New plaque at Nicholas Flood Davin gravesite to tell 'full truth' of role in residential schools

Until now, there has been no mention of residential schools at Davin’s grave at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

Regina school also named for Davin, who wrote report recommending residential schools

The new graveside plaque for Nicholas Flood Davin at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa includes his role in the creation of residential schools. (Cindy Blackstock)

Indigenous activist Cindy Blackstock describes the Davin Report as the "first domino falling."

Written by Nicholas Flood Davin, for whom a Regina school is named, it recommended the implementation of residential schools in Canada.

Until now, there has been no mention of residential schools at Davin's grave at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

But Blackstock fought to have the plaque rewritten to recognize his role in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called a "cultural genocide."

"I think that there's some people who don't want to really think of Canada's history in this way," said Blackstock in an interview with CBC Radio's Morning Edition host Sheila Coles. "I think it's really important that the full truth be told."

New plaque for Bryce

When the new plaque is unveiled on June 4, it will be the third time Blackstock has successfully pushed for gravesite tributes at the Beechwood Cemetery to be changed or created.

In 2008, she discovered there was no plaque at the grave of Peter Henderson Bryce. 
The grave for Nicholas Flood Davin at the Beechwood Cemetery. (Cindy Blackstock)

The senior medical health officer for the Department of Indian Affairs raised the alarm about children dying in residential schools.

"He pokes a red poker stick into this mythology that people back then didn't know any better," said Blackstock.

"People back then did know better, and throughout the entire history of residential schools we found people blowing the whistle."

Blackstock worked with the cemetery, the TRC and Bryce's descendants to install a plaque recognizing his efforts.

She said he was persecuted for speaking out, in part by Duncan Campbell Scott, the second historical figure to have his graveside history rewritten through Blackstock's efforts.

Duncan Campbell Scott plaque revised

She said Scott, a renowned poet, was the man who received Bryce's report and chose not to implement the recommendations it made to help save lives.

"We revised his plaque to include and recognize the contributions he made to the literary world, so it does include the word 'confederate poet' but it also includes the word... 'cultural genocide,'" said Blackstock.

She said rewriting the plaques was about telling the full history to recognize both the achievements of the historical figures, but also their darker roles in Canadian history.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, is pictured in her Ottawa office with one of the organization's bear ambassadors. (Submitted)

Davin's new plaque will acknowledge his contributions as a lawyer and journalist, who founded the Regina Leader.

His name remains attached to a Regina elementary school, which sparked debate when a University of Regina professor called for it be changed in April 2016.

Blackstock expected there would be mixed emotions at the unveiling of the new Davin plaque in Ottawa. Happiness the change had been made, and sadness about the past.

"We're really going to use it as an educational thing, so to really take all three of these people and convert them into teachers," she said.

"About what does it mean for reconciliation today? What do we need to learn from Flood Davin so that we're not making the same mistakes twice?"

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition