Saskatoon

'A dark history': Muskowekwan First Nation fights to save former residential school building

A First Nation in east-central Saskatchewan wants to save its former resdiential school building from the wrecking ball.

Residential school added to National Trust for Canada's 2018 Endangered Places list

Members of the Muskowekwan First Nation want to save its former residential school, built in the first half of the 20th century. (National Trust of Canada/Supplied)

A First Nation in east-central Saskatchewan wants to save its former residential school building from the wrecking ball.

The school, located on the Muskowekwan First Nation, is one of the few residential schools in the country that is still standing in its original condition.

Now, the school has been added to the National Trust for Canada's 2018 Top 10 Endangered Places list. The National Trust for Canada is a not-for-profit organization that works to save and renew Canada's historic places.

"I know it's a dark history for most of our older generations," said band councillor Cynthia Desjarlais. "But they're the ones that said let it be known before people forget it."

While many communities accepted money from the federal government to destroy their residential school buildings, survivors on Muskowekwan took a different tactic. 

At a conference, more than 300 former students voted overwhelmingly in favour of preserving the building as a reminder of what happened there.

We don't want to see it fall down and collapse.- Cynthia Desjarlais

While the building hasn't been used for more than 20 years, a structural engineer said the building's fundamentals are strong, and could last for decades if well-maintained.

Muskowekwan wants to restore the building to a museum, as well as making documents from the school accessible in an archive.

"We want to put everything back to its original form," said Desjarlais. "That means the chapel — there was a chapel in there — and all the dormitories and things like that."

It could cost more than a million dollars to restore the school. For the past several years, the First Nation has been talking to the federal and provincial governments, as well as the private sector, but nothing official has come through.

"We hope that it happens," said Desjarlais.

"We don't want to see it fall down and collapse."

The former Moose Jaw Natatorium is on the National Trust for Canada's 2018 Top 10 Endangered Places list. (National Trust of Canada/Supplied)

Pool problems

The National Trust for Canada also placed the Moose Jaw Natatorium on its 2018 Top 10 Endangered Places list.

Opened in 1932, the indoor pool closed in 1996 after major structural problems were discovered.

"It was a great building," said Scott Hellings, chair of the City of Moose Jaw's Heritage Advisory Committee. "It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it as a kid."

According to the trust, the pool was a social hub for Moose Jaw residents and was the training pool for Olympian Phyllis Dewar. As well, it was originally fed by a nearby mineral hot spring.

While there have been attempts to reopen the pool building, the city was never able to raise enough money to save the building's interior.

"In Moose Jaw particularly, we are really defined by our heritage buildings," said Hellings.

"It's our shared cultural heritage, and I think that that matters."

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