Memorial to Assiniboia Residential School survivors to be built on property where school once stood

Construction has begun on a monument that will honour survivors of the Assiniboia Residential School in Winnipeg, a longtime dream of respected First Nations leader Ted Fontaine. 

The school was one of only a few urban residential schools in Canada and was open from 1958 to 1973. It’s estimated that more than 750 high school-age students attended, including Fontaine. 

Fontaine, who died last year, visited the site often in the last years of his life. 

“He saw it as sacred land that should be preserved in a way that would bring survivors and community members together in reconciliation,” said Susan Swan, the MC for the ground-breaking event Thursday morning. 

Fontaine envisioned a memorial that would honour survivors while also ensuring that the terrible impacts of the residential school system were not forgotten, Swan said. 

This building, which once housed classrooms, is all that remains of the Assiniboia Residential School in Winnipeg, which closed in 1972. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

The memorial will be located on a corner of the property where the school once stood — immediately north of Academy Road, south of the former Wellington Park, which is being renamed in Fontaine’s honour. It will feature a circle of metal markers engraved with the names of 83 Indigenous communities, with students’ names on paved stones through the site. 

It will also include panels with photos and graphics that provide background information about the school. 

Artist's rendering shows an aerial view of people standing within the circle of red and black metal markers.
Artist’s rendering shows the circle of metal markers engraved with the names of 83 Indigenous communities. (Assiniboia Residential School Legacy Group)

The memorial is a project of the Assiniboia Residential School Legacy Group, a non-profit organization.

Tori Kipling, a member of the group whose parents are residential school survivors, said growing up, she didn’t know what residential schools were.

“I only lived in the aftermath of what happened. I didn’t fully understand why my mom, my dad, why everyone were the way they were,” she said. 

“But I did see their gentle side and I did see their strength, and as an intergenerational survivor, I’m realizing that this site marks our past, present and future.”

Several dignitaries were on hand for the event, including Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr, who said he grew up in the neighbourhood where the school is.

Eight people in a line hold shovels after breaking ground for the memorial.
Dignitaries take part in a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for a memorial at the site of the former Assiniboia Residential School in Winnipeg Thursday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

He reflected on how if he were Indigenous, he would have been forced to attend the Assiniboia Residential School, too. 

“What was the difference? I was not First Nations, I was not Inuit, I was not Métis. But all of this happened literally in my backyard,” he said. 

“To recognize the proximity of geography and distance of living and lifestyle and opportunity is sobering and so important to remember, and for me very personal.”

Partners in the project include the City of Winnipeg, the government of Manitoba, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which has offices in the former school building, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Westworth United Church and several other community partners.

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