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Education of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Before contact with Europeans, Indigenous peoples educated their youth through traditional means — demonstration, group socialization, participation in cultural and spiritual rituals, skill development and oral teachings. The introduction of European classroom-style education as part of a larger goal of assimilation disrupted traditional methods and resulted in cultural trauma and dislocation. Reformers of Indigenous education policies are attempting to reintegrate traditional teachings and provide more cultural and language-based support to enhance and improve the outcomes of Indigenous children in the education system.

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Peter Henderson Bryce

Peter Henderson Bryce, physician, public health official (born 17 August 1853 in Mount Pleasant, Canada West; died 15 January 1932 at sea). Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce was a pioneer of public health and sanitation policy in Canada. He is most remembered for his efforts to improve the health and living conditions of Indigenous people. His Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories exposed the unsanitary conditions of residential schools in the Prairie provinces. It also prompted national calls for residential school reform.

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Chanie Wenjack

Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack (born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966 near Redditt, ON). Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

Interactive Map

Residential Schools in Canada Interactive Map

The map below indicates the location of residential schools in Canada. Click on individual points to learn a school’s name, religious denomination, opening and closing dates, and any other names by which the school was known. The map was created using data provided by the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, and therefore only includes schools listed in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. (See also Residential Schools in Canada.)

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Inuit Experiences at Residential School

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools created to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Schools in the North were run by missionaries for nearly a century before the federal government began to open new, so-called modern institutions in the 1950s. This was less than a decade after a Special Joint Committee (see Indigenous Suffrage) found that the system was ineffectual. The committee’s recommendations led to the eventual closure of residential schools across the country.

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Fatty Legs

Fatty Legs (2010) is a memoir about a young Inuvialuit girl’s two years at a religious residential school. It is based on the experiences of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, who cowrote the novel with her daughter-in-law Christy Jordan-Fenton. Published by Annick Press, the book features illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes and archival photographs from Pokiak-Fenton’s personal collection. Fatty Legs was a finalist for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. It received many other nominations and was named one of the 10 best children’s books of the year by the Globe and Mail.

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Lillian Elias

Lillian Elias (whose Inuvialuktun name is Panigavluk) is a teacher, language activist and a residential school Survivor (born 1943 in the Mackenzie Delta, NT). Influenced by her time at residential school, where administrators attempted to forcefully strip her of her language and culture, Elias has spent much of her life promoting and preserving her first language, Inuvialuktun (see Inuvialuit).

timeline event

Truth and Reconciliation Records Added to UNESCO Register

A collection of residential school survivors’ archives, personal stories and pictures held at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg was added to the UNESCO Canada Memory of the World Register. Other collections of similar items from the McCord Stewart Museum in Montreal and the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection at the University of British Columbia Library had already been added. Residential school survivor and Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Webstad said, “It’s a world recognition that these documents of survivors’ truths are going to be kept for years to come and for future generations.”

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Métis Experiences at Residential School

Although the first residential schools in Canada were established with the intention of assimilating First Nations children into Euro-Canadian culture, Métis and Inuit children were also institutionalized in such facilities. Métis children experienced similar day-to-day conditions to those of other students in residential schools, but they were often considered “outsiders” by their peers and administrators. This perception affected their experiences within these institutions in particular ways.


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Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada.

This is the full-length entry about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For a plain language summary, please see Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain Language Summary).

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Indian Horse

Indian Horse (2012) is the sixth novel by Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese. Set in Northern Ontario in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it follows protagonist Saul Indian Horse as he uses his extraordinary talent for ice hockey to try and escape his traumatic residential school experience. He achieves moderate success as a hockey player but is unable to escape his “Indian” identity or the trauma from his past. Indian Horse was a finalist on CBC’s Canada Reads in 2013, where it won the People’s Choice award. It was also the winner of the 2013–14 First Nation Communities Read Selection and the Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature from the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE). In 2017, Indian Horse was adapted into an award-winning film by writer Dennis Foon and director Stephen S. Campanelli.

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Intergenerational Trauma and Residential Schools

Historical trauma occurs when trauma caused by historical oppression is passed down through generations. For more than 100 years, the Canadian government supported residential school programs that isolated Indigenous children from their families and communities (see Residential Schools in Canada). Under the guise of educating and preparing Indigenous children for their participation in Canadian society, the federal government and other administrators of the residential school system committed what has since been described as an act of cultural genocide. As generations of students left these institutions, they returned to their home communities without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. The impacts of their institutionalization in residential school continue to be felt by subsequent generations. This is called intergenerational trauma.

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Residential Schools Podcast Series

Residential Schools is a three-part podcast series created by Historica Canada and hosted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais. It aims to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools, and honour the stories of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Survivors, their families, and communities. The series is part of a larger awareness campaign created by Historica Canada and funded by the Government of Canada. Along with the podcast, Historica also offers a video series, an education guide, and several new entries on The Canadian Encyclopedia about the history and legacy of residential schools.

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Egerton Ryerson

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, educator (born 24 March 1803 in Charlotteville Township, Norfolk County, Upper Canada; died 18 February 1882 in Toronto, Ontario). Egerton Ryerson was a leading figure in education and politics in 19th century Ontario. He was born into a prominent Anglican, Loyalist family. He converted to Methodism and was ordained in 1827 in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He helped found and edit the Christian Guardian (1829), founded Upper Canada Academy (1836) and became the first principal of Victoria College (1841). He was known as a supporter of religious freedom and as the founder of the public education system in Ontario. Ryerson University was named in honour. However, his role in the development of residential schools has led to calls for the university to be renamed.

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