City of Calgary wants to commemorate site of former residential school

A Calgary site’s short chapter in the tragic history of Canada’s residential school system will not be forgotten if the City of Calgary and the Treaty 7 nations can agree on how to do so.

St. Dunstan’s Industrial School was operated by the Anglican Church from 1892 to 1907 on land that is now in southeast Calgary.

Located between Deerfoot Trail and the Bow River, a short distance south of the Calf Robe Bridge, the city has owned the land for several decades.

The city is interested in working with the Treaty 7 nations on a plan to commemorate the site of St. Dunstan and possibly place a public art project there.

“We understand the importance of the site,” said Michelle Reid, cultural landscape manager for the parks department.

However, she said the city wants the support of indigenous nations in the area for any work done at the site. He started approaching them in 2020 on the idea.

“We have started to have conversations with nations about what would be appropriate on this site. What type of information would you like to see on this site? Is it worth continuing the engagement at this time?”

Engagement pending

However, that process was halted following the discovery of probable graves in 2021 at a former residential school site near Kamloops, British Columbia.

Reid said commemorating the former St. Dunstan grounds could be part of the city’s reconciliation efforts, but it would not act unilaterally.

“After the probable graves were found, both sides just felt it was really important to put a stop to this and so now we’re really taking inspiration from the nations,” Reid said.

An Aboriginal student at the school, 17-year-old Jack White Goose Flying, died of tuberculosis in 1899 while attending St. Dunstan’s. His body was buried some distance from the school.

Excavation work at the site of the former St. Dunstan’s residential school in Calgary. (City of Calgary)

When industrial development approached the grave in the early 1970s, the city moved his remains to Queen’s Park Cemetery.

Reid says no further burials would have taken place near the school, but the city is prepared to hire contractors to scout the area for unmarked graves.

CBC News reached out to several Treaty 7 nations about the city’s ideas, but none chose to comment.

Face reality

The councilman for the area where the school was located, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said this work can be “crushing” to undertake, but finding the truth is part of ensuring the past is not forgotten.

“We signed a peace treaty to allow for a Euro-Canadian settlement and basically we betrayed the terms of that peace treaty by carrying out genocide on the first nations that we signed with,” Carra said.

“Now we are faced with this reality and we are taking our time to do it right and with respect.”

As an elected official, he said it was his job to help ensure that this work is properly funded and carried out in accordance with the wishes of the Indigenous nations who have ties to the St. Dunstan site.