Former residential school teacher opens up about reconciliation

Several years ago, CBC reporter Duncan McCue did a powerful interview for CBC Radio's The Current in which Edward Gamblin, a one-time student at a Manitoba residential school, spoke with one of his former teachers. Through a stroke of luck, McCue recently got the chance to sit down with Florence Kaefer, the former teacher, to learn more about her reconciliation with Gamblin.

Florence Kaefer taught at Manitoba residential school in 1950s

Duncan McCue gets a behind-the-scenes look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work, a massive effort to try to acknowledge and draw attention to the scars left by the country's residential school system. 14:08

Sometimes, in this business, a story sticks with you long after it’s gone to air.

In 2008, when Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Indian Residential Schools (TRC) was first getting started, I did a remarkable interview while guest hosting The Current on CBC Radio.

It’s not often we hear from former teachers of Indian residential schools, so I was naturally intrigued by my guest Florence Kaefer, who taught at just such a school in Norway House, Manitoba, in the 1950s.

But something else made the interview truly memorable.

Florence, on the line from Vancouver Island, was joined by one of her former students, Edward Gamblin, calling in from northern Manitoba. Their paths had crossed again, decades after their time at Norway House school, and they shared a powerful story of reconciliation on The Current.

Florence Kaefer was a teacher at a residential school in Norway House, Man. in the 1950s, and is currently writing a book about her experiences. (CBC)

When I got off the air, I said to myself, I’d love to tell that story on The National. So, via email, I kept in touch with Florence.

To do the TV version properly, however, I needed to shoot her and Edward together in Norway House.

A second chance

I waited, hoping to accompany Florence if she ever made another trip from her home in B.C. to Manitoba. She kept me posted. She saw Edward in Winnipeg the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered his historic apology to residential school survivors. Edward came to visit her on Vancouver Island, and she reciprocated when Edward’s wife died.

Their unusual friendship was growing stronger, but I couldn’t synch up our schedules to make that TV story happen.

When Edward passed away in 2010, I assumed I’d lost my chance. Florence and I fell out of touch.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was shooting a behind-the-scenes feature on the TRC national event in Vancouver for The National when I got a note from a CBC reporter also covering the event.

She’d run across Florence Kaefer – and Florence had asked for me.

The result: years after I first interviewed her on radio, I finally got to meet Florence in person, and do that TV interview.

Edward Gamblin isn’t with us any longer, but Florence Kaefer is determined to keep his message alive — in fact, she’s working on a book.

The residential schools are a dark stain on Canada’s history, but this story fills me with hope.


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