The Residential School System is a topic that may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. The Government of Canada recognizes the need for safety measures to minimize the risk associated with triggering. A National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students. You can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.
The former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was the only Indian Residential School in the Maritime Provinces. Built in 1928-29 in the Sipekni’katik district of Mi’kma’ki, near the village of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, the school building once stood on a large property that featured barns and other farm buildings, staff residences, cultivated fields, and pastures. The school was established in 1929 and was open to students from 1930 to 1967. The abandoned school building was demolished in 1986 and a factory now stands in its place.
The Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was administered and funded by the federal government and managed first by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and later the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of Halifax.
The Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was part of the residential school system whereby the Canadian government and certain churches and religious organizations worked together to assimilate Indigenous children as part of a broader effort to destroy Indigenous cultures and identities, and to suppress Indigenous histories. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described this policy as cultural genocide. Many Shubenacadie survivors and descendants call it genocide.
Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik children from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec attended Shubenacadie IRS. Students also came from other Indigenous communities. Many of them were forced to attend. It is difficult to identify all the children who attended the school and determine what communities they came from because records, for this and other residential schools, are incomplete and inconsistent.
Students were subjected to a regimented daily routine that involved hard labour to maintain the school while facing harsh punishments, malnutrition, poor healthcare, nutritional experimentation, neglect, the deliberate suppression of their cultures and languages, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Some children died while at school.
From the earliest days of the school, students, their families, and community leaders voiced objections, and protested everything from forced attendance to poor conditions, mistreatment, and the inadequate quality of schooling. Many children fought against the system by refusing to let go of their languages and identities. Some children ran away from the school in an effort to return home.
Although the school building is no longer standing, the site of the former school is a place of remembrance and healing for some survivors and their descendants, who wish to preserve Indian Residential School history in the Maritimes. Others, for whom the building and site hold neither healing nor memorial status, believe that the building and site remain a testament and record for the experiences of the children who were there, as well as for the legacies of those experiences throughout Mi’kma’ki. Many are concerned that the long-term intergenerational impact of these experiences on survivors, their families, and communities, will be forgotten. The history of the Shubenacadie Residential School is highly fraught and difficult to construct given the trauma that was, and is, inherent within it. Many survivors are still unable to speak about their experiences.
The co-chair of the Tripartite Culture and Heritage Working Committee of the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum submitted a nomination for the designation of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School on behalf of the Survivors and their descendants. Parks Canada and the proponent collaborated to highlight the experiences of Survivors and articulate the historic values of the site. The historical report and the plaque text presented to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada were prepared by Parks Canada and the Tripartite Culture and Heritage Working Committee of the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum. The Government of Canada announced its designation as a national historic site under the National Program of Historical Commemoration on September 1, 2020.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, in close collaboration with Parks Canada, advises the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change regarding the national historic significance of places, people and events that have marked Canada’s history and makes recommendations on the designation of subjects under the National Program of Historical Commemoration. The placement of a commemorative plaque represents an official recognition of historic value. It is one means of informing the public about the richness of our cultural heritage, which must be preserved for present and future generations.