St. Mary's Indian Residential School
St. Mary's Indian Residential School was the name of two Indian residential schools in Mission, British Columbia. The first was operated by the Roman Catholic Church of Canada, and the second was operated by the Canadian federal government. Approximately 2,000 children attended the schools while they were in operation, most of them Stó:lō. Many reported experiencing abuse. However, despite numerous personal accounts of students who suffered abuse at the school, there is no acknowledgement of this on any of the plaques at the site.
St. Mary's was initially opened by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1863 as a small school for boys and housed 42 students its first year. A separate school for girls was opened on the same site in 1868 and operated by the Sisters of Saint Ann. It operated near the Fraser River for nearly two decades, then moved further uphill in 1882 to make room for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Boys and girls had separate dormitories, with the girls' residence also housing the nuns' quarters, an infirmary, a recreation room and a chapel. The boys' residence housed all of the boys on the third floor, the Oblate priests on the second floor, and a chapel, play hall and classroom on the first floor.
The complex also featured a tennis court (for the priests and nuns); an automotive shop; a slaughterhouse; a dining hall; a laundry house; a milking barn and silo; a bakery; an older boxing gym and a newer gymnasium (built in the late 1940s or early 1950s); a pig pen; and several classrooms.
In its early days, the school emphasized academics and the Catholic catechism, but its focus shifted towards agricultural and industrial skills. Parents who were able to were allowed to visit and some families camped around the school. Students were also allowed to visit the town of Mission until 1948.
In 1961, students were moved to a new government-run residential school of the same name on the eastern border of the Mission property, and the Roman Catholic school was closed. All the buildings of the former school were demolished in 1965 as they had deteriorated badly with age.
When the government-run school was closed in 1985, it was the last functioning residential school in British Columbia.
The grounds of the Catholic Mission school are now a part of Fraser River Heritage Park, as the school itself has been destroyed. A new bell tower was constructed in 2000 and houses the original 1875 bell from the mission. In 2001, the Mission Indian Friendship Centre provided funds to build a covered picnic shelter in the park. The park is also home to the O.M.I. cemetery, where priests, nuns, and students of the Mission school were buried.
After 1985, land and buildings of the government-run school were initially leased to the Coqualeetza Training Centre, and in 2005, were returned to the Stó:lō as reserve lands. The land formally regained its Stó:lô name of Pekw'Xe:yles and is used by 21 different First Nations governments. There is a newer St. Mary's school just outside of Heritage Park. A native-owned company, Monague Crafts Ltd., uses the newer building as headquarters. Monague makes First Nations dreamcatchers and themed jewellery that is sold all over the world. Fraser Valley Aboriginal Child and Family Services (Xyolhemeylh) also operates out of the building as well as various community groups such as a daycare and self-defense classes.
- St. Mary's, Indian Residential School Resources
- Baker, Rafferty (October 26, 2016). "'Reconciliation Tour' reveals dark history of Mission, BC school". cbc.ca. CBC. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
- St. Mary's Mission School, Fraser River Heritage Park
- Map, Fraser River Heritage Park
- Terry Glavin and Former Students of St. Mary's, Amongst God's Own: The Enduring Legacy of St. Mary's Mission, New Star Books, 2002.