British Columbia

Residential school building in northern B.C. to be replaced with new community centre

The former Roman Catholic-run residential school was the site of physical and sexual abuse and a trigger for many painful memories among local First Nations.

Former Roman Catholic school in Lower Post, which operated 1951-1975, has been painful reminder of a dark past

Demolition of the last building of the former Lower Post residential school has already begun. (B.C. Government)

After decades of lobbying by local Indigenous leaders, a former residential school in the remote British Columbia community of Lower Post is to be demolished and replaced with a new community centre.

The federal and B.C. governments say construction on the new $13.5-million project is set to start in June and expected to be complete by next year.

Deputy Chief Harlan Schilling of the Daylu Dena Council at Lower Post, said the building — which was a Roman Catholic-operated residential school from 1951 to 1975 — has long been a painful reminder of a dark past.

"This torch has been the one thing that's been passed off from leader to leader: to finally remove this horrible building in the centre of the community and centre of our lives," said Schilling. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Indigenous leaders from the area took part in the emotional news conference, which was held virtually. 

An artist's rendering of the Lower Post community centre, which will replace the former residential school building. (B.C. Government)

Horgan says he was moved to work with the federal government to replace the residential school building after local elders told him during a visit that some people feared stepping inside the place where they suffered physical and sexual abuse.

"Elders have been fearful of this building in the middle of the territory for decades and decades," he said.

After the residential school closed, the building served as the Daylu Dena Council's band office, a post office and employment centre for the estimated 175 residents of the community, located near the B.C.-Yukon border. 

Schilling says it's been devastating knowing the hurt many elders have been holding inside over the years, but the building's demolition will finally bring some relief.

"This is a success for our First Nation and Canada as a whole," he said.

Murray Rankin, B.C.'s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said the demolition of the old school and construction of the new community centre was an important step forward in reconciliation.

Lower Post is located on Highway 97, the Alaska Highway, approximately 23 kilometres southeast of Watson Lake, Yukon, near the confluence of the Dease and Liard Rivers.

with files from the Canadian Press