Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay elementary school unveils mural as 'one small piece in larger mosaic' of reconciliation

A mural unveiled at an elementary school in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Wednesday represents one small step on the path to reconciliation, said Eric Fredrickson, the principal of Westmount Public School. Every student and staff member contributed a tile to the reconciliation-themed project.

Students, staff at Westmount Public School each contributed tile expressing learning about residential schools

Staff and students at Westmount Public School in Thunder Bay, Ont., each contributed a tile to a mural unveiled Wednesday that illustrates what they have been learned about residential school and its lasting impact on families and the community. (Eric Fredrickson/Lakehead Public Schools)

A mural unveiled at an elementary school in Thunder Bay on Wednesday represents one small step on the path to reconciliation, said Eric Fredrickson, the principal of Westmount Public School in the northwestern Ontario city.

Each student and staff member created a tile for the project, with the contributions illustrating what each person has learned about the history of the residential school system and its lasting legacy.

"The students who have been part of creating that mural, they'll see themselves in that but they'll also see other people in that and that's really part of what makes it such a beautiful activity, and a beautiful reminder of the work that we've done. We're one small piece in that whole larger mosaic of the message and of the learning," said Fredrickson.

Mural 'reflects ongoing journey' to reconciliation

"It really reflects that this is an ongoing journey, not just that this is the final thing we've learned or the end of our work. This is where we are on right now on this pathway." 

The mural is the culmination of several years of research everyone in the school has been doing on the issue of truth and reconciliation. They've been reading books, such as the "Secret Path" which tells the story of Charlie (Chanie) Wenjack and his desperate attempt to run away from residential school so he could go home. Survivors of residential school have shared their stories. There's a media club focusing on art created by First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.  As well, there has been "a shift in the way we look at the history of Canada and the history of our community for social studies work," he said.

"We don't always think of them [residential schools] as being part of our own community," said Fredrickson, noting that many of the students were shocked to discover there had been a residential school in Thunder Bay, just down the road from their own school.

Suddenly the residential school experience didn't seem so distant. He said students were "able to consider how they would feel if taken away from their families and the long-reaching impact it would have on themselves, their families and their community as a whole."

Tiles express 'family experiences, emotions, understanding'

Understanding the legacy of residential schools is crucial to building better relationships, especially in a city where the descendants of people forced to attend those schools may share a classroom with the descendants of the people who taught at them, Fredrickson said, noting that the mural tiles reflect all those different perspectives and experiences

"It's a beautiful piece," he said. "The message and the stories and the sense of ownership and understanding and respect is so evident and apparent in the work they've done. There are tiles that reflect family experience. There are tiles that reflect their emotions and their feelings and their understanding and their learning.. and it really shows their reflection of the journey that they're continuing to be on, and that we're continuing to be on as a staff."

The mural is part of a national initiative called Project of Heart, encouraging people to learn more about the history and lasting legacy of residential school

You can hear the full interview with Eric Fredrickson on CBC'S Up North  program here