'No one spoke up': Ont. residential school survivor not surprised children's remains found in B.C.

A northern Ontario residential school survivor now living in Ottawa says she was shocked — but not surprised — by the recent discovery of children's remains at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

'If they were doing that out in Kamloops, I'm sure they were doing it up in Fort Albany,' says Evelyn Korkmaz

Evelyn Korkmaz attended Ontario's St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in 1969 for four years. She believes the recent discover of children's remains in B.C. is just the beginning. (Submitted by Evelyn Korkmaz)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A northern Ontario residential school survivor says she was shocked — but not surprised — by the recent discovery of the remains of dozens of children at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

Evelyn Korkmaz, who now lives in Ottawa, attended St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany. It was run by the Catholic orders of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross from 1902 until 1976, and funded by Ottawa starting in 1906.

Korkmaz attended the school for four years starting in 1969. She said many children never made it home.

"You had a gut feeling that there are other graves at each location of these residential schools across Canada — we just haven't uncovered them yet," said Korkmaz.

"A lot of our classmates, family and friends didn't make it home. Their parents weren't told what happened to their children."

The remains of 215 children as young as three years old were found late last week in B.C. 

TRC estimates higher death toll

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in residential schools between the 1870s and 1990s.

At least 4,100 died while attending school — more than one in 50 students — and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRF) estimates the actual toll could be 6,000 or higher.

A TRC report said Indian Affairs was generally opposed to sending the bodies of children who died at school back home, because of the cost. It's estimated many residential schools have burial sites due to the high death rates — but few have locations that are formally documented, and even fewer are maintained.

Similar stories in other areas of Ontario

Korkmaz believes it's the responsibility of both the Catholic Church and the Canadian government to apologize for residential schools and find any other remains.

"I look back and it's amazing this happened, and no one spoke up or tried to do something. Even today, the Pope hasn't even made a comment about these poor 215 innocent children that were found buried at Kamloops residential school."

Korkmaz said the missionaries who ran the Kamloops school also ran St. Anne's.

"If they were doing that out in Kamloops, I'm sure they were doing it up in Fort Albany."

Jay Jones, president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, says both his parents went to a residential school in Sault Ste. Marie, and his uncle is buried somewhere on the grounds. (Algoma University)

Similar stories are being shared about unmarked graves at former Ontario residential schools in Spanish, Chapleau and Sault Ste. Marie.

The president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association said both his parents went to the residential school in Sault Ste. Marie, and his uncle is buried somewhere on the grounds.

"These stories have always been there of men, who were then boys, having to dig graves and not tell anybody about them," said Jay Jones.

"They've always asked for some type of action to confirm these stories so these families can rest and know the truth of what happened to their child."

Jones said requests to have the school grounds searched with radar were turned down in the past.

"I hope that every Indian residential school in Canada has this done so that these children's spirits, can finally rest."

The federal government says it's spending $33 million to register all graves and graveyards at residential schools across the country.

Supports available

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and anyone triggered by the latest reports:

  • The Indian Residential School Survivors Society, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
  • A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line set up to provide support for former students and anyone affected. You can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Sam Juric and Erik White