Between the two World Wars, British Columbia was home to some 49 day schools for Aboriginal children, each averaging a population of about 16 students scattered across grades one to eight. By the early 1930s, some 825 youngsters were attending such schools. Little historical attention, however, has been directed toward the operations of Indian day schools, although a large literature has otherwise documented the devastating effects of the residential schools.
A rich body of official correspondence and other sources describing the experiences of Anthony Walsh, a free spirited Irish war veteran who taught at Six Mile Creek and Inkameep day schools from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, presents an opportunity to examine the bureaucratic system that governed the day schools, the relationships that existed between agencies of church and state, not to mention the general myopia of the Department of Indian Affairs and religious authorities to the harsh realities of life on the reserves. Archival sources likewise disclose Walsh’s considerable success both as a teacher and promoter of Aboriginal arts and crafts during the interwar years, as well as Walsh’s role in a wider cultural movement that aimed at challenging government’s social and educational policies for Aboriginal peoples. Although not immediately effective in changing the status quo, Walsh and his colleagues played an important part in sensitizing British Columbians and other Canadians to the value of Aboriginal art and culture in national life.