St. Michael’s Residential School

Alert Bay - St. Michael’s Residential School

One night while at work I was listening to CBC Radio One. I was listening to a show called "Breaking The Silence". I was listening to Ted Quewezance of the Keeseekoose First Nation speak about the time he broke his silence, being one of the survivors of Canada's residential schools. He spoke about when he was telling his experience, people tried to silence him. People of his own community, wanting to forget, like sweeping a family secret into a closet. He also mentioned how Canada had failed reconciliation to the people, because there is no truth telling. The government keeps giving out "hush money" instead of letting the truth come forward and be expressed.

I was visiting a friend in who bought a house in Alert Bay. We went on a few walk-about's and explored the island over the few days I was there. Through the park's trails at the top of the island, the board walk where the community used to thrive from fishing and the cannery that ran there. On the last day he thought it would be a good idea to visit the museum. We walked on the long board walk through the town center, passing old buildings that used to be part of the industry that used to flourish, passed the ferry terminal, houses with friendly people who waved and greeted us as we walked along the boardwalk. 'Till near the end, close to the museum, I noticed a group of young trees growing around some rubble. There was a small pit inside the rubble. I asked "What was that?". He told me it was St. Michael’s Residential School. The last residential school to operate in Canada. A sudden chill ran up my spine and I stared at that spot for sometime. I realized I did not know what the residential schools were, what happened there and how they effected the community they meant to serve.

St. Michael’s Residential School was constructed in 1929 as a regional facility to serve aboriginal communities from Campbell River to St. Rupert. Operated by the Anglican Church and in 1934, the Indian Residential School Commission of the Missionary Society of the Church of England published that it thanked

“Almighty God for what has been accomplished: for a race of people brought in the shortest period of time known in history from the most debasing savagery to citizenship both in the Kingdom of our God and in his God-blessed Dominion of Canada.”

With these words, it is quite easy to tell what these facilities were meant to do.

The residential facility was finally closed in 1975, leaving this large looming cloud over the community. The building was repurposed for many things over the years till it was demolished in February 2015. Church leaders and First Nations (including representatives of Assembly of First Nations), politicians and former students attended a healing/cleansing ceremony hosted by the 'Namgis First Nation to mark the demolition of the closed school's building.

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