Search of Pine Creek Residential School site in western Manitoba reveals 6 potential unmarked graves

A ground-penetrating radar search of the site of the former Pine Creek Residential School in western Manitoba has revealed six anomalies that could be unmarked graves. 

Another search planned to determine what soil anomalies are, chief says

AltoMaxx staff used a drone as part of the ground penetrating radar search on Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba. This week, the community's leadership said there were six anomalies found that could be unmarked graves. (Angela McKay/Pine Creek First Nation)

A ground-penetrating radar search of a former residential school site in western Manitoba has revealed six anomalies that could be unmarked graves, Pine Creek First Nation says.

The search of Pine Creek Residential School site was completed at the beginning of May by AltoMaxx, a British Columbia-based company. It involved using a ground-penetrating radar cart to examine the area beneath a church located at the school site, which was specifically requested by elders in the community.

Community members were told about the findings Monday,  Pine Creek First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak said.

The results of the search were upsetting, but did not come as a shock to some community members, he said in an interview Tuesday.

"For some people, they feel that the truth is now starting to emerge, and they feel validated … in the horror stories that they've carried for most of their lives," he said.

"On the other hand, there are community members who are very hurt. They're shocked by the news. And we're doing the best we can to provide ongoing care and support."

The Catholic-run residential school in Pine Creek First Nation, on the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis, was built in the 1890s and closed in 1969.

The First Nation's leadership has asked AltoMaxx to come back and do a more comprehensive radar search to see if they can determine what the anomalies are. That is expected to begin on June 20, Nepinak said. 

Depending on the results of that search, the community may ask police to investigate the site, he said. 

"The voice of the elders are that if there are burials underneath the church, there needs to be a process to identify the remains as best we can and to have it properly investigated."

Searches of former residential school sites began at many former residential school sites across Canada after the discovery of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops, B.C., residential school in May 2021.

That includes ground searches underway, or planned, at most of the 14 residential school sites in Manitoba.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.