Hundreds join final leg of residential school survivor's 79-day 'Walk of Sorrow'

Residential school survivor Patricia Ballantyne arrived at Parliament Hill Sunday after completing a nearly 3,000 km walk from Prince Albert, Sask.

Patricia Ballantyne walked from Saskatchewan to Ottawa after learning of unmarked residential school graves

Residential school survivor Patricia Ballantyne speaks to supporters on Parliament Hill on Sunday after completing a 79-day walk from Saskatchewan. (Ben Andrews/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Residential school survivor Patricia Ballantyne led hundreds of supporters down Wellington Street from the Portage Bridge to Parliament Hill on Sunday, completing the final leg of a nearly 3,000 km walk she started in early June in Prince Albert, Sask.

Ballantyne began her 79-day journey, which she called the "Walk of Sorrow," after learning of the discovery of around 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residental school in Kamloops, B.C. She departed on June 5 from the Prince Albert Indian Residential School, where she was forced to attend from 1978 to 1987.

"I started just for myself," Ballantyne told supporters at the end of Sunday's walk.

"When they found the graves in Kamloops, it re-triggered all the trauma I had went through. That's what my ancestors and my visions told me — was to walk."

A woman holds a sign reading 'Every Child Matters' as participants in the Walk of Sorrow pass down Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa. (Ben Andrews/CBC)

Ballantyne, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, was joined on her cross-country trip by a small group of family and close friends. Indigenous people along the way joined the group to walk alongside for a stretch or offered support and donations.

The group also received financial support from social media followers, including the nearly 11,000 members of its public Facebook group.

"This healing walk is not only for me," said Ballantyne.

"It's for every single one of us across Turtle Island."

Turtle Island is a term used by many Indigenous peoples to refer to North America or the world, based on their creation stories..

'Blessed to be here'

Dozens of supporters dressed in orange shirts arrived at the Portage Bridge in Ottawa around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Police closed the eastbound lane of Wellington St. as the crowd poured on to the road and marched through the oppressive heat to a steady drumbeat. NDP Members of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus walked among the crowd carrying a flag that read "Every Child Matters."

NDP MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus were among the walkers who joined the final leg of Ballantyne's Walk of Sorrow (Ben Andrews/CBC)
Children's toys lay around the eternal flame as the group arrives at Parliament Hill. (Ben Andrews/CBC)

The group arrived at Parliament Hill around 1 p.m. Margo Doucette Morin sat on the lawn as participants in the Walk of Sorrow spoke about their experiences in the residential school system.

Doucette Morin said she started the trek with Ballantyne, but didn't finish. Instead, she took a bus to Ottawa and rejoined for the final stretch.

Margo Doucette Morin bussed to Ottawa from Prince Albert, Sask., to take part in the final stretch of the Walk of Sorrow. (Ben Andrews/CBC)

"It was very touching [and] emotional watching the people walk," she said. "I'm very happy I'm here. I'm so blessed to be here."

The group observed a moment of silence at 2:15 p.m. in recognition of the unmarked graves identified using ground-penetrating radar at the former Kamloops residential school.

New money to search burial sites

John Fraser, Liberal MPP for Ottawa South, watched from the grass.

"The most important thing is to listen and to be open," said Fraser. 

"What happened was significant — and caused so much injury that lasted generations — that we have to listen. And we have to listen to not only what happened, but how we [can] achieve some justice right now."

Speakers line up behind a memorial for the unmarked graves of former residential school students found in Kamloops, B.C. (Ben Andrews/CBC)

Ballantyne said she reached out to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller by email several times throughout her walk, but didn't receive a response.

The federal government pledged $320 million earlier this month for programs to support residential schools survivors and help Indigenous communities search former residential school burial sites.

Miller's office did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

Ballantyne called on the the federal government to hold the remaining administrators of residential schools accountable.

"They're alive. They're still walking around. We still run into them," she said.

"Why aren't they held accountable? Why weren't they charged?"

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

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

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC's new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools:


Ben Andrews


Ben Andrews is a reporter with CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at or @bendandrews.