Fighting demons with words: Augie Merasty dead at 87

Angie Merasty, pictured in Mont St. Joseph care home last year, shortly after his book was nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award.

Acclaimed author and residential school survivor Joseph Auguste “Augie” Merasty died Monday morning in a Prince Albert care home. He was 87 years old.

Merasty was 86 when his first book, The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir, was published in 2015. The book chronicles Merasty’s boyhood at the St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing from 1935 to 1944. It quickly took its place on national bestseller lists and become one of the authoritative first-person accounts of the residential school experience in Canada.

His publisher, Bruce Walsh of the University of Regina Press, said that Merasty was “delighted” that his book has had such an impact on the national dialogue. It’s now assigned to schoolchildren across the country, granting them an insider’s account of the tragic history of residential schools in Canada.

“Young kids are walking in his shoes and they are bringing an empathy to the residential school experience that we didn’t have,” Walsh said.

The book didn’t come together quickly. It took well over a decade to complete. Co-author David Carpenter said Merasty sent him “tatters of stories” that they pieced together into a narrative. Walsh then learned about the book from Carpenter, and rushed to get it to the public.

“It usually takes two years to publish a book,” Walsh explained. “We did it in 10 months because we knew he wasn’t well. He was living rough on the streets of Prince Albert. He was really old and we wanted it to be in his hands.”

Merasty’s experience at the school – he recounts incidents of horrific punishment and abuse – left him with “demons,” Walsh said.

For more on this story, please see the March 1 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.