Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson speaks to media during the Liberal cabinet retreat at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.They blighted Indigenous lives for more than a century. Now their creation is being formally recognized as one of the events that helped shape today’s Canada The federal government has put residential schools on the official roster of National Historic Events. Two of the schools, one in Nova Scotia and one in Manitoba, have been named National Historic Sites — the first in Canada to be so marked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Sudoma

Sites to be commemorated: Residential schools recognized as ‘historic event’

Doing so was one of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

They blighted Indigenous lives for more than a century. Now their creation is being formally recognized as one of the events that helped shape today’s Canada.

The federal government has put residential schools on the official roster of National Historic Events. Two of the schools, one in Nova Scotia and one in Manitoba, have been named National Historic Sites — the first in Canada to be so marked.

“Telling history is not just about telling the good things,” said federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who is also responsible for historic sites and monuments.

“It’s also about telling the more challenging things — commemorating and understanding history. It’s not about celebrating.”

The schools, which ran from the 1870s to the 1990s, join a list of 491 other significant Canadian historical events. It’s about time they were added to a list which mentions both the Calgary Stampede and the Montreal Canadiens, said Ry Moran of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

“There has been a severe under-representation of Indigenous places, events, people and sites recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board.” he said.

“It’s essential that something as

important as the residential schools be recognized.”

Doing so was one of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. More such designations may be coming, said Wilkinson.

“It’s certainly the beginning.”

VIDEO: Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy urges Canadians to take online class on Indigenous history

One of the two designated schools is on the land of the Long Plain First Nation near Portage la Prairie, Man.

“They have great historic significance to all Canadians,” said Chief Dennis Meeches, whose mother, father and grandfather all attended the school. “It’s sacred and hallowed ground.”

The First Nation owns the school, which houses offices and a small residential school museum. A memorial garden and statue is planned.

Meeches said the band would like to create a national museum on the site.

“(When it comes to) historic sites of Indigenous people, there’s a lot of mistruths — even in the history books. We have a lot of work to do.”

The second designated school in Shubenacadie, N.S., was torn down long ago and a plastics factory sits where it stood. But it’s not forgotten, said survivor Doreen Bernard.

“My grandmother, my parents, their siblings and me and my siblings all went,” she said. “We went through a lot there.

“What we lost — our language, our traditional education, a lot of the things that would normally be passed down in our culture — we’re still trying to gain back. I’m still working on those things.”

A plaque on the site where those losses occurred will preserve their memory, she said.

“It’s really important that this place is marked.”

The recognition Tuesday comes days after a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and one of the originators of residential schools, was torn down in Montreal.

“I don’t believe vandalism is ever the right way to have important discussions and debates,” Wilkinson said. “We need to be able to tell our history.

“I do understand the frustration … I think there is a level of frustration about … the way in which we have typically gone about commemorating history through a very narrow lens.”

READ MORE: Trudeau calls out vandals who toppled Montreal’s Macdonald statue

Moran sees a relationship between the two events.

“When we see John A. MacDonald’s statue defaced or toppled, we have to recognize that as an effort being made by people to bring other elements of his history to light, to rectify the unequal telling of how we’ve presented these historical leaders.”

Tuesday’s announcement is the start of a new balance, Moran suggested, but there’s a long way to go.

“There are still hundreds of cemetery sites we need to identify containing the graves of children that never returned home. There’s still thousands of residential school students that never returned home that we need to find the names for.

“There is an awful lot of work that we have to do in order to better explain and understand our history.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

IndigenousIndigenous reconcilliationresidential schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Each step is a prayer’: Ojibwe man will walk from Hope to Vancouver Island for Indigenous healing, reconciliation

James Taylor departs Sept. 20, returns to Saanich in five days for sacred fire

COLUMN: We don’t need an election. But it’s 2020, so we’ll probably get one anyways.

There are only selfish reasons for the NDP to trigger an election this fall

Say ‘Hi’ to the mountains (and rain): The smoke is gone from the Fraser Valley, for now

Saturday’s Fraser Valley air quality forecast at ‘moderate risk,’ but morning showers leave skies clear

Machine pistol among 14 firearms seized from Alaska man at Abbotsford border crossing

Corey Scott Kettering faces charges of smuggling and prohibited firearm possession

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Air quality advisory ends for the Lower Mainland

It had been in effect since Sept. 8

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read