Society for American Sign Language Journal

Document Type



This article1 is an account of the archives and museum at the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf (SJW) in Belleville, Ontario, which has a long history dating back to 1870. The deaf community affectionately calls this school “Belleville” in American Sign Language after the city where it is located, and so references to the school in this article are also to “the Belleville school.” It is also important to understand that the Belleville school had different names over the years: The school was first called the Ontario Institution for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (OIDD) from 1870 to 1913, and then the Ontario School for the Deaf (OSD) from 1913 to 1974. The year 2020 marked the school’s sesquicentennial and the 10th anniversary of the archives.

A former classroom, room no. 13 holds a historical collection of school materials (e.g., artifacts, photographs, documents, and other valuable items) to ensure their preservation and maintenance. Many of them are culturally sensitive to Deaf History, deaf people in general, and the school alumni. Since the archives’ inception three decades ago, employees and volunteers from the deaf community have enthusiastically assisted in the task.

As it is known, the OSD-SJW Archives were started in earnest not long after the OSD-SJW Alumni Association came into existence in 1989. Keith George Charles Dorschner, ’56, an alumnus and residential counselor at the school from 1984 to 2001, conceived both schemes with the support and assistance of his wife, the former Christine Margaret Bennett, ’56. (Keith can be seen in Figure 1.) They publicly encouraged the school and alumni communities to donate any physical materials (e.g., records, uniforms, photos, building plans, letters, and graduation certificates) to build an archival collection about the school. However, financial resources for archival showcases and supplies were limited, and they frequently had to move all holdings from one room to another when the school needed the space.



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