Joseph "Augie" Merasty, author and residential school survivor, dies at 87

His memoir, The Education of Augie Merasty, is about surviving abuse in residential school. It became a national bestseller.
Joseph Auguste Merasty shares his story of resilience and perseverance in his 2015 memoir. (University of Regina Press/Courtesy of David Carpenter)

Joseph Auguste Merasty, who overcame tremendous odds to release his memoir about abuse and survival at a Saskatchewan residential school, died at the age of 87 on Feb. 27, 2017, his publisher confirmed.

Merasty, a fisherman, trapper, amateur boxer, storyteller and "jack of all trades," released his sole book The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir just two years ago in 2015. The book documented the physical and sexual abuse Merasty endured while attending St. Therese Residential School near Sturgeon Landing, Sask. He was five years old when he first enrolled at the institution in 1935.

"We were treated like animals," said Merasty, who was once forced to walk 20 miles in subzero temperatures for losing a mitten. He was beaten when he returned empty-handed.

The story of how Merasty ended up writing his memoirs is a remarkable one. It started with a letter he sent to the University of Saskatchewan, asking for help in documenting his traumatic experiences. The letter ended up in the hands of a former instructor, David Carpenter, who would go on to co-write the book with Merasty.

"[I]t said, 'I want somebody from the university with a very good command of the English language to come up to my cabin up at Birch Portage and bring a tape recorder. He can stay in my cabin and we can go fishing. I'll give him the best fishing in all of Saskatchewan,'" said Carpenter to CBC Books in a 2015 interview.

For nearly 10 years, Merasty sent chunks of his story in letters to Carpenter. Throughout this time, he struggled with homelessness, alcoholism, prostate cancer and dementia.

"At times he would disappear, and then, out of nowhere, he would re-appear," Carpenter said. "It's a bit like writing about a ghost — a mischievous ghost whose life is so turbulent that he'll only drop in on you when you least expect it."

When the book was published by the University of Regina Press in 2015, it became a national bestseller, was shortlisted for the CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature and was recently chosen for Saskatchewan's One Book One Province initiative.

"[T]he book's release was his chance at immortality, as well as an opportunity to tell the world exactly what had been done to him and the other children at St. Therese," University of Regina Press wrote in a statement.

"The Education of Augie Merasty is a lasting testament to Merasty's talent, courage and generosity of spirit."