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

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

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Black Press file photo
Leduc RCMP investigate serious collision involving train

Leduc RCMP were called to a collision between a train and truck on Centre Street in New Sarepta.

Elder Muriel Lee. (Photo submitted)
Maskwacis Elder Mentoring Program connects Elders with young parents

By Chevi Rabbit For Black Press Media The Maskwacis Elders Mentoring Program,… Continue reading

Pipestone Flyer file photo
Nominations now open for 2021 general municipal election

Nominations for Wetaskiwin’s general municipal election are now open until Sept. 20, 2021.

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

A ground worker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 unloads lobsters from a WestJet Airlines flight at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Trudeau teases stricter travel measures; Canadians flying to U.S. now need COVID test

Prime minister says measures need to not hurt imports and essential trade

(Photo submitted)
Ponoka RCMP receives new police puppy trainee

Detachment says goodbye to ‘Maja’ and welcomes ‘Neutron’

Art Kempf, originally from the Stettler area but now living in Lacombe, is pictured here with his late wife Lillian. Art’s 100th birthday is coming up on Feb. 22nd.
photo submitted
Former Stettler area resident Art Kempf will be celebrating a very special day next month

Kempf, now a Lacombe resident, marks his 100th birthday on Feb. 22nd

'The Coronavirus Isn't Scary' by Kristy Walker.
Sylvan Lake author pens first children’s book about COVID-19

“The Coronavirus Isn’t Scary” by Kristy Walker teaches children to take care of themselves

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie are serving sit-down customers in their Mirror diner to protest health restrictions that they say are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta restaurant owner defies health restrictions by serving diners

Whistle Stop Cafe owner says pandemic restrictions unfair to restaurants and small businesses

The Northwest Territories flag flies on a flagpole in Ottawa on July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta man charged with threatening Northwest Territories public health officer

Police did reveal the nature of the threats, but said it was concerning

Most Read