Image: Du Vernet’s Diary Entry on Jeremiah Johnston (detail), 1898, Paper and ink. From Frederick H. Du Vernet, “Diary of a Missionary Tour,” Anglican Church of Canada General Synod Archives, M81-41.
RESTORYING COLONIAL AND MISSIONARY ARCHIVES:
Digitizing the Manuscript
GOALS OF THE EDITION
Story Nations includes a digital edition of a diary written in the summer of 1898 by Anglican missionary Frederick Du Vernet, in which he records his experience in the Treaty 3 region of Rainy River or Manidoo Ziibi. Many members of the editorial team have followed Du Vernet to the Manidoo Ziibi to spend time with and learn from Ojibwe Elders and community members. The edition emerges from this layering of old and new stories along Manidoo Ziibi.
Du Vernet’s diary is a decidedly colonial artifact. Land that the Canadian government named “New Ontario” shortly after Confederation in 1867 had long been home to the Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous peoples. As white settlers streamed into the territory in search of logs, gold, fish, and land, the Dominion government promised them free homesteads while breaking its promises to the Anishinaabeg of Treaty 3.
The story of the breaking of treaty promises is told very well at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre. On our visits to Rainy River First Nations, Elders and community members also shared with us stories about the land, people, and animals of Manidoo Ziibi. Working collaboratively in this way, we have retold these stories in various places on the website allowing for the reframing of the colonial narrative of this diary with Ojibwe stories of creation, nationhood, and community.
In addition to transcriptions (see below), the edition takes on questions of storytelling, recognizing that Du Vernet’s diary tells one of many possible stories and that his representation of events is framed by his Christian missionary interests and colonial perspective. The edition features annotations, articles, maps, student reflections, and videos, all of which will help clarify Du Vernet’s turns of speech and, importantly, provide users with the opportunity to learn more about the land, people, and history of Manidoo Ziibi. We are very grateful to the generosity of the Kah-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, and to Art Hunter, and Elders Willie Wilson and Dorothy Medicine, for their invaluable insights into this project.
Description of the Diary
Frederick Du Vernet wrote his diary on a pad of light cream-coloured 8.5″ x 11″ paper, bearing the letterhead “The Canadian Church Missionary Association.” Although the sheets are now loose, some pages (especially page 9) have remnants of the adhesive at the top edge of the page that held the notepad together. Du Vernet appears to have flipped the pad on its face, recording his experiences on the verso (back) of each sheet in order to avoid the letter head. This pattern is disrupted only by a brief note on the recto (front) of page 3, while Du Vernet wrote the episode that we have titled “The Jeremiah Johnston Story” beginning on the recto and then to the verso of the note paper. He marks this episode as “Special.”
Du Vernet took care to number each of the pages, 1-22, which is useful for maintaining page sequence now that the leaves have been torn out of the notepad. It appears as though Du Vernet wrote the page at the top right corner of the sheet before writing the diary entry. This is evident on several pages where the first line slants down to avoid the page number. Other numbering systems appear in the manuscript as well, also in Du Vernet’s hand. At page 10, a new set of numeration begins, written in smaller numerals at both the top right and top left of the page. This continues sequentially through to page 16. Du Vernet also seems to have scratched out numbers 3-10 of this new numbering system before re-writing them just below. It is not clear why he did this. On pages 18 and 19, a third set of numeration appears, where the numerals 1 and 2 are written at the center along the top of the page. Finally, the sheets containing “The Jeremiah Johnston Story” – marked “Special” – are not included in the page sequence 1-22. Instead Du Vernet inscribed “#1” at the top right of the recto and a “7” at the top left of the verso.
Quality of Materials and Penmanship
The notepad itself was not of high quality. The pages are relatively thin and bear the watermark “MIDLOTHIAN.” Although the majority of the sheets have remained in good condition, some of the later pages (beginning at page 21) show extensive wear along the top right edge. Page 22 has a tear running about a third of the way down the middle of the sheet. It seems likely that the Canadian Church Missionary Society had a large quantity of the notepads made, which Du Vernet took advantage of for the writing of the diary. Du Vernet appears to have written with a pen and ink and did not take great care to re-ink the pen at regular intervals. Dark ink progressively fades before abruptly shifting to dark again, signalling the moments where Du Vernet dipped is pen in the inkwell. He writes in a swift and often barely-legible cursive hand. However, occasionally letters are much more elegantly and clearly shaped, suggesting that Du Vernet had the capacity for good penmanship. The quality of the handwriting paired with the frequent use of abbreviations and point form descriptions suggests that Du Vernet may have intended this diary (at least in its present form) only for his own use. Du Vernet wrote other materials as well, including a “notebook” that he references on the recto of page 3. Unfortunately it has been lost.
The manuscript is currently held at the Anglican Church of Canada General Synod Archives in Toronto, ON, with the accession number M81-41.
The editors have divided the diary up into 20 distinct episodes each of which tells its own story. Episodes provide access to the reading version and an audio recording (see below), and can be found under the “The Diary” on the website banner. At the bottom of each Episode, we have included a viewer containing images of the diary and a diplomatic transcription to facilitate cross-referencing.
One of the most important features of the edition is the annotations. These short comments are meant to provide brief clarifying details or to contextualize unfamiliar or, at times, prejudicial language. For example, Du Vernet frequently uses derogatory terminology, such as “heathen,” which we discuss in the annotations and articles.
Annotations are signalled by a pale green underline, which shifts to a green box when you hover your cursor over the word or phrase. After clicking the green box, annotation text will appear in the right margins. Annotations often also lead to articles, which provide further information for the curious reader. Example: Mr. Johnston 1
Articles provide more extensive and detailed information on topics of interest, including historical events, terminology, and characters from the diary. Articles can be accessed by selecting “Read More,” at the end of an annotation, at which point they will appear on the screen, without taking you away from the main Episode. You can also find them in the Glossary & Index.
Four versions of the diary are available to experience.
- Reading version
- Audio recording
- High definition images of the diary
- Diplomatic transcription
The reading version is what you find in the Diary Episodes. This is an interpreted version based on the diplomatic transcription that aims for readability, including dividing the diary into distinct, chronological episodes. Abbreviations are spelled out and illegible text is emended. The reading version also contains important annotations and longer articles, which provide enriching detail and contextualization for the diary.
For those who prefer to listen rather than read, the reading transcription is also available as an audio recording. Look for the audio recording at the top of each individual episode.
The images of the diary provide site users with the opportunity to see Du Vernet’s own handwriting. But they can be challenging to read, due to the style of handwriting and his use of abbreviations and short forms. Therefore, we include two kinds of transcriptions: diplomatic and reading.
We have also provided a diplomatic transcription of Du Vernet’s diary. In the language of textual editing, a diplomatic transcription is meant to reproduce the text of a manuscript as closely as possible, in order to give some insight into the author’s writing habits and compositional process. It prioritizes similarity to the manuscript over readability. Words are missing or hard to decipher in places, but this version is more legible than the original handwriting. Just below is a legend of Du Vernet’s orthographic habits. The diplomatic transcription can be viewed here.
|R. C.||Roman Catholic|
|[…]||Illegible text. The number of dots indicates approximate number of illegible letters.|
|[ ]||Illegible letter within word|
|Example||Words crossed out by Du Vernet. In many cases the underlying words are illegible.|
|Example|| Superscript in original text, occasionally Du Vernet includes “^” to indicate
where the inclusion of the superscript text should appear in main body.
|Example||Subscript indicates text written below the line|