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Indian Residential School System in Canada

What is a Primary Source?

The definition of a primary source depends upon the discipline and on how one is using the source.

Usually, a primary source is a direct, first-hand account of an event. It is usually something that was created at the time of an event, or shortly thereafter. Examples include:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Statistics
  • Photographs
  • Art
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Video and audio recordings
  • First-hand narratives or stories

In contrast, a secondary source would be something that interprets, analyses, or remarks upon a primary source. Examples include:

  • Journal articles
  • Essays
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Stories or films produced about an historical event

Finding Primary Sources at UBC

UBC's Library, Archives, and Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) are each separate institutions. RBSC Archives holds archival materials collected by UBC, while the UBC Archives holds material created by UBC departments and professors. You will have to search each institution separately to find all the primary source materials held at UBC.

UBC Library

In the UBC Library Catalogue, try combining your topic keywords with one of these terms.

  • biograph?
  • autobiograph?
  • "first person"
  • interview?
  • perspectiv?
  • diary OR diaries
  • autoethnograph?
  • narrativ?
  • photograph?

For Example: "Residential schools" AND Autobiograph?

Search Tip: Use quotation marks to search for a phrase (e.g. "First Nations"). Use a question mark to truncate a term to search for words with the same stem (e.g. Biograph? retrieves Biography, Biographies, Biographical, etc.). 


UBC Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC)

RBSC has compiled a list of their materials related to Indigenous peoples: Indigenous Peoples Histories and Archives.  This is an ongoing project and new materials will be added frequently. This list should be used in combination with the RBSC database for access to all relevant archival material. When searching the Rare Books & Special Collections database please note that the RBSC search does not use phrase (e.g. "residential school") or truncated (e.g. residential school?) searching. Try a simple keyword search (e.g. Residential school). 

Primary Sources

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

The NCTR has made government and church records available online, sorted by school. Records created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself are also in the process of being put online. Website users will find a great deal of contextual information available on schools. The NCTR has replaced some church websites.

Search the NCTR

Truth and Reconciliation Web Archive

The University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), and Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are coordinating the Truth and Reconciliation Web Archive, a collection of websites documenting the work of and responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). 

The Library and Archives Canada's TRC web collection 

The University of Winnipeg's TRC web collection 

The University of Manitoba's TRC web collection 

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP)

The RCAP database, available via Library and Archives Canada (LAC)'s website provides enhanced access to over 600 RCAP documents, including transcripts of more than 175 days of public hearings, consultations and roundtables; research studies by academics and community experts; and submissions by non-governmental organizations.

Database Access

Archival Records

Government of Canada:  Record Group 10 (RG10)

School Files Series, 1879-1953 (RG10-B-3-d)

Links to the Library & Archives Canada Web site to help guide you through the Indian and Inuit Affairs Program sous-fonds: School Files Series, 1879-1953 (RG10-B-3-d). The files deal with all aspects of Indian school administration in Canada. For more information on the RG-10 Record series as a whole, please see the Aboriginal Studies Guide.

Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs.  Archival Records, RG-10.

The Record Group 10 collection at UBC Library comprises more than 500 reels of archival records.

RG-10 includes:

  • Deputy superitendent letterbooks, 1879-1924.
  • Black series registers and indexes to registers, 1881-1923.
  • Field office correspondence and miscellaneous, ca. 1876-1936.
  • Records relating to the Indian peoples of British Columbia.
  • School files, records relating to B.C., 1879-1953.
  • Central registry files, 1868-1970.

Guide/Index:  RG-10 Finding aids "provides reel numbers, titles, and file numbers" for RG-10 content from all regions of Canada. 

Vancouver: For further assistance with research into RG10 material created in British Columbia, you may wish to contact LAC's office in Vancouver.  You can reach them by phone at 604-666-9699, or by email at

Finding aid (BC specific): We have print finding aids to BC materials, the Black Series 1872-1959, and BC School Files. These are all available at Koerner Library Microforms Reference.

Online index from Library and Archives Canada: Government of Canada Files.
More information from Library and Archives Canada on the collection.


United Church of Canada  (The Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congretional Churches of Canada merged to form the United Church in 1925. Methodist and Presbyterian school records are located within the United Church archives.)

Catholic Church in Canada

Anglican Church of Canada

Newspaper Articles

CBCA Complete (Canadian Business, Reference & Current Affairs)
Indexes academic periodicals, special interest publications, and newspapers, including the Aboriginal press. To find primary source material, narrow results by selecting Aboriginal press publications: Windspeaker, Kahtou, Inuktut.
Search terms: "residential school$", "truth and reconciliation", "residential schools$" survivor

Research Archives