Updated September 7, 2022
September 30 marked the observance of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day of commemoration honours the children who were never returned from residential schools as well as the resilience of the survivors, their families, and communities who are still impacted by the legacy of the Indian Residential School System.
While we have taken September 30 to reflect, learn, listen, and uplift Indigenous voices across all of Turtle Island, we must also acknowledge the role of architecture (both the practice and product) in enabling the Canadian government’s policies of segregation and cultural assimilation against Indigenous children and their communities. The highly structured organization of residential schools made it possible for settlers to enforce their presence and exercise control in almost every aspect of Indigenous life.
Despite the long history and widespread impact of the residential school system on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, there are relatively few researched and published scholarly articles focused on the contributions of architecture in furthering the European colonial agenda and the legacy of trauma in survivors of these institutions. As individuals working in architecture and other associated fields of design, it remains our responsibility to educate ourselves about the histories of these schools, to dismantle the systems of oppression assisted by the practice of architecture, and to keep ourselves accountable in our commitment to reconciliation with the Indigenous communities upon whose lands we live and work.
Keep reading for articles from the JSSAC on the architecture of residential schools and additional resources for learning.
“Educating Memory: Regarding the Remnants of the Indian Residential School”
Elevation of St. Eugene Indian Residential School, 1911, Allan Keefer, Architect (Library and Archives Canada)
In this essay, Geoffrey Carr examines the relationship between the built forms of residential schools and collective memory/commemoration. Carr conveys the wide range of opinions encompassing the preservation of these buildings and their impact on the telling of Canadian history.
Carr touches on the significance of survivor testimony in recounting the conditions of residential schools, making up the bulk of historical records surrounding these institutions. Still, Carr acknowledges how the personal nature of these accounts is considered to be less favourable in the realm of government policy-making. The concrete evidence found in the architecture of the Indian Residential School System in combination with personal testimony shifts the discourse around memory and the trauma experienced by survivors and their families through residential schools. Carr’s discussion includes specific examples of purposeful design elements which permitted the staff of residential schools to maintain close surveillance of the children, and thus control over their actions.
Carr’s essay concludes with a reflection on issues of preservation as the historical and social value of residential school buildings are contested, facing a lack of formal recognition and investment from the government. In the case of the St. Eugene Residential School in Cranbrook—now the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino—the Ktunaxa Nation (who manage and care for the site) have been left with few options but to commercialize the former residential school to keep up with the cost of maintenance and renovations required for the preservation of the site. The absence of any formal heritage designation or financial support given to the communities seeking formal designations for these sites of memory indicates a lack of commitment on an official level to breaking the culture of silence and neglect that characterizes the purpose, administration, and legacy of these places. Read the article.
“Instruments as Evidence: An Archive of the Architecture of Assimilation”
Designs for the new Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (Library and Archives Canada)
Magdalena Miłosz’s essay, which won the Martin Eli Weil Prize in 2016, investigates the significance of the built world as a tool used to execute a mandate of forced assimilation, indoctrination, and cultural eradication. Miłosz addresses the significance of architectural styles used for the construction of residential schools and other designs used on reserves themselves to assert settler presence and dominance over Indigenous cultures. The importance of Western architectural design and cultural norms in the construction of residential schools creates an association between the built world and the concept of “civilization,” a key tenet of the Indian Residential School System.
Miłosz addresses the gap in scholarly contributions towards this area of study (apart from the work of Geoffrey Carr) and its absence from the mainstream discourse of architectural history. She inquires as to how the large body of materials produced for the construction of these buildings—now archived and readily accessible—may be transformed into tools of evidence, revealing the enactors of residential school protocols while also providing more context for the study of their designs. These extensive records of evidence into how architectural practice helped to shape the residential school system serve as further reminders of the architect’s responsibility in enabling racist and harmful policies. Read the article.
- Survivors of the Assiniboia Indian Residential School, Did You See Us?: Reunion, Remembrance, and Reclamation at an Urban Indian Residential School, Perceptions on Truth and Reconciliation 5 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2021).
- Theodore Fontaine, Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir (Surrey, BC: Heritage House, 2018).
- Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter, The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (Regina, Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press, 2017).
- Edmund Metatawabin and Alexandra Shimo, Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey through the Turbulent Waters of Native History (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014).
- Bev Sellars, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2013).
- Basil Johnston, Indian School Days (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1988).
- Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer, and Gillian Newland, Gaawin gindaaswin ndaawsii = I Am Not a Number, trans. Muriel Sawyer, Geraldine McLeod, and Tory Fisher (Toronto: Second Story Press, 2019).
For a further list of age-appropriate children’s books about residential schools, refer to Chantelle Bellrichard, “10 Books about Truth and Reconciliation to Read with Your Kids,” CBC News, September 26, 2015.
- John Sheridan Milloy and Mary Jane McCallum, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, Anniversary Edition, Critical Studies in Native History (Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 2017).
- Isabelle Knockwood and Gillian Thomas, Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Fourth (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2015).
- Ronald Niezen, Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).
- Scott Watson, Keith Wallace, and Jana Tyner, eds., Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2013).
- Agnes Grant, No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada (Winnipeg: Pemmican Pub., 1996).
- J.R. Miller, Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
- Celia Haig-Brown, Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School, (New York: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010).
- Roland David Chrisjohn, Sherri Lynn Young, and Michael Maraun, The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience in Canada (Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2006).
- Agnes S. Jack, Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School (Penticton, B.C.: Theytus Books, 2000).
- Elizabeth Furniss, Victims of Benevolence : The Dark Legacy of the Williams Lake Residential School (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995).
- Maura Lucking, “Expanding the Media of Architectural Research: Native Boarding School Assignments and Architectural Settler Colonialism,” SAH Blog, January 21, 2022.
- Marie-Danielle Smith, “Murray Sinclair on reconciliation, anger, unmarked graves – and a headline for this story,” Macleans, 2021
- Magdalena Miłosz, “Simulated Domesticities: Settings for Colonial Assimilation in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada,” RACAR : Revue d’art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review 45, no. 2 (2020): 81–96.
- Trina Cooper-Bolam, “On the Call for a Residential Schools National Monument,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études Canadiennes 52, no. 1 (September 20, 2018): 57–81.
- Cody Groat, “Commemoration and Reconciliation: The Mohawk Institute as a World Heritage Site,” British Journal of Canadian Studies 31, no. 2 (September 1, 2018): 195–209.
- Alison Norman, “‘True to My Own Noble Race’: Six Nations Women Teachers at Grand River in the Early Twentieth Century,” Ontario History 107, no. 1 (July 25, 2018): 5–34.
- Geoffrey Carr, “Atopoi of the Modern: Revisiting the Place of the Indian Residential School,” ESC: English Studies in Canada 35, no. 1 (March 2009): 109–35.
- Sarah de Leeuw, “‘If Anything Is to Be Done with the Indian, We Must Catch Him Very Young’: Colonial Constructions of Aboriginal Children and the Geographies of Indian Residential Schooling in British Columbia, Canada,” Children’s Geographies 7, no. 2 (May 1, 2009): 123–40.
- Dian Million, “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History,” Wicazo Sa Review 24, no. 2 (2009): 53–76.
- Sarah de Leeuw, “Intimate Colonialisms: The Material and Experienced Places of British Columbia’s Residential Schools,” The Canadian Geographer 51, no. 3 (2007): 339–59.
- Émélie Desrochers-Turgeon, “On the Silence of the Colonial Archive: Examining Sensorial Agency through the Archival Drawings of Indian Residential Schools in Canada,” in The Routledge Companion to Architectural Drawings and Models (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2022), 460–475.
- Trina Cooper-Bolam, “Workhouses and Residential Schools: From Institutional Models to Museums,” in Modern Cartography Series, ed. Stephanie Pyne and D. R. Fraser Taylor, vol. 8, Cybercartography in a Reconciliation Community (Academic Press, 2019), 143–66.
- Stephanie Pyne and Jeff Thomas, “Mapping Jeff Thomas Mapping: Exploring the Reflexive Relationship between Art, Written Narrative and Cybercartography in Commemorating Residential Schools,” in Modern Cartography Series, ed. Stephanie Pyne and D. R. Fraser Taylor, vol. 8, Cybercartography in a Reconciliation Community (Academic Press, 2019), 57–100.
- Heather Igloliorte, “‘We Were so Far Away’: Exhibiting Inuit Oral Histories of Residential Schools,” in Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places, ed. Erica T. Lehrer, Cynthia E. Milton, and Monica Eileen Patterson, Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies (Houndmills, Basingstoke Hampshire; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
- Jo-Anne Fiske, “Placing Violence against First Nations Children: The Use of Space and Place to Construct the (In)Credible Violated Subject,” in Healing Traditions: The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, ed. Laurence J. Kirmayer and Gail Guthrie Valaskakis (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009), 140–59.
- Sherry Ferrell Racette, “Haunted: First Nations Children in Residential School Photography,” in Depicting Canada’s Children, ed. Loren Lerner (Waterloo, ON.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009), 49–84.
- Mary-Ellen Kelm, “A ‘Scandalous Procession’: Residential Schooling and the Reformation of Aboriginal Bodies,” in Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998), 57–80.
- Jo-Anne Fiske, “Life at Lejac,” in Sa Ts’e: Historical Perspectives on Northern British Columbia, ed. Thomas Thorner (Prince George, B.C.: College of New Caledonia Press, 1989), 235–71.
Theses & Dissertations
- Trina Cooper-Bolam, “Claiming the Terrible Gift–A Post-TRC Investigation in Praxiological Museology” (PhD diss., Carleton University, 2020).
- Omeasoo Wāhpāsiw, “Tla’amin Housing Architecture and Home Territories in the Twentieth Century: Invisible Spaces Shaping Historical Indigenous Education” (PhD diss., University of Saskatchewan, 2016).
- Geoffrey Carr, “‘House of no spirit’: an architectural history of the Indian Residential School in British Columbia” (PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2011).
- Jennifer N. Harvey, “Landscapes of Conversion: The Evolution of the Residential School Sites at Wiikwemkoong and Spanish, Ontario” (master’s thesis, Laurentian University, 2019).
- Magdalena Miłosz “‘Don’t Let Fear Take Over’: The Space and Memory of Indian Residential Schools” (master’s thesis, University of Waterloo, 2015).
- Katherine Lyndsay Nichols, “Investigation of Unmarked Graves and Burial Grounds at the Brandon Indian Residential School” (master’s thesis, University of Manitoba, 2015).
- Trina Cooper-Bolam, “Healing Heritage: New Approaches to Commemorating Canada’s Indian Residential School System” (master’s thesis, Carleton University, 2014).
- Anna Brace, “Heritage Alternatives at Sites of Trauma: Examples of the Indian Residential Schools of Canada” (master’s thesis, University of York (UK), 2012).
- Sandra U. Dielissen, “Teaching a School to Talk: Archaeology of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Home for Indian Children” (master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2012).
- Christina Cecelia Hovey, “Planning for the Memorialisation of the Indian Residential School System: A Case Study of the Woodland Cultural Centre, Brantford, Ontario” (master’s thesis, Queen’s University, 2012).
- Parks Canada, Residential schools in Canada (2021).
- Parks Canada, Framework for History and Commemoration: National Historic Sites System Plan (2019).
- The University of British Columbia, Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre: Publications and Reports.
- Algoma University, Shingwauk Hall 360º VR Experience, 2021.
- Kevin Moynihan, They Came for the Children (a five-part film based on the TRC Final Report), 2019.
- Geoffrey Carr, “Colonial Modernities and the Indian Residential Schools: Surveying the Legacies of Religious Instruction in Government Institutions,” School Time! Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Educational Globalization, McGill University, Montreal, May 16–17, 2016.
Syllabi & Courses
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Collection and Resources.
- Paul L. Gareau, Indigenous Canada course, University of Alberta.
Header image: St. Eugene Residential School, Cranbrook, BC (Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre)