Plaque at former residential school in Sault updated to accurately reflect historic truths
Ontario Heritage Trust says plaque at Shingwauk Hall first of many to be updated to reflect Indigenous history
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A provincial plaque in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., has been updated to reflect truthful facts about a residential school that operated there between 1875 and 1970.
The former Shingwauk Indian Residential School now sits on the Algoma University campus.
The previous plaque from 1977 excluded facts about the true purpose of the school and misrepresented the experiences of Indigenous students, said Beth Hanna, chief executive officer for Ontario Heritage Trust. That's a provincial agency that conserves, interprets and shares heritage.
The new plaque was unveiled Friday during a public event held to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
"It's a fitting day to unveil a new plaque that is focused on truth-telling about this school and the legacy of residential schools in Canada," Hanna said.
As the province's heritage agency, Hanna said the Ontario Heritage Trust has a role to play in truth and reconciliation.
"That first step has to be listening and learning, and telling the truth, understanding the truth, and then moving forward on building relationships that are healthy and move us to the future," she said.
"The new plaque text is really emphasizing survivors and survivor-community," said Krista McCracken, researcher/curator of Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.
Survivors of the residential school were consulted on what should be included on the new plaque, to help provide an authentic account of the impacts and legacy of the institution.
Historian Skylee-Storm Hogan-Stacey conducted research and spoke with survivors of the residential school, and their families.
"It's been a wonderful experience for us to partner with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and Algoma University to bring a different understanding of this story forward in this provincial plaque," Hanna said.
Old plaque 'failed to tell the impacts'
Hanna said the previous plaque had a very specific perspective from a colonial view about the purpose of residential schools, and failed to include an Indigenous perspective.
"It failed to tell about the children who came here and how their lives were changed; It failed to tell the impact on the children on their families and on their communities, and it really failed to recognize that some of those children didn't go home after that," she said.
Several years ago red paint was thrown on the old plaque — which was left there.
"It's an honest expression of disagreement, of anger, of perhaps anxiety about the plaque and its text," Hanna said.
A stand was placed beside the plaque which apologized that it didn't tell the full story, nor recognize the hurt that the residential schools caused; and explained a new plaque was being created.
McCracken said the old plaque with the red paint will become part of the exhibit at Shingwauk Hall, which includes an exhibit describing the history of the residential school, survivor resilience and community involvement.
"We can really use it as an education tool to talk about how interpretations of residential schools have changed over time," she said.
The entire exhibit at Shingwauk Hall was developed with guidance and input from the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.
"It's a one of a kind award-winning exhibition and a powerful space," McCracken said, adding that it can be difficult for some visitors to be in a space that was a former residential school.
First of many to be updated across Ontario
The new plaque is written in English, French, Anishinaabemowin and Swampy Cree.
"The Indigenous languages are meant to represent the 85 Indigenous communities that were influenced and impacted by this particular residential school," Hanna said.
According to Hanna, this new plaque is the first of many to be updated in Ontario to reflect Indigenous history. Four others were updated this spring to reflect Black history.
"This is the beginning of a process for us," she said.
"Of truth-telling, of bringing forward new history, new research and of really tackling some of the unpleasant parts of our history that we need to learn from, and that we need to understand if we're actually going to move forward."