Chris StedileCastlegar News
It’s been over a year since Ian Mosby popped the lid on Canada’s residential school experiments, and he’s been a very busy man ever since.
Mosby, who was born and raised in Castlegar, left the city in 1998 once he turned 18 to pursue a career in history.
“I was always interested in history at school and when I was younger. I was very curious,” said Mosby.
“On my mother’s side my grandparents were both Doukhobor, so I became very interested in Doukhobor history. One of my other interests is food.”
So as one thing lead to another Mosby combined his two passions and was led to the history of food and eating through his undergraduate studies at UBC.
“I eventually ended up writing my PhD dissertation on the history of food in Canada during the Second World War..”
Mosby is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University, but at the time was working at the University of Guelph.
His research was originally on food in Canada, but he eventually stumbled upon something much more sinister.
In his book, he explained that during the time after the war the Canadian government conducted experiments in residential schools across the country to study the affects of undernourishment.
He wrote that the people of these schools were found to be malnourished already and instead of offering aid the bureaucrats involved chose to separate the communities into test groups and focus groups.
The experiments involved the withholding of food, dental services and much more.
A total of over 1,300 Aboriginals were subjected to these tests and most were children. In the end, after many years the research delivered nearly no results.
But that book was over a year ago and Mosby has been up to much since then.
As of late November Mosby published a book titled, Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front.
“The book is an adaptation of my PhD dissertation and so I’ve been doing the research on it since around 2004,” said Mosby. “I’ve been writing it for a lot of years and it’s nice to finally see it in print.”
“So far, the reception’s been pretty good. It’s hard to tell with academic books, because it takes a long time for academic book reviews to get published. But there has been a good response from people who’ve read it.”
UBC Press describes the book, “During the Second World War, as Canada struggled to provide its allies with food, public health officials warned that malnutrition could derail the war effort.”
“Food Will Win the War explores both the symbolic and material transformations that food and eating underwent on the home front and the profound social, political, and cultural changes that took place in Canada during the 1940s.”
He continued, “A lot of the major figures that are featured prominently in my book were actually responsible for the nutrition experiments in Northern Manitoba and six residential schools across the country.”
Along with his new book, Mosby has been traveling the country from Nova Scotia to BC speaking with the survivors of these experiments.
“It’s very painful for them,” Mosby said of the remaining Aboriginals.
“The research has brought back many painful memories of the abuse suffered in these schools, but it’s also perhaps brought more public attention to what was done in these schools. The abuse was total. The fact that children were hungry enough to conduct malnutrition experiments is just one side of how total the abuse was in these schools.”
“Most of the survivors I’ve spoken to, their memories of childhood is one of constant hunger, and I think that’s something Canadians don’t really understand. The scars of residential schools are physical and very real and they continue to this day.”
The first residential schools were opened in the 1830s and were not codified until the 1880s.
It wasn’t until 1996 that the last residential school was shut down.
Through that entire period children were abused, starved and died at disproportionate levels compared to the rest of the country.
“I’ve witnessed a lot of pain that these people went through and Canadians still haven’t done their part to reconcile for what their government did in their name to generations of children,” Mosby added.
“I think people should be recognizing and taking seriously the legacy of these residential schools. It’s very difficult to, on the one hand, apologize for residential schools, and on the other hand have government policies underfund indigenous education.”
“An indigenous child receives a fraction of the funding a non-indigenous child receives for their education and that’s a federal policy that’s ongoing.”
“If we want real reconciliation we have to start putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.
It was a tough subject for Mosby before but now with his own child the subject is felt even deeper.
“I recently had a child. I have a 19 month old and so, it’s really changed the way I understand this research and it’s impact. Now that I have a child I can understand the hole these experiments must have left in families and communities.”
With all that’s been going on in Mosby’s life this past year, he said his job prospects are still uncertain.
He is a Postdoctoral Fellow which means he has finished his PhD but does not have a permanent position yet.
“I have had the opportunity to travel around the country and speak to universities and communities though, and that’s pretty amazing. It’s a career highlight, especially meeting with the survivors of the experiments and seeing my work have a real life impact.”
With all that’s been going on in his life, Mosby still finds the time to see those that are close to him and return to the place he called home for so many years.
“I come back to Castlegar every year to visit my family and friends. I was just back in the summer. I love to come back and go hiking and swimming and all the things I used to love to do in the Kootenays and that I miss a lot.”
“Toronto is my home now but I will always consider Castlegar to be my home as well.”