Newfoundland had sad connection to experiments on aboriginals

Steve Bartlett
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A nurse takes a blood sample from a boy at the Indian School, Port Alberni, B.C., in 1948, during the time when nutritional experiments were being conducted on students there and five other residential schools.
— Photo by The Canadian Press/ho-Library and Archives Canada

One of those appalling nutrition tests conducted by national experts and the feds between 1942 and 1952 saw subjects fed a product from this province.

And the “Newfoundland flour mix” consumed at an Ontario residential school didn’t exactly yield desired results.

It provided no obvious benefits to the students at St. Mary’s School in Kenora and their rates of iron deficiency (anemia) soared.

This information comes from an academic article that created controversy and headlines last week.

Ian Mosby, a nutritional historian at Guelph University, found documents detailing how scientists and federal departments conducted nutritional tests at six residential schools across Canada and at some native reserves without the participants’ consent.

Mosby says his article “argues that — during the war and early postwar period — bureaucrats, doctors, and scientists recognized the problems of hunger and malnutrition, yet increasingly came to view aboriginal bodies as ‘experimental materials’ and residential schools and aboriginal communities as kinds of ‘laboratories’ that they could use to pursue a number of different political and professional interests.”

Yup. Hundreds of hungry children and adults unknowingly involved were human guinea pigs.

Mosby’s findings have sparked outrage across the country, and rightly so.

Some subjects were fed supplements, while others were given nothing as part of a control group — even though researchers knew their diets were lacking and their bodies deficient.

The researcher says the Newfoundland flour mix was used at St. Mary’s School because riboflavin deficiency was common there.

The mix contained added thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and bonemeal.

It “could not be legally sold outside of Newfoundland under Canada’s laws against food additives.”

The rise in anemia that accompanied consumption prompted head researcher Lionel Bradley Pett to present a paper to the American Institute of Nutrition in 1952.

It was titled “Development of Anemia on Newfoundland Enriched Flour.”

Although scientifically unproven that the flour caused anemia levels to rise, Pett noted “the fact remains that no beneficial effect was observed from the iron in enriched flour.”

He suggested more research was required, but admitted “such studies are often omitted or are confined to certain animal experiments rather than to humans.”

Mosby argues the anemia “seems to have simply highlighted one of the main barriers to the kinds of human experiments being advocated by Pett — when confronted with the possible risks, few would consciously choose to allow themselves or their children to take part in such a study.”

No kidding.

According to the Canadian National Millers Association website, research done in Newfoundland during the Second World War showed a deficiency in iron, calcium and B vitamins in the diet here.

“The enrichment of flour in Newfoundland rapidly cleared up the diet deficiency problems on the island,” the site says.

Hopefully, people here — who were in hard times — knew they were part of an experiment, one that may explain why the researchers tried the mix at the Kenora school.

This all leaves some big questions about Newfoundland flour mix.

Did it have an impact on local anemia rates and did anyone ever realize it? And have there been any long-lasting health effects on the locals who ate it?

An interview has been requested with Mosby to see if he knows more about the flour, and some local researchers will be getting a call too.

We need to know more about this.


If you know anything about Newfoundland flour mix, email Steve Bartlett at On Twitter, he’s @TelegramSteve.

Organizations: School in Kenora, Guelph University, American Institute of Nutrition Canadian National Millers Association

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Mary, Canada Ontario

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Recent comments

  • California Pete from NFLD
    July 22, 2013 - 12:18

    Please read. - Hiden from History - "The Canadian Holocaust" ( on line ). And when done speak your mind. Canada was and is no angle as we all would like to know our self as. Keep singing "OH CANADA" and think what was done and is done as well to day Have a nice day.

  • Cyn
    July 22, 2013 - 10:27

    My mother in law remembers our Chief yelling at the Indian agent when the students came home for the summer, asking him why the children are so skinny, my community had to,by law, send their children to the residential schools, and the community members were told, they children will be looked after, will be educated, and this will help them. Our Chief truly believe, that education was the answer for us Indians to be able to survive, compete, and be equal with the rest of society. Now of course this kinda treatment wasn't inflicted on me, but the compassion and heartache I feel for my community and those who had to endure this.... that's all, have a good day

  • Frank
    July 22, 2013 - 10:09

    My father used to spray DDT around the house to kill flies 40 years ago. I guess the government owes me money now for letting it be sold and the inhumane treatment I suffered!!

  • Get ready
    July 22, 2013 - 09:41

    This happened in the 1940s. It was done by people not alive now. It was not right but at the time it was ok to them. Let's hope Harper doesn't apologize with billions of our tax dollars in compensation.

    • chantal
      July 22, 2013 - 11:01

      I"m sure you woudn't be so complacent if it was your children.

    • Poppu
      July 22, 2013 - 16:09

      Really? You think they were ok with their children being taken from them against their will? That is lunacy. Our country attempted genocide on a race of people. Maybe read some history, it might prevent you from making stupid and ignorant comments in the future.

  • david
    July 22, 2013 - 06:22

    This entire story is a load of krap. The government --- in good faith and with good intentions ---- gave unproven supplements to one group, and did not provide any diet change to the other group. This has been cast by CBC radio as "Inhumane treatment" and "cutting the amount of supplements in half".....which is a bald-faced lie that has been the M.O. of the CBC for decades. But it's natives, so hold on to your wallets folks.

    • Another Business man
      July 22, 2013 - 09:05

      The socialists don't stand a chance. At the end of the day regular workers will not let the big union bosses get away with their greed. My employees would never vote for a union because I treat them like family and they know that I wll kick them out and replace them with someone who knows the value of work. The know the NDP will tax them to death and give the money to the welfare crowd. Besides, who's going to trust a party run by a bunch of hippies?

    • Jack
      July 22, 2013 - 16:17

      Wow that is kind of racist and frankly stupid. And "Another Business Man" comment is the only thing that is saving you from having the stupidest comment on here, but I am sure there are many more racist, union hating (how does that relate to nutrition experiments?), close minded people who love to hear their own voice. So I am sure you are in good company.