Indian Residential Schools in Canada

On Jan 28. 1879 Canada’s first Prime Minister John A McDonald sent Nicholas Flood Davin on one-person investigative mission into American industrial schools for native children. This was after Davin badgered Macdonald to “do the square thing” by rewarding his political loyalty with a patronage position.

Davin submitted a 17-page confidential report in Ottawa on March 14 of that same year, in which he recommended the federal government to implement a similar system in Canada.

Five years later, in 1884 the federal government opened three church-run residential schools across Canada. This included the residential school located in Lebret. It was originally the Qu’Appelle Industrial School, then the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School then in 1993 it was Whitecalf Collegiate until it closed in June 1998.

Davin was not only a politician and a lawyer he was also the founder of the Regina Leader, which became the Regina Leader-Post.

After his political defeat as the Conservative MP for Assiniboia West, he died by suicide in a Winnipeg hotel on Oct. 18, 1901.

Read more: Davin Biography

Evolution of the Schools

Initially, the schools were not mandatory and as a result attendance would fluctuate. However, in 1920 under the rule of Liberal Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden residential schools became mandatory and children were torn from their homes like criminals by the RCMP and Indian Agents.

This practice of forced removal remained in place until 1951 when the Indian Act was repealed and replaced with a new updated version. However, many reserves did not have schools in their communities and, although it was no longer mandatory, it was still the law to send children to school and the only option was residential school. 

In the 1970s the churches were removed from the schools as part of the Indian Control of Indian Education movement. By the mid 1980s, individual First Nations assumed control of the schools. Many communities still did not have schools on reserve and if they did they were day schools with no high school, so options remained limited.

Contrary to popular belief, the last residential school in Canada did not close in 1996. On June 30th, 1998, White Calf Collegiate closed its doors and was demolished shortly after. The Indian residential school located in the village of Lebret operated from 1884 until 1998 — 114 years.