Spring / printemps 2022

“Were It Not for the Spirit of the Boys… There Would Have Been No Story”: Memory and Childhood in Residential School Narratives

Eric Farr
University of Toronto
Published June 10, 2022
  • history of childhood,
  • Indigenous childhood,
  • memoir,
  • memory,
  • residential schools,
  • residential school narratives
  • ...More
How to Cite
Farr, Eric. 2022. “‘Were It Not for the Spirit of the Boys… There Would Have Been No Story’: Memory and Childhood in Residential School Narratives”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 34 (1). https://doi.org/10.32316/hse-rhe.v34i1.4953.


This article examines how the policies and practices of the residential school system refracted the conceptual dynamics of childhood in twentieth-century Canada and shaped the lives of Indigenous children in that system. In particular, I discuss how the racializing logic of the residential system totalized or disrupted broader conceptual shifts in the relationship of childhood to the public domain and to adulthood. In this context, I draw on three residential school narratives to argue that memory played an essential role in the lives of the Indigenous students as a crucial site of creative agency, and in the residential school system’s strategy of assimilation. These narratives make a certain twentieth-century Indigenous child knowable to history, one that relies on a set of relationships, held together by memory, among the child, the adult, and the familial and communal narratives in which they are situated.