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Looking back at the history of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School


As Saskatchewan, Canada, and the world begin to process the recent findings at the old grounds of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School site, its history remains as the longest-running Residential School in existence.

Beginning in 1884, the first Industrial School was opened by the Roman Catholic Church – specifically, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns – and one of the first three industrial schools created in Canada.

It was built on the White Calf Reserve and was run by Father Joseph Hugonard until his death in 1917.

Prior to the release of Thursday’s findings, Sheldon Poitras, Star Blanket Cree Nation’s operations director and ground search leader, walked through the history of the multiple facilities at the site.

“The very first school that was on this site was the Qu’Appelle Industrial School … it’s the only school out of the three – because there was three that was built on this site – the only school to face south, to face the water to the south. After that, the subsequent schools that were built, their entrances faced west, on the way to Fort Qu’Appelle,” said Poitras.

He added that the Cross lake Industrial School has a special relationship with the local residential school, as Father Hugonard spent time there, getting it up and running after the turn of the century.

“The original school burnt down in 1903, 1904. So they built a second school in 1904,” said Poitras.

According to records compiled by the University of Regina, the second school burnt to the ground in 1932 due to an electrical short-circuit. By 1936 it was rebuilt again, and had a series of fires in 1977, allegedly set by students.

The lone facility still standing from the final school built is the Wah-Pii-Moostoosis gym, where Thursday’s announcement and press conference was held.

The final school still has many ties to not just the community, but many residential school students from across Canada and down into the USA, according to Poitras.

“Once it closed, it was torn down, based on feelings around the site, and what had happened here,” he said. “The Star Blanket leadership of the day honoured that request and tore the school down.”

It was March 23, 1999, the day the school was demolished. There were discussions around building a new school to replace the facility, then called the White Calf Collegiate.

For current members of Star Blanket, having the memories still there, looking out across the road from the reserve, Poitras said the hurt is still there.

“They see it every day — it’s there every day. So, trying to heal from it or put it out of their mind, anything like that — it’s really tough to do, because it’s here,” he said.

The school was not always run by the Roman Catholic Church either. It was handed over to a group of reserves throughout File Hills, who oversaw operations for a decade before Star Blanket took those operations over until its closure in 1998.

The closure in the late 90s gave the school the title of longest running residential school, spanning 114 years in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Top Stories

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