Dynevor ‘Indian’ Hospital

Photographer unknown, Dynevor, St Peter fonds (OW.021)


By: Mary Horodyski

Many people today are unaware that Canada operated, and in many ways continues to operate, a racially segregated health care system. The Diocese of Rupert’s Land played a role in this long and complicated history by running Dynevor Hospital from 1896 to 1939. This hospital accepted patients from First Nations communities in Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, and western Canada, as well as students from Indian Residential Schools in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and part of Ontario. The diocese’s archival records show that, when these children died, some of them were buried in the adjacent Anglican cemetery.

Learning about the history of racially segregated health care and its relationship to Indian Residential Schools helps to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call for Action 59: “We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.”

Dynevor hospital began in a stone house formerly used by Archdeacon Abraham Cowley in the parish of St. Peter’s on the St. Peter’s reserve, a few miles north of Selkirk. After Cowley’s death in 1887, Archdeacon Robert Phair proposed that the house be made into a hospital for First Nations people. A board was formed and funding was raised from the Women’s Auxiliary of several dioceses, including Rupert’s Land, Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec, and Montreal, as well as through personal donations. In 1896, the hospital was ready to be opened and it received grants from the Canadian government and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The name ‘Dynevor’ was bestowed on the hospital in honour of Cowley’s childhood friend, Francis William Rice, 5th Baron Dynevor who was later Vicar of Fairford, Gloucestershire. Eventually, the name ‘Dynevor’ was adopted by the entire parish.

Even with only a few beds available, patients came to the hospital from communities as distant as Norway House or further, due to the lack of sufficient facilities or supplies near their home communities. Medical treatment was also supplied to many ‘out-patients,’ that is, First Nations people who did not stay for treatment within the hospital or who were treated in their own homes. Services were also provided to the elderly as required, some of whom stayed at the hospital.

In its early years, Dynevorwas run almost entirely by volunteers—including surgical services provided by a Selkirk hospital doctor—and was dependent on donations for beds, food, and other necessities. As Archdeacon Phair wrote in 1896, “If the women of Canada do not give [the hospital] a place close to their hearts, I do not see how it is to be carried on.” It took almost two years after the hospital opened before a furnace was installed.

Despite the precarious conditions, First Nations people preferred to attend Dynevor rather than a “large city hospital” according to an 1899 article in the Winnipeg Tribune. Part of this preference may have been because, in the early years at least, a First Nations nurse was on staff and medical attention, or translation, often could be provided in Cree and Anishinaabemowin. Visiting clergy and members of the hospital committee were often also able to converse in these languages. Additionally, Chief William Asham of the St. Peter’s Band, was a member of the hospital committee.

Discharged patients were often provided with donated clothing although they were sometimes required to perform labour to receive the clothes. Not surprisingly, the hospital also provided the Dioceses with “an opportunity to present Christianity” to the patients.

The heavy workload of operating the facility took its toll on the volunteer staff and after a few years the medical superintendent was forced to leave because of poor health. The deaconess nurse, Miss Lockhart, was advised to take a rest leave and many reports were given of her remaining at work even though her “health has quite broken down.” Despite the best efforts of the volunteers and private donors, the Woman’s Auxiliary noted in 1900 that the stone house“was never designed for a Hospital, and is inconvenient in every way imaginable.”

In 1905, the hospital was still without a resident doctor and successive nurses acted as superintendent. Most of the patients in attendance were being treated for tuberculosis.

In 1908, the Woman’s Auxiliary took control of the hospital’s administration. The Canadian government provided only a small amount of funding per year and expenses were such a constant issue for the hospital that the hospital nearly closed in 1910. Despite these difficulties, the number of patients Dynevor saw were significant: a 1911 report in the Winnipeg Tribune said that 1,290 patients had been treated outside of the hospital and 64 patients had been admitted during the year.

A 1915 report from Woman’s Auxiliary member Gertrude C. Code said that the government was willing to provide additional funding if the hospital built a separate ward or building for patients with tuberculosis. At the time, Code reported that patients with tuberculosis were of necessity placed in the same wards as others. The separate ward was built in 1916 and over the next decade, the hospital continued to progress with the installation of electricity, laundry machinery, and a more convenient water supply. Nonetheless, even withhospital improvements, many patients died and were buried in St Peter’s/Dynevor cemetery across the river.

By 1933, the hospital had 48 beds, some of which had been donated by various parishes. At this time, it seems the hospital was better established and included outbuildings and land for both hay and livestock to help with self-sufficiency in food. The sale of the hospital to the government of Canada in 1939, included 340 acres of land as well as the buildings.

When the government reopened the hospital,the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba was contracted to run the facility. The focus was solely on treating tuberculosis in First Nations and Inuit patients. By this time, according to historian Maureen Lux, Canada had found that they could provide care in a racially-segregated ‘Indian’ hospital for about half the cost that local governments allowed for the care of non-Indigenous patients. One such cost-saving measure included refusing to send the body of a deceased patient back to their home community unless the family, if they were even informed of the death, paid the expense, or unless the expense of transporting the body was less than the cost of burial.

While most of the patients in Dynevor continued to come from First Nations communities, Inuit patients began arriving in the 1950s. Thehospital was closed in 1957 as rates of tuberculosis declined, and the remaining 20 patients were transferred to Brandon.

To date, the complicated history of Dynevor hospital, and especially of its early years, has not been fulsomely described in any known publication. Because of the various ownerships and administrations of the hospital, the relevant archival records are scattered throughout the Archives of Manitoba, Library and Archives Canada, the City of Winnipeg Archives, and the archives of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. Compounding the difficulty of finding the archival records are restrictions placed by provincial and federal privacy legislation on access to records held within public institutions that are about individuals’ health.

These access restrictions apply even when Indigenous researchers and communities are seeking information about the history of racially segregated health care, or seeking information about family members who were sent to hospitals and who never returned home. Although the church is not a body that legally falls under provincial or federal privacy laws, the general policy at the diocese has been to follow the lead of the government policies as best practice, while also recognizing the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles that specify that Indigenous Peoples have the right to know what happened to their missing loved ones.

The records held at the diocesan archives do not tell the full story of Dynevor and much of the brief sketch written here comes from newspaper accounts and other publications. The records at the diocese for the hospital primarily include burial registers, records of services books, some Woman’s Auxiliary records, and a few photographs.

Although the diocese has burial registers indicating who was buried at the St. Peter’s/Dynevor cemetery, archival records relating to the actual burial plot locations are very incomplete. It has been suggested that between 4,000 and 6,000 people have been buried at the cemetery and that at least 3,000 of these people are Indigenous. However, grave markings or documentation currently exist for only a fraction of this number. The loss of documentation about grave sites is mainly due to fires and flooding that obliterated wooden crosses or other markers, although we cannot know for certain that all graves had originally been identified.

During the past few years, the archives of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land have cooperated with researchers, primarily the Manitoba Indigenous Tuberculosis History Project (MITHP), to provide access to the archival records that we hold related to Dynevor hospital. MITHP is an Indigenous-led project run by Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History and Archives at the University of Winnipeg. An important aspect of the project is the work done to help Indigenous families discover what happened to loved ones who did not return home from hospitals and tuberculosis sanatoriums.

Further research must be facilitated for knowledge of this history to be better developed. For the diocesan archives, this means that our records must be well described so as to be discoverable, conditions must be adequate to prevent further deterioration of the records, and access policies must be adapted to facilitate Indigenous-led research. It is important that all this work be done in collaboration with the needs and desires of Indigenous researchers and communities.

With the knowledge that Indian Residential School children and former patients are buried in St Peter’s/Dynevor cemetery comes the opportunity for the Diocese to actively share with affected Indigenous communities all information that we have about their family members so that these communities may lead in how to honour these children and loved ones.


Suggested resources for further reading:

Manitoba Indigenous Tuberculosis History Project

“‘The only Indian hospital in the Northwest.’ Dynevor Indian Hospital, 1896 –1957,” compiled by Chris Willmore, https://archive.org/details/dynevor

“Colonial tuberculosis legacies and the Dynevor Indian Hospital (1908–1934),” Madeleine Mant, Sylvia Abonyi, and Paul Hackett, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Feb 21, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.221284.

“The Three Sisters,” William Osborne and Margaret Anne Lindsay, At the Forks: Where Indigenous and Human Rights Intersect, July 27, 2021, https://ojs.lib.umanitoba.ca/index.php/forks/article/view/918/930.

“Care for the ‘Racially Careless’: Indian Hospitals in the Canadian West, 1920-1950s,” Maureen K. Lux, TheCanadian Historical Review, September 2010, https://gladue.usask.ca/sites/gladue1.usask.ca/files/gladue//resource187-2ce4041f.pdf.

“Indian Hospitals in Canada,” Maureen Lux, The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-hospitals-in-canada.




Mary Horodyski (M.A., M.A.) is the archivist at the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. She thanks Dr. Anne Lindsay and Dr. Joyce Clouston for their review of this article. Any errors or misinterpretations are her own.


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