Village pays tribute to residential school victims

By Jeff Morris

The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School has shocked Canada, and it has shocked the world.

And while communities – Manotick included – are doing what they can to show their support, more questions are being asked about how something like this could happen while the majority of Canadians knew very little, if anything at all, about the schools and what went on there.

On Anne Street in Manotick, a display of children’s stuffed toys and shoes in front of the Kingsway Medical Building is growing by the day. The memorial was started by Dr. Salima Ismail at Manotick Chiromax, located in the building.

“I didn’t really understand 215 and what it really meant,” said Dr. Ismail. “I heard Mayor Jim Watson talk about the flags being at half mast for 215 hours, to represent one hour for each child. But it really upset me that I didn’t really know about this.”

Dr. Ismail began researching residential schools, and some of the brutalities and hardships the Indigenous students and their families faced. She wanted to do something, so she created the tribute in front of the building where business is located.

“I put something up on Facebook, and the community really responded,” she said. People were coming by and leaving shoes and stuffed toys. Manotick United Church put up 215 ribbons and other churches put up signs. Grace Edwards, a local resident, was collecting orange yarn to make 215 hearts.”

Dr. Ismail decided to spend the 215-hour period studying the history of residential schools and Indigenous abuse. She has been posting some of her findings on Facebook daily. At one point, she had to take a day off.

“The stories were so heavy,” she said. “It was so stressful because the stories were so horrific.”

While Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, has been portrayed as a Canadian hero for generations, he is now being seen in a different light because of his role in the residential school program. Groups have been calling for things named after Macdonald to be renamed. One of them is the Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa.

Macdonald is not the only historical figure being targeted. Edgarton Ryerson was the architect of the program. His statue in front of Ryerson University in Toronto was recently defaced and destroyed. There are strong calls for the university to be renamed.

Dr. Ismail, meanwhile, is taking a six-week online certificate course in aboriginal studies from the University of Alberta.

“One of the most frustrating things about this is that so many of us didn’t know anything about residential schools,” she said. “It was never talked about when I went to school. It wasn’t mentioned in any Canadian history classes. It was treated like it never happened.”

The tribute will remain on Anne Street through June, which is Indigenous Heritage Month in Canada.