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EDITORIAL: Peace region residential school - St. Francis Xavier

Sturgeon Lake, Alberta.

If one thinks they are removed from Residential Schools in the Peace region, or in Dawson Creek - think again. The nearest former residential school location to Mile Zero is two hours away on the shores of Sturgeon Lake, Alberta.

St. Francis Xavier Residential School operated well after the Alaska Highway was constructed. It was first decided for the area in October 1907, after Roman Catholic missionaries opened a small boarding school near Calais, Alberta in 1905. According to Truth and Reconciliation documents, the school was also known as Calais, or Calais Indian Residential School, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Francis Xavier Residential School.

Haunting to former students no matter its name.  The school operated for more than 50 years until June 30, 1961.

Questions. Today there are many graves marked circa 1980 and onward, as the community and area moved forward past the history of the school. However, prior to these more here and now deaths, there seems to be less records of them noted on the area grounds. Why?

Questions. National Centre for Truth Reconciliation Archives record about 25 deaths related to the school during its 50 year history. What school could lose a student a year or two these days? Or even then? Some children less than a year old. What brings birth to a boarding school? Questions.

A new school was constructed in 1910 and again in 1922, with new dormitories being added in 1944. By 1954, it was concluded the school was too dilapidated to repair. Instead it was decided that it should be closed and replaced with a day school. However, construction of the day school did not begin until 1961 and the boarding school remained in operation until 1962.

Near the former location of the school stands what appears to be the original Roman Catholic church structure for the area.

A longer amble away is the current cemetery.

Questions. If the post-1960 deaths were decided to be interned in fields further away – what is wrong with the ground of the first two fields? Why not inter the more newly passed there?

What should be looked at is the two fields that are not the “current” cemetery.

These fields are marked as potential grave sites, but certainly differently. What lies underneath this ground? What lies beyond the treeline before the cliff fall to the lakeshore?  Questions.

On Monday, locals - from residences clearly built in the shadow of the former school, installed new signed honouring the discovered Kamloops 215  while a new modern education centre shone in the distance, visible from the public highway.

Signs were installed over the weekend on the location of the former residential school.

“Honouring all our Sturgeon Lake survivors of IRS and those gone to the spirit world.”

“Prayers to all the children that did not make it home.”

A National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to former students. This 24-Hour Crisis Line can be accessed at 1-866-925-4419.

Robert Brown - Managing Editor/Dawson Creek Mirror