Grant to help commemorate St. Augustine Mission residential school

The former site of the St. Augustine Mission residential school

Susan Thomson
South Peace News

St. Augustine Mission, once the site of a residential school, will receive some upgrades to historical signage and landscaping thanks to a $34,000 federal grant.

The site is located on Shaftesbury Trail near the Peace River Correctional Centre, where a church built in 1894 and a barn built in 1930 still stand. It was also known as Smoky Forks and Forks Mission.

The site originally contained 13 buildings, but new landscaping will mark the former footprints of three structures once on the site: the priests’ residence, the convent/school, and the laundry house.

The landscaping will help visitors both local and from afar understand the scale of the former residential school, which was established in 1888 and was federally funded until 1907. It was then run by the Catholic Church as a school for local First Nation, Metis and settler children until it closed in 1950.

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious boarding schools that were established with the goal of assimilating Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, disrupting families and communities when children were removed from their homes and sent to the schools. Survivors who have told their stories remember widespread abuse, prompting a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.

“Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture,” Harper said.

“These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’ Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”

The grant is part of the Commemorating the History and Legacy of Residential School component of the Celebration and Commemoration Program offered through the Department of Canadian Heritage. The funding is meant to increase awareness and commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools while honouring residential school survivors, their families and communities.

The St. Augustine Mission project is a partnership of the Peace Regional Aboriginal Interagency Committee, the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre, and the Town of Peace River.

Additional financial support is provided by the Sir Alexander Mackenzie Historical Society. It is also supported by the M.D. of Peace No. 135 and the Government of Alberta.

The Town of Peace River singles out Wendy Goulet for special thanks in helping obtain the grant.

and a photo of the current site, photos courtesy of the Town of Peace River.

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