CBC-TV visits a residential school in 1955

Students at a residential school in Moose Factory, Ont., were said to get a chance to equal the opportunities offered to children in urban centres.

Broadcast claimed residential school offered 'chance at a new future' for Indigenous children

Residential school near James Bay

2 years ago
Duration 2:44
Warning: This video contains distressing details. This 1955 report on the residential school in Moose Factory on the southern end of James Bay reveals the approach to education there at the time. About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend the government-funded residential schools from the 19th century to 1996, when the last one closed. They lived in substandard conditions and endured sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. A 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419 to support former students and others affected by a residential school experience.

Orphans, convalescents and those who live too deep in the wilderness for day school: those were the students of the residential school in remote Moose Factory, Ont.

For 10 months a year, these Indigenous children — some taken from their homes — started each day with a religious service before heading to classes.

To salute Education Week, a CBC Television crew visited the Anglican-run Bishop Horden Residential School and described its aim of leaving behind the "neglect and isolation of the past." 

A teacher at Bishop Horden Residential School in Moose Factory, Ont., reviews vocabulary for students in 1955. (Newsmagazine/CBC Television)

Before the 1950s, parents couldn't choose whether to send their children to a residential school.

All Indigenous people, both children and adults, were considered wards of the state. The churches recruited students and the Department of Indian Affairs employed "Indian agents" — white men whose job descriptions included ensuring all Indigenous children went to school.

Students play hockey while others watch at Bishop Horden Residential School in Moose Factory, Ont., in 1955. (Newsmagazine/CBC Television)

Until 1951, the residential school curriculum consisted of a half-day of classroom study and a half-day of learning a trade. Boys were taught blacksmithing, carpentry and auto mechanics, while girls learned sewing, cooking and other domestic skills.

This system also made the schools cheaper to manage, as much of the labour needed to run them — milking cows, cleaning dormitories, chopping wood — was provided by the students.

Students stretch their limbs at Bishop Horden Residential School in Moose Factory, Ont., in 1955. (Newsmagazine/CBC Television)

The federal government began working with the churches — Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian — to set up the residential school system around 1874. Under the Indian Act, the government had a responsibility to educate Indigenous children. In general, residential schools were for children aged five to 16.

Students start the day with a religious service at the Anglican-run residential school in Moose Factory, Ont., in 1955. (Newsmagazine/CBC Television)

In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada. They were in every territory and province except Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. There were a total of about 130 schools from the earliest in the late 19th century to the last, which closed in 1996.

Girls at Bishop Horden Residential School in Moose Factory, Ont., play games during a break between classes in 1955. (Newsmagazine/CBC Television)