Residential school demolished in Île-à-la-Crosse

An excavator rips into the wall of the school building. Photo: Screenshot from Île-à-la-Crosse Facebook page.

Every time Albert McCallum passed by the old residential school in Île-à-la-Crosse, it brought back memories.

He remembers getting dropped off there by his parents for the first time in 1964. He remembers how lonely it was away from home, not being able to speak his language. He remembers the strict discipline, and watching other students get the strap.

“It was hard at first,” he said. “I was lost for a while I didn’t know it would be my home for the next ten years.”

But now McCallum, 68, won’t have to confront that physical reminder. Starting on Wednesday morning, the giant steel claw of an excavator ripped the building apart, piece by piece.

It’s now a pile of rubble.

The history of residential schools at Île-à-la-Crosse goes back to 1860, when the Grey Nuns built a boarding school for Métis children in the community.

In the early years, students died of tuberculosis. They were worked hard, doing manual labour for hours every morning. Fire was also a constant hazard, ripping through school buildings on several occasions. Over the years, the schools housed hundreds of Métis students.

The latest building, the one destroyed on Wednesday, opened in the 1960’s, according to Île-à-la-Crosse Mayor Duane Favel.

Favel said the demolition means a lot to the community, and the entire region.

“A lot of people in the region experienced different emotions and trauma from attending this school and being removed from their families and community,” he said

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 23 Print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.