Nova Scotia

Membertou day school survivors to get update on class action

Lawyers will be on hand in Membertou, N.S., next month to provide information for anyone wanting to join a new class action lawsuit for survivors of Indian day schools.

Lawsuit similar to one on residential schools certified in Federal Court earlier this year

Senator Dan Christmas attended the Indian day school in Membertou, which closed in the early 1960s. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Survivors of the Membertou Indian day school in Cape Breton are getting an update on a new class action lawsuit.

Lawyers will be on hand next month to provide information for anyone wanting to join the action.

The federal government and churches that ran residential schools settled a lawsuit with survivors in 2006.

Earlier this year, the Federal Court certified another class action on behalf of survivors of the day school system.

Gowling (Canada) WLG, which represents plaintiffs in the class action, says on its website that most of the day schools were run by the same church groups that ran residential schools, and that students reported suffering the same types of abuse.

Christmas says there was an Indian day school at the old Kings Road Reserve before it moved to Membertou in 1926, and it stayed in Membertou until the early 1960s. (National Archives of Canada)

Membertou was one of many reserves across the country that had an Indian day school, said Sen. Dan Christmas.

"There was one at the old Kings Road Reserve ... before it was moved here in Membertou in 1926, and it stayed in Membertou for all those decades," he said.

He attended the school, which closed in the early 1960s. There are others who are still alive who also went through the Indian day school, he said.

"I think I was there until about Grade 2 and up to that point, I remember the experience, and I have to admit that it wasn't very pleasant for some of us," Christmas said. "It was a difficult time.

"I remember the abuse, because I was still a young boy at the time. I remember some strappings, and [a] teacher grabbing students by the ears and using the long yardstick. I remember some of that. I also remember some of the verbal abuse, so that sticks in my mind."

While it wasn't as horrific as residential schools, there were similarities, he said.

"Those of us that lived on the reserves during those times certainly remember it, because that's where we went through, but by far the worst suffering was for those who had to go away and go to residential schools," Christmas said.

"That was a horrible, horrible experience, but that's not to say the schools on the reserve, the Indian day schools, that there wasn't abuse there as well, and I think that's what the lawsuit is about.

"There were a number of people who didn't go to residential school, who remained on Indian day schools in their own community, and they suffered abuse, too."

Membertou school was federally run

The Membertou school was a one-room building run by the federal government, with a single teacher and students up to Grade 3, said Christmas.

After that, students went into the public school system in Sydney, he said.

Some Membertou residents approached Christmas for more information after learning about the class action suit, so he decided to bring the law firm to the community, he said.

Gowling lawyers will be in Membertou at 2 p.m. on Oct. 11 to talk to anyone who wants to join.

Details on that session, such as the location, are still being worked out.

About the Author

Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at