1880: Residential Schools & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “The Road to Canada”, 1864-1899

Fort George, an Anglican residential school in Quebec, c. 1948. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN no: 3321513 Fort George, an Anglican residential school in Quebec, c. 1948. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN no: 3321513

The story of residential schools is first and foremost a tragic one. Initially considered by both the Canadian government and leaders of the Plains Nations as something that would build the skills of children, residential schools ballooned into an uncontrollable monster. Children separated from their family were placed in the hands of often physically and sexually abusive tutors.

The powers behind residential schools have its roots in the British North America Act, with “Indian Affairs” being delegated to the federal government, though the idea of teaching the Aboriginals goes back even as far as the first contact of the Aboriginals with the French priests. The federal government, believing that they had to intervene in the education of said “Indians”, passed a law called the Indian Act in 1876 that intended to create schools to assimilate the Aboriginal children into “civilised”, mostly white, society, and actively collaborated with religious institutions in order to create their vision of education.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs officially recognises twelve residential schools in Quebec from the beginnings of the policy to the very end. These recognised schools, though more may have existed, were a mix between Anglican and Roman Catholic, with certain schools also being non-denominational as well. In the residential schools, children were forced to wear Western garments, forbidden to use their native language, and were undernourished. Children were even subject to experiments in their diet, an experiment that their parents did not consent to, that did not produce any health benefits despite the claims of the federal government. Quebec residential schools, like their counterparts all over Canada, would learn English and French, taught often by the clergy, unequipped and underqualified for the needs of children and were exposed to “culture”, often with a heavy dose of criticism of Native American culture. Resistance from the Native American communities developed, with parents hiding their children so that they would not be forced from their homes. With stories often almost unbelievable, the horrors the children were subjected to continue to have its ramifications with the survivors of these schools and in the collective memory of the Aboriginal nations. It remains an unfortunate chapter in Canadian history as a whole.

The final residential school closed in 1996.