British Columbia

'A grim project': B.C. mapmaker creates atlas of residential schools

Morgan Hite has mapped the locations of every former residential schools in Canada in an effort to preserve a dark but important piece of national history.

'You don’t want to lose the memory,' says Smithers, B.C., cartogapher Morgan Hite

Morgan Hite is an independent cartographer in Smithers, B.C. (Morgan Hite)

A Smithers, B.C., cartographer has mapped out the locations of every former residential school in Canada to create "An Atlas of Indian Residential Schools of Canada."

"It's a grim project," said Morgan Hite, an independent cartography consultant in Smithers, B.C.

"It's kind of a horrifying subject to map. But you don't want to lose the memory of where [the residential schools] were located."

Hite was contracted for the project by the Kamloops Indian Band as part of its work to receive compensation for students who attended B.C. residential schools but did not live at them.

He said when he started, he discovered existing maps were imprecise, particularly in areas where the buildings no longer stand.

No list of the schools' latitudes and longitudes could be found, so he set out to build maps from scratch, drawing on archival photographs and letters, as well as surveyor reports.

The result is a diverse set of locations across the country.

"Some schools are in the middle of nowhere. Some are stately buildings in the middle of the city.  Some are just gone," he said.

"Frequently, the graveyards are still there."

Hite views the mapping project as an important part of truth and reconciliation.

"I have a friend who's a cartographer who maps the death camps of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust ... it's not an exactly comparable situation [but] you really want to know where these schools were. They're part of local memory and they're part of national memory. It can easily be lost."

Hite has made the maps publicly available online, and said as he completed his work he found he wanted to visit the sites themselves and would like plaques to be created, so people know what happened, even if the buildings are gone.

"So much memory resides in the landscape, even if the building is no longer there." 

Listen to an interview with Hite.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.