Missionary collections (and more) draw visitors to archives

Saeko Suzuki holds up a black-and-white picture of a woman in a kimono, smiling slightly and leaning against a gate. The circa-1920 image looks like a classic Japanese portrait, except the woman is Caucasian.

Saeko Suzuki in the General Synod Archives
Saeko Suzuki in the General Synod Archives

Ms. Suzuki explains that this is a Canadian missionary, Florence Isabel Hamilton, the wife of Bishop Heber James Hamilton, bishop of the Diocese of Mid-Japan from 1912 to 1932. Ms. Suzuki, a student of information studies at the University of Toronto, organized photos of Mid-Japan during a month-long practicum at the General Synod Archives. (Watch the slideshow of some sample photos.)

She said her professor recommended a practicum at the General Synod Archives both because of the missionary material, but also the known quality of the archival work, led by General Synod Archivist Nancy Hurn and Assistant Archivist Laurel Parson.

From late April to late May, Ms. Suzuki described and scanned photos from the collection of the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada. The images were diverse: rolling landscapes, snapshots of dental clinics, and busy street scenes. The Anglican Church of Canada first sent missionaries to Japan in the late 19th century, and at the mission’s high point in the 1930s, 33 missionaries and their families worked in Japan.

Now much of the missionaries’ correspondence, photos, and reports are stored at the General Synod Archives in Toronto. Many other missionary collections are held there, and the two biggest are from 19th century bishops: Bishop A.L. Fleming of the Arctic and Bishop Isaac Stringer of the Yukon.

A steady stream of researchers and volunteers visit the archives, and the archivists field about 40 research requests per week. The archives hold 2,500 boxes of textual material, including 50,000 photographs. They also serve as the archives for the Diocese of the Arctic.

Researchers’ interests vary widely. Last month, in addition to Ms Suzuki’s work, there were three other Japan-related requests. Genealogists are also a frequent source of traffic, although they are usually directed to dioceses, where parish registers are stored. Sometimes requests are specific and unique, like the doctorate student who read through old issues of the Canadian Churchman(the Anglican Journal’s predecessor) to trace attitudes towards declining church attendance.

Ms. Hurn notes that many requests relate to researching residential schools, and around 60 per cent of the archives’ overall work relates to this subject. The archives recently acquired more material from former residential school staff. Other recent acquisitions include records from the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer and the National Canadian Cursillo Secretariat.

If you are interested in visiting the General Synod Archives, email Nancy Hurn or phone (416) 924-9199 ext 279 to set up an appointment between Tuesday and Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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