How to Read a Quarterly Return
By: Kaila Johnston
As the Supervisor of Education, Outreach, and Public Programming at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Kaila oversees matters related to the support of educators, development of resources, establishment of outreach initiatives, as well as public engagement on residential schools and their legacy. Prior to joining the NCTR, Kaila worked with the TRC as a statement gatherer and coordinator to support statement gathering activities. She holds a BA (Hons.) in Criminal Justice from the University of Winnipeg and a MSc in International Crimes and Criminology from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Kaila is Cree and was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
What is a Quarterly Return?
A Quarterly Return is a financial document which lists all the students in a residential school for that quarter. Residential school staff completed these forms 4 times a year (31st March, 30th June, 30th September and 31st December) and sent them to the Government of Canada to keep track of the number of students attending each residential school. The number of students in a school and their average attendance would help determine how much funding a school received.
Funding from the Government was expected to be used to pay for maintenance, salaries, and expenses (food, clothing, etc.) for the school. The residential school system operated on low grants because it paid staff poorly, relied on donations, and relied on labour of the students themselves.
No grant would be paid until the Quarterly Return was received by the Department. The per capita grant for the quarter was determined by multiplying the average attendance of pupils by the amount of the quarterly per capita grant.
There were 154 boys and 164 girls for a total of 318 students at Kamloops Residential School. In 1947, the per capita grant per student for Kamloops was $195 in a year (0.53 cent a day).
The aggregate (total) number of days pupils were in residence from January to March was 27,410. If no student missed a day the total would have been 28,620 (90 days x 318 students).
The aggregate (total) number of days in residence is divided by the total number of days in the quarter. There were 90 days in the quarter from January to March which meant the average attendance of pupils during the quarter was 304.55 but the school grant only allowed up to 285 + 10 days. This number was then multiplied by the quarterly grant for a total of $14,381.25.
If all 318 students did not miss a day, the total would be 318 x $48.75 = $15,502.50. The difference is $1,121.25.
Days in Residence and Days in Class are added up for all students calculating the Quarterly Per Capita Grant
How do I read a Quarterly Return document?
The design of a Quarterly Return changes depending on the time period—we will focus on the Quarterly Returns that are available on the NCTR database from 1938 to 1952.
Let’s learn how to read this type of document together using a return from the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia from March 31, 1947. The quickest way to find a copy is by searching for R00002084 on the NCTR archival database.
A Quarterly Return has a front page with instructions for how the residential school staff were to fill out the document. It also includes the school’s name, the date of the end of the quarter, the principal’s name, the date the document was completed, the name of the Indian agent who received it, and the date and location it was received.
As it turns out, in this case, the principal didn’t complete this page for March 31, 1947. The front page is completely blank!
The principal did fill out this page in the Quarterly Return for September 30, 1947, found under R00002087. Principal F.O. Grady OMI completed the document on October 4, 1947, it was reviewed by the Indian Agent on October 7, and it was received by Indian Affairs Department on October 14.
The remainder of a Quarterly Return’s pages are for the list of students in the school for that quarter. There are columns to document their student / registration number, name, age, sex, band or reserve, class or study, standing in class, trade or other industry and how many days spent at the trade, the date they entered the school, the number of days in residence and in class, and finally, remarks to progress and reasons for absence.
Column 1 – Registration Number
Students often were referred to by their student / registration number rather than by their name. This number was put on all their property while attending school such as their uniform, blankets, and toilettes. A new number would be given to each student when they entered the school which was separated by gender.
The names of boys and the girls were arranged consecutively based on when they arrived at the school. Girls’ numbers start with a ‘0’ and boys’ numbers do not. New students could be added to the Quarterly Return at any point in time and their arrival date is also listed.
Girls list/Boys list
Column 2 – Name
Students’ names could change from year to year or even from return to return depending on who was completing the document. There could be multiple spells of a student’s names which could also change whether they use their maternal surname, paternal surname, or an Indigenous traditional name. Traditional names are found more frequently in earlier records or for northern schools.
Column 3 – Age
The 1920 amendment to the Indian Act made residential school, industrial school, or day school compulsory for First Nations Treaty-status school-aged children between 7 and 15. The age of discharge was increased to 16 in a 1930 amendment to the Indian Act.
The Quarterly Returns show that there were children much younger and much older in the schools. This could be for a variety of reasons such as illness or death at home or older students in high school level classes or taking courses in town while living in residence.
Rose Larue, student number 0857, from Kamloops was 5 years old in March 31, 1947. She arrived at the school on September 1, 1946. She was in grade 1 and was not doing any chores.
August Gott, student number 616, from Kamloops was 17 years old in March 31, 1947. He arrived at the school on September 1, 1939, and had been in the school for 8 years. He was in grade 8 and had spent 360 hours in his trade which was dairy and tech.
A Student Under 7 Years Old
A Student Over 16 Years Old
Column 4 – Sex
Documents the students’ sex, whether they were male or female.
Column 5 – Band or Reserve
Most Quarterly Returns list the communities where students came from, however, sometimes this column is left blank or staff have used alternative ways of identification, such as a treaty number, to document students’ home communities.
You will notice that sometimes the community no longer exists thanks to the impacts of colonialism like St. Peter’s in Manitoba which was illegally dissolved in 1908 by the federal government. Community members were then moved to the west side of Lake Winnipeg and named Peguis First Nation.
Community that No Longer Exists
Alternative Form of Recording Location
Column 6 and 7 – Class or Study and Standing in Class
The Quarterly Return documented what grade students were in, from Grades 1 to 8 and high school. Most residential schools did not offer high school level classes until after World War II and into the 1950s when the Indian Act was amended in 1953.
These amendments included ensuring a residential school followed the regional curriculum and used textbooks prescribed for that curriculum and that students received a minimum amount of classroom instruction required by the curriculum.
Grading or standing in class, documented how well the students were doing in their classwork. They were rated as very good, good, fair, and bad.
While the March 31, 1947, Quarterly Return doesn’t list the high school grades themselves, the document does indicate there were students in grades 1 to 8 and high school at Kamloops.
Column 8 and 9 – Trade or Other Industry and Number of Hours in Trade
Schools ran unofficially on a half-day system until the 1950s where half the day students were in class learning their lessons and the other half was spent doing vocational training. The system was ended with the 1953 amendment made to the Indian Act.
Work was often gendered with girls learning “domestic science” such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and house-keeping chores. Boys were often taught agricultural skills like farming and animal husbandry but also cobbling, tailoring, carpentry, small machine repair.
There were 90 days in the quarter between January 1st and March 31st, 1947. The boys who worked 360 hours in the quarter worked roughly 4 hours a day. The girls who worked 270 hours in the quarter worked 3 hours per day and those who worked 90 hours worked 1 hour per day at their chores.
Girl Trades/Boy Trades
Column 10 and 11 – Date of Entrance to School and Attendance
The first column of this section is of the date that the student entered the residential school. The columns beneath attendance were to document how many days the students spent in the school for the quarter in residence and the column beside it was to document how many days students spent in class.
Sometimes students went home for the holidays in the summer and winter and other times students remained in the residence until they left the residential school. If students were not returned to the school on time, the privilege of going home for the holidays could be denied.
In the March 31, 1947, Quarterly Return, students spent 90 days in residence and 62 days in the classroom. In the September 31, 1947, Quarterly Return, it appears that classes were paused over the summer months of July and August before they began again on September 1st. By the time the September Quarterly Return was completed, students had spent 92 days in residence but only 17 days in the classroom.
1947 March Return/1947 September Return
Column 12 – Remarks for Progress, Reasons for Absence
This is the final column in the Quarterly Return and is listed as remarks as to progress, reasons for absence, date of absence, whether authorized or not.
This column lists whether a student arrived at school late, had run away, was suffering illness or sent for medical treatment, or if they had died. It also listed whether a student was living in residence and attending school elsewhere like in a day school or public school. It is also one way for us to see what sort of illnesses were in school or when a student was sent for treatment for tuberculosis or injury.
Florence Simon, student number 0711, was 14 years old and from Deadman’s Creek in the September 31, 1947, Quarterly Return. She was in grade 6 and had been admitted to the school on September 1, 1939. She spent 68 days in residence but left the school at some point and was late in returning to school.
Lawrence Marshall, student number 613, was 14 years old and from Adam’s Lake in the September 31, 1947, Quarterly Return. He was in grade 6 and had been admitted to the school on January 23, 1939. He spent 62 days in residence over the summer months of July and August but left the school on September 1, 1947, and his absence was unauthorized.
Run Away | Absence Unauthorized
Paddy Sterling, student number 612, was 16 years old and from L. Nicola in the September 31, 1947, Quarterly Return. He was in high school and had been admitted to the school on November 28, 1938. He spent 62 days in residence over the summer months of July and August and was officially discharged from the school on September 1, 1947.
A hand-written ‘D’ next to a student’s number meant ‘discharged’ or ‘death.’
Notes of a student being sent to an Indian hospital or sanatorium only speaks to those who received treatment for illnesses and not the prevalence of diseases in the schools. Students could be asymptomatic which means they do not show any visible signs of illness, like tuberculosis, even though they are carrying the illness.
Walter Thomas, student number 784, was 11 years old when he was sent for treatment at the Sardis hospital. Walter was from Kamloops and had been sent to the Kamloops Residential School in September 1944.
The Sardis hospital was also known as the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital and had previously been the Coqualeetza Residential School which closed in 1940. The Sardis hospital was used to treat Indigenous patients.
Gertrude James, student number 0836, was 12 years old when she was sent to the Sardis hospital for treatment of tuberculosis who later died. She was from the community of Bridge River and was sent to the Kamloops Residential School in September 1946.