Did my neighbours commit cultural genocide? Maybe, maybe not. But they did operate a residential school here until quite recently.
The Assiniboia Indian Residential High School was in operation from 1958 until June 1973. The official address is 615 Academy Road, but you’ll seldom see it as you drive through River Heights.
Despite the address, it’s located just off Academy Road behind the RCMP building, accessed by a back lane just east of the St. James Bridge where it fronts onto Wellington Park by the river.
It’s a fine building from an architectural point of view and is listed on Canada’s registry of historic places. Built from sandstone, it was designed by Winnipeg school architect J.B. Mitchell and opened in 1918 as the Julia Clark School, taking the name from a director of the Children’s Home of Winnipeg.
Although its primary function was as a children’s home it also served as a regular school for local children until Sir John Franklin School opened a few years later.
The Children’s Home moved to other premises in 1945. After that it was occupied by the Department of Veteran Affairs and used as an annex for the Deer Lodge Hospital.
In 1958 however, it became part of our checkered legacy when it opened as a residential school for First Nation children. Run by the Catholic Church it was administered by the Grey Nuns and Oblate Fathers.
Jane Glennon a retired teacher and social worker now living in Prince Albert wrote of her time there as a child in an article for Media Idigena on on-line magazine about the experiences of indigenous people in Canada.
In “Sihkos Story ” she tells how a priest visited her reserve in Saskatchewan to convince her parents of the opportunities such a school could provide. And also to baptize her in the catholic faith so she would be eligible to attend such an institution.
She tells of the tensions between her minority Cree schoolmates and the other majority Saulteaux/Ojibway children there. But mostly she tells of the isolation and loneliness of being away from her family for ten months of the year. Of how she looked forward to the summer plane ride back to her family in Saskatchewan. And how she dreaded the end of summer and return to school.
She recalls one nun in particular who was an aboriginal woman. Yet despite her race and possible sympathies for the children she did them no favours.
After closing as a residential school in 1973 it was taken over by Parks Canada for a while. It was during this time that the school dormitories were demolished for the construction of the RCMP forensic science lab.
The school still stands however and today it functions as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection including Child Find Manitoba, a somewhat fitting tribute considering its history.
With three degrees including a Masters in social work to her name you could say that Glennon is well educated. But could the same result have been achieved by a more humane method?
Or to put it another way, where would she be today had she gone to a regular school, and had she stayed on the reserve would she have had the opportunity to attend a “regular” school.
That’s the truth and it’s something we all have to reconcile.