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

COVID-19: Active cases in central zone up Tuesday

Central zone active cases remains lowest of all zones

Breeding better barley

The Field Crop Development Centre continues to breed new barley varieties that benefit Alberta farmers and ranchers

Central zone active cases down to 20

Province provides update

UPDATED: Red Deer has nine active COVID-19 cases

Number of cases increased by 107 Friday

Man sentenced to 7 years for gas-and-dash death of Alberta gas station owner

Ki Yun Jo was killed after Mitchell Sydlowski sped off in a stolen cube van without paying for $198 of fuel

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

Staff at Stettler Auction Mart keeping busy despite pandemic restrictions

‘We have a lot of technology nowadays so it’s made it a little bit easier to deal with something like this, that’s for sure.’

Lacombe-based author Fran Kimmel to lead writers’ workshop in Stettler

Kimmel’s novels include Shore Girl and No Good Asking

Public health officials urge Canadians to limit contacts again as COVID-19 cases rise

Canada has committed $1 billion to buy at least 154 million doses of vaccines from five different companies

Majority of Canadians support wearing masks during COVID-19, oppose protests: poll

Nearly 90 per cent felt wearing a mask was a civic duty because it protects others from COVID-19

RCMP say body located of man who fell in river during stop for photos in Banff

Parks Canada has said the man was from India and living in Canada on a work visa

Paper towel in short supply as people stay home, clean more, industry leader says

While toilet paper consumption has returned to normal levels, paper towel sales continue to outpace pre-COVID levels

Lacombe beekeepers give the buzz on winterizing hives

Winterizing a honeybee hive is not a simple task, local apiarists say

Most Read