First, start by writing down the following:
- Their name
- When they were taken
- Where they were taken from
It may also be helpful to know:
- Their age
- The year that they may have passed away
1. Geographical Areas Served by the Camsell
Some people don’t know which Indian hospital their loved one went to; the map might help. I found a 1962 document that says the Camsell served the “Foothills region” (1), which is colored orange. The Camsell also took patients from northern British Columbia and Saskatchewan (2), which are coloured yellow. Older documents show that patients were taken from outside the Foothills region. The pin points show which places people were known to have come from, and the year of their passing at the Camsell (3). If your loved one was taken from any of these places or regions, then they probably ended up at the Camsell.
2. Death Records
The first and easiest place to begin are Alberta’s Vital Statistics, which include birth, marriage, and death records. A death record will tell you the city where a person passed away. Sometimes, it even lists the hospital where a person died, and may give you more details.
If the death occurred LESS THAN 50 years ago, then you must fill out a request through Service Alberta. For example, if today is April 1, 2017, then all deaths that occurred AFTER April 1, 1967 will have their records with Service Alberta. This link will take you to the Service Alberta website where you can get the application. Read through the How it Works, Eligibility, and How to Apply sections (4).
If the death occurred MORE THAN 50 years ago, you must fill out a request through the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA). For example, if today is April 1, 2017, then all deaths that occurred BEFORE April 1, 1967 will have their records with the provincial archives. This process is a bit different and requires some online research. Thankfully, death indexes have been made available online, so you do not have to visit the archives if you are out-of-town! When you get to the PAA website Death Indexes section, you can try to find your loved one’s record by their last name. You will have the most luck looking through Deaths 1877-1950, Deaths 1925-1966, and Indigenous Deaths: Inuit (1952-1958).
If you find your loved one’s name, then write down the registration number and fill out the online application. The record can be mailed to you for 35 cents, or you can read it at the PAA in Edmonton (5). Some records give more information than others, but it is a good place to start.
Keep in mind that NAMES MIGHT BE SPELLED WRONG. Try checking all the different ways someone might spell your loved one’s name.
3. Camsell Arrow and Pictorial Review
The Camsell Arrow was an internal newsletter made by Camsell staff and patients. It is full of letters, poems, pictures, stories, and a column called Ward News. The Ward News column was written by patients on each of the hospital wards. It is full of gossip about life at the Camsell, and it is practically a names database. The writers often talk about other patients by their full names! So, if you know what year your loved one was hospitalized, it may be worth it to look at those issues of the Camsell Arrow, to see if they are mentioned.
The Camsell Pictorial Review was an annual book of pictures taken of staff and patients at the Camsell. They also took pictures of the northern x-ray tours (when doctors used to test people for tuberculosis before taking them to the hospital). Maybe, if you look through the pictures, you will see a familiar face.
Hard paper copies of the Camsell Arrow and pictorial reviews can be found at the City of Edmonton Archives (January 1948 – Christmas 1969). Microfilm copies can be found at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA, 1947 – 1969). If you live out of town and can’t come to Edmonton, then message me and I can see about getting you some sort of copy.
4. Talk to an archivist or independent researcher
There are a few archivists at the PAA who know a lot about Indian hospital and residential school records. If you need extra help with your research, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 780-427-1750.
Another good resource is the Ghosts of Camsell website. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail is a historian and independent researcher who is doing lots of good work with the families of Camsell patients. Her website goes into much more historical detail than mine. We’ve decided to help each other and work together. I’m focusing more on provincial and local-level research to find Camsell patients. Danielle is going to release a guide on federal-level research very soon. In the meantime, Library and Archives Canada has a small Camsell collection on their website (6). It may be worth a quick search.
Despite trying all of the above, it is possible to still turn up empty-handed. I hope that this is not the case for anyone, and my heart breaks for families who still have to struggle with this. But we researchers will not give up, because new advancements are being made every day. Even while I was creating this website, vital statistics were made available online! So please know that whoever you are, we are with you.
(1) History of the Charles Camsell Hospital. Charles Camsell Hospital histories (PR1991.383, Box 1, Folder 1). Edmonton: Provincial Archives of Alberta; 1962, June 8. (2) Stephens, R. Camsell [documentary]. Edmonton: Edmonton Heritage Council; 2016. (3) Metcalfe-Chenail, D. Ghosts of Camsell [website]. 2015. (4) Service Alberta. Death certificates and documents: How to apply [website]; 2017. (5) Provincial Archives of Alberta. How to find birth, marriage, and death records: Death indexes [website]; 2017. (6) Library and Archives Canada. Enhanced archives search – basic [website]. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017.