Throughout the early 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church operated approximately 70 per cent of the estimated 130 residential schools created for educating Indians in Canada. These federally funded schools were set up for Indians who did not have an Indian Day School located within five kilometres of their home.
As seen through the public eye, the schools were a positive move designed to teach aboriginals how to lead aboriginals from a “life of poverty, dirt and ignorance”.
Educated by Jesuit priests or Sisters, the students received moral, academic and industrial training. Classes operated for half the day while for the duration of the day the students would be responsible for the entire maintenance of the grounds including cooking, cleaning, laundry, and farming.
The poor funding provided by the Government meant that the schools had to be as self-sustaining as possible. Children grew their own food, made their own clothes and raised and sold livestock including cattle, chickens and hogs. Children also milled the wheat, baked bread, forged shoes for the horses; cut hides and made shoes and tailored shirts, pants and pajamas.
In the community of Wikwemikong (Ontario) the Jesuit priests ran the St. Peter Claver's Indian Residential School for male Indians. The Daughters of the Heart of Mary operated a school for female Indians based out of the same log cabin.
The boys school operated from the years 1850 until 1911 when it caught fire. The girls school operated from 1862 until the same time, apparently using the same log cabin for a building.
Two new schools were constructed: St. Peter's Clavier's School constructed in 1911 with a capacity for 180 boys and St. Joseph's School for Girls constructed in 1916 with a capacity for 150 girls. The schools were constructed on a 1000-acre lot located at the mouth of the Spanish River. Reverend Joseph Sauve and Father Paquin supervised the building and construction of the new schools that began operation in 1913.
The move from Wikwemikong to Spanish was intentional to remove the children from their Reserves and far away from the parents.
St. Peter Claver's Indian Residential School
The St. Peter's Indian Residential School for Boys was an impressive three-story structure that contained dormitories, study hall, classrooms, recreation hall, dining rooms, kitchen, lavatory, kitchen, pantry, infirmary, bakery and tailor shop.
Located on the ground of the boy's school was a windmill, powerhouse and a shoe shop. A large barn held cows, horses and dairy operation. A mill near the river processed corn and wheat. A chicken coop held up to four hundred chickens.
There were approximately 130 boys at the school aged 4 to 16. The school drew Aboriginal children from reserves across Ontario some of the whom were orphans; others committed to the institution as punishment for some misdemeanor; and a few were enrolled by their parents in order to receive some education and training
Despite the luxurious sounding premises, life was anything but luxury. To say that the Government neglected these children would be an understatement. They paid out $129.31 per child annually or $.35 per day, for food, clothing and utilities.
Health care was the responsibility of the Indian Department, yet they were slow responding for medicine, dental care and tonsillitis treatment.
The day began at 6:15 AM, mass followed from 6:45 to 7:45 and then breakfast from 7:30 until 8:00 am.
8:05 to 8:55 was work, 9:00 until 11:55 was school and work. Dinner was served from 12:00 until 12:25.
There was some reprieve from the day's chores with sports and games from 12:30 until 1:10 and then class/work resumed from 1:15 until 4:15 pm.
4:15 until 4:30 was collation, 4:30-4:55 was work/chores, 5:00 until 5:55 was study hour, 6:00 until 6:25 was supper. 6:30 until 7:25 was once again sports and games time. 7:30 until 10:00 was study time and bedtime preparation.
Beginning January 1931, native languages were forbidden in the school except on Sundays, Thursdays and holidays. The boys (and girls) were punished for speaking in their mother tongue. One school Reverend is quoted as saying, “not a word of Indian is heard from our boys after six months”.
There were instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by senior students against junior students as well as severe physical abuse by staff.
During the mid 1940's, St. Peter Claver's underwent some positive changes. A new Father Superior, R.J. Oliver, was appointed in 1945. With many of the tasks such as tending to chickens and tailoring were becoming obsolete due to machinery, Father Oliver introduced a high school curriculum in 1946 to further help the boys succeed once they graduated, the first Residential school to do so. The rigorous daily work periods were removed.
Around 1947 the school changed its name to the Garnier Residential School for Indian Boys.
In 1948, a joint House of Commons and Senate committee recommended that these residential schools be abolished. The church on the other hand lobbied for them to continue. Despite the committee's recommendations, the schools remained open.
Almost a decade later the schools were seeing decreased enrollment as Aboriginal children were encouraged to integrate with children in their town's co-existing schools.
The Garnier Residential School eventually grew too run down and closed its doors in 1958. It was demolished in 2004.
Following a reunion of former students over the civil holiday at the end of July 1988, the Sudbury Star and the Globe and Mail published stories that were critical of the Spanish School. The article focused on the harsh discipline and the negative impact on Aboriginal culture.
On July 11, 1991 an Aboriginal parishoner told his parish priest in the village of Cape Croker that he'd been sexually abused as an altar boy by Father George Epoch, a Jesuit who had worked at the Spanish School.
By January 6, 1993, the Jesuits learned that the Ontario Provincial Police (“O.P.P.”) were investigating allegations at the Spanish School.
A former student, Peter Cooper, retained legal counsel and in a letter dated January 27, 1994, demanded compensation from the Jesuits. In fact investigators hired by the Jesuits determined that there might very well be dozens or hundreds of former students who'd been abused. Cooper's claim would be one of more than 100 such abuse claims made against the Jesuits.
The Jesuits are currently in legal battle with their insurer who refuses to pay out to the victims. So far the Jesuits have paid out approximately $2 million in settlement costs.
On June 11, 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper publically apologized on behalf of the government and the people of Canada for the abuse that occurred residential schools.
St. Joseph's School
St. Joseph's was similar in construct to the boys school – it contained classrooms, dining room, play rooms, chapel and sewing room. The girls education consisted of all the elementary schooling as well as home economics, cooking, sewing and personal hygiene
The school was just as harsh as the male school. Students were scolded or strapped for speaking their native language. Girls would sneak off to the lake to hold a pow-wow using a pail for a drum.
Health care was not what it is today. Influenza and pneumonia took the lives of eight boys and eight girls during the autumn of 1918.
St. Josephs closed in 1958. A fire destroyed the school in 1981 although the shell remains to this day.
1) Indian School Days By Basil H. Johnston
2) The Spanish School Saga (William Blakeney) Link
3) Shingwauk's vision By James Rodger Miller