letter book series, 1878-1879, p. 233

[8] “Teachers Amongst their own People”: Kanyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Women Teachers in Nineteenth-Century Tyendinaga and Grand River, Ontario,” p. 40.

[9] E. F. Wilson, to My dear Madam, May 28th 1878, Letter book series, 1878-1879, pp. 146-147

[10] E. F. Wilson, to Messers Rice Lewis, January 7th 1878, Letter book series, 1876-1878, p. 451

[11] E. F. Wilson, to the Honourable Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, June 30th 1884, Letter book series,1883-1885, pp. 247-252.

Founding Figures

As a student of Huron University College, I can see how important the history of this institution, established before confederation, is to its identity. But this history should not be celebrated without an acknowledgment of what Huron’s social and political influences were in early colonial Canada. Huron, and many of its founders and key sponsors, were key in financially sustaining both the Mohawk Institute in Brantford Ontario, and Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Students should understand the institution’s past in order to navigate their studies as truth and reconciliation is beginning to be navigated between settlers and Indigenous peoples. It is the hope that this blog will help document some of the truths behind “True Religion and Sound Learning.”

One of these figures who solidify the connections between Huron and Shingwauk is the Reverend Alfred Peache. A wealthy benefactor from England and Incumbent of Downend and Mangotsfield in the Diocese of Bristol, Peache regularly donated funds to Huron and his sister Kezia participated in sponsoring Indigenous children to attend Shingwauk. The siblings inherited an estate, Talman describes the trust’s purpose as follows: “they had determined to devote [it] to the promotion of Evangelicalism.”[1]  In 1862, Hellmuth went on a fundraising tour on behalf of the College to solicit funds, where he meets Peache and his sister. Through the formation of this relationship, Peache gains a lasting legacy at Huron in its early years: firstly, he establishes the Peache endowment fund of £5000 given annually to the College for the Peache Chair of Divinity.[2] Secondly, Peache makes it clear that the principal of Huron College must also be a Professor of Divinity in the Church of England – this was outlined in an 1869 amendment to the original 1863 act which incorporated Huron.[3] In his position, Peache nominated each of the subsequent principals of the College until his death in 1900. It is not clear if Peache ever visited Huron – nonetheless, his correspondence with the school had major influence in its instituting. Reverend Peache also succeeded Bishop Isaac Hellmuth as Chancellor of Western University, as Hellmuth had lost his wife by the time the Senate asked him to continue his term.[4] Clearly, books on Huron’s early history such as those written by Talman and Crowfoot, provide insight to how deep the College’s roots in England and Evangelical societies are, but with a specific framing that must be deconstructed into how these roots were influential in the colonization of Indigenous Peoples as well.

Huron was not Peache’s only educational project. Peache and his sister also went on to help establish multiple schools and theological colleges in England. Evidently, one of these Protestant and Evangelical theological colleges called St. Johns located north of London, England, assumed the motto ‘Vae mihi si non Evangelizavero’ (Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel)[5]– the exact same motto that the Faculty of Theology assumed at Huron (it is also engraved on the front of the present War Memorial Tower on campus). Clearly, Huron’s financial flows were institutionalized and reinforced by its founders’ and sponsors’ visions of spreading the evangelizing mission. The important consequence of this relationship is how these funds allow for Huron’s “progress” to promote missions on Indigenous land in the Diocese of Huron. This was evidently seen in the work done at the Mohawk Institute and indirectly at Shingwauk through Huron alumnus E.F. Wilson.

What needs to be answered over the course of this research is how the Peache family gets involved with the Shingwauk Home. As mentioned, they were regular contributors to schools and colleges in England that reinforced Evangelist visions and promoted theological studies. Perhaps the Shingwauk residential school, crafted from principal E.F. Wilson’s vision, had this similar attraction for the benefactors. Wilson’s extensive network, ties to Huron as an alumni and a former missionary in the Diocese, and his friendship with the Hellmuths could have also stimulated this relationship.[6] Further, Wilson’s own influential family background begs an analysis of whether the Peaches and the Wilsons circulated in the same Evangelical circles. For example, the aforementioned St. John’s in England had a council whose members included Reverend Alfred Peache and Daniel Wilson (E.F. Wilson’s grandfather).[7] It is evident that these figures possess direct and indirect relationships with Huron, and that these networks of religious authority were intertwined on the basis of promoting religious education. More importantly, these relationships also exhibit Huron’s participation in the civilizing of the Indigenous Peoples of the Great Lakes and the residential school system. The Shingwauk Home – through Wilson’s leadership, its daily functions, and dedication to the civilizing mission – clearly proved worthy enough (much like Huron) to solicit funds from the Peache family.

The Wilson letterbooks are important textual sites that confirm the connection between the Peaches and Shingwauk. They exhibit some correspondence with Miss Peache. Given that Kezia is also known to be a benefactor and the singularity of the relationship status of “Miss,” it may be safe to conclude that this is in fact Kezia. In the next coming months, I hope to confirm this with further analysis into the Peache family. If Reverend Peache dominated the financial flow to Huron College, then it was his sister who aided in legitimizing the work being done at Shingwauk with the Indigenous students. The letters specify the status of the boys that she sponsors at the Shingwauk Home and some funds she contributes to the Wawanosh Home for girls. She also frequently appears in Wilson’s publications Our Forest Children and Our Indian Homes, credited for donating funds for clothing amongst other resources. To illustrate, in an 1890 publication of Our Indian Homes, Miss Peache is credited as donating £150, as compared to Reverend Peache’s amount of £25.[8] Many of these textual sources, such as the letterbooks and publications, are important reminders of how the Peache identity is framed and circulated as being crucial to development and sustentation of Shingwauk as an institution, and instrumental in sending Indigenous children to residential school.

Contextualizing the Peache family with Huron and Shingwauk exhibits how systems of power circulated in the residential school network, tied to the promotion of Evangelical thought. Many early colonial schools also possessed these close relationships that enabled the assimilation of Indigenous Peoples through the infliction of Eurocentric concepts of authority and financial support for the respective institution’s progression.[9] Names are proving to be powerful in this project – reading the names of the Shingwauk students who Miss Peache sponsored in these publications, I am wondering what each of their own stories are. Students at Huron are familiar with the names of “Hellmuth” and “Cronyn,” but clearly the name “Peache” must be added to the list if we are to truly understand Huron’s past with a postcolonial lens.

[1] James J. Talman. Huron College 1863-1963, (London: The Hunter Printing London Limited, 1963), P. 6.

[2] A. H. Crowfoot. This Dreamer: Life of Isaac Hellmuth Second Bishop of Huron, (Toronto: The Copp Clark Publishing Co. Limited, 1963), P. 29.

[3] James J. Talman. Huron College 1863-1963, (London: The Hunter Printing London Limited, 1963), P. 7.

[4] A. H. Crowfoot. This Dreamer: Life of Isaac Hellmuth Second Bishop of Huron. (Toronto: The Copp Clark Publishing Co. Limited, 1963), P. 72.

[5] David Dowland. Nineteenth-century Anglican Theological Training: The Redbrick Challenge, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

[6] Wilson, E.F. “Huron Bishop,” Letterbook 1878-1881, P. 196.

[7] David Dowland. Nineteenth-century Anglican Theological Training: The Redbrick Challenge, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), P.73.

[8] Wilson, E.F., Our Indian Homes Annual Report, 1890, P. 30.

[9] Thomas Peace. “Indigenous Peoples: A Starting Place for the History of Higher Education in Canada,” Active History, January 25, 2016,