More than 200 students died at Vancouver Island's 5 residential schools
The painful history of residential schools in Canada has been brought back to the forefront after the remains of approximately 215 children were discovered under a former residential school site in Kamloops last week. But the horrors of residential schools are not something that affects B.C.'s mainland alone.
Throughout its history, the Vancouver Island region has been home to five residential schools, where at least 200 Indigenous students lost their lives.
Residential schools were located on Kuper Island, Meares Island and Flores Island, as well as in Port Alberni and Alert Bay.
Across the five residential schools, at least 202 students died of various causes, according to the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Kuper Island Residential School (1890 – 1975)
Kuper Island Residential School was a place of many tragedies during its decades-long existence.
According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, 121 students are confirmed to have died at the school, which was founded by the Catholic Church.
In 1896, the university says students tried to burn down the school when holidays were cancelled. That year, a survey was conducted and found that 107 former students, out of 264, had died since the school opened.
Residential school survivor Eddy Charlie told CTV News that the Kuper Island Residential School was called "Canada's Alcatraz" by students.
"Many children tried to swim away from the school and died while trying to escape," he said Friday.
The federal government took over operation of the school in 1969, before it was eventually closed in 1975, according to the University of Manitoba.
"In 1995 a former employee pled guilty to three charges of indecent assault and gross indecency," according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Alberni Residential School (1900 – 1973)
The Alberni Residential School was built just outside of Port Alberni by the Presbyterian Church.
According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, 30 students are confirmed to have died at the school.
The residential school burned down and was rebuilt three times over its 73-year existence, and was taken over by the United Church in 1925.
In the 1960s, the West Coast Council of Indian Chiefs campaigned to have the school closed, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The council alleged that children in need were being abandoned at the school. The school was later closed in 1973, and in 1995 a former supervisor – who worked at the school from 1948 to 1968 – was convicted of 18 counts of indecent assault against Indigenous students and was sentenced to 11 years in jail, according to the university.
Christie Residential School (1900 – 1983)
Christie Residential School was located on Meares Island, northeast of Tofino.
The residential school was fraught with overcrowding and six children died of tubercular meningitis between 1939 and 1941, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
In total, 23 students are confirmed to have died at the school.
In the 1950s, a child was also sexually abused by a school maintenance worker for a period of several years, according to the centre.
The school was closed in 1971 and students were transferred to the Christie Student Residence in Tofino. Three years later, in 1974, the Christie Student Residence was taken over by the West Coast District Council of Indian Chiefs and was later closed in 1983.
Ahousaht Residential School (1904 – 1940)
Ahousaht Residential School was located on Flores Island, north of Tofino, and was founded by the Presbyterian United Church.
The federally sponsored school was later taken over by the United Church in 1925.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says that physical punishments were common at the school, and students were prohibited from speaking their native languages.
"An inspector's report from 1936 noted that every staff member carried a strap and that the children 'never learned to work without punishment,'" says the centre.
The school burned down in 1940 and was replaced by a United Church day school later that year.
The University of Manitoba says 13 children were confirmed to have died at the school.
St. Michael’s Residential School (1894 – 1974)
The Alert Bay school first started as a day school by the Anglican Church before becoming a boarding school in 1882. It later received residential school designation in 1894, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
In 1947, more than 20 students fled from the school, prompting an investigation into conditions at the property.
The investigation's findings led to the school's principal and vice-principal resigning from their positions.
In 1969, the school was taken over by the federal government and students living there were sent to local schools for classes. The residence was eventually closed in 1974.
According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, 15 students are confirmed to have died at the school.
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