The Government of Canada began a program of assimilation of the native population. To this end, many schools were opened, mostly by religious entities, across the country. These schools would teach English culture to native children and weed out their own language and way of life.
One such school operated in the community of Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island. The Jesuit order that taught the boys there decided to open a new school in Spanish, Ontario, where the railway would allow greater access and larger numbers of students. As a result of a fire destroying the school in Wikwemikong, the sisterhood teaching the girls also joined in the establishment of the facilities in Spanish by building right across the road. In 1913, both the St. Peter Claver School for Boys (later to be renamed the St. Charles Garnier School for Boys), and the St. Joseph School for Girls opened their doors. A student population from as far south as Parry Sound, as far east as Ottawa, as far north as New Liskeard and as far west as Marathon, spent their days learning and working for the schools' upkeep until their graduation.
During the years of operation, these residential schools across Canada perpetrated not only the crimes of physical abuse, mental abuse, and even sexual abuse, but perhaps worst of all, the crime of systematic theft of cultural identity.
The boys school closed in 1958 and was eventually demolished leaving behind only a stone wall and a monument. The girls school closed in 1960 and was destroyed by fire leaving behind only the iron skeleton and stone skin of its facade.
For more information on these, and other residential schools, and the effect they would have, visit The Shingwauk Project
There is currently someone living in a trailer on the property where this building is situated. I'm not sure how there came to be someone living here, or why he chose this particular place.
I went to the door, and spoke very briefly with the owner who gave me permission to shoot the building. His only request was that I not go inside. Fair enough. There was nothing inside that couldn't be seen easily from the periphery anyway.
As I looked up inside the framework at the iron beams, I could make out where various walls had once been, demarcating the rooms. It wouldn't have taken too much to imagine the constant flow of students milling from room to room, or to hear the laughter and sounds of children playing outside.
Unfortunately, knowing the history of this, and other such schools, it was equally easy to imagine some of the horrors that must have taken place here as well.
CBC Archives: March 13, 1955: 'A New Future' for children at James Bay residential school
CBC Archives: December 25, 1962: 'The Eyes of Children' Christmas at a residential school
CBC Archives: May 1, 1969: Government takes over residential schools from churches