St. Eugene Indian Residential School: Repurposing an Indian Residential School

By Katrina Swift

Less than 10 kilometres from Cranbrook, British Columbia, St. Eugene Indian Residential School was the smallest one in the province. Open from 1898 to 1970, the school was primarily run by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Providence and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Construction of the main building was completed in 1912.

Background

As a project between the Canadian government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, the residential school system was in operation from 1892 to 1969. However, residential schools for Indigenous children predate Confederation, and the last one, run by the federal government, closed in 1996. Children from surrounding communities and reserves between the ages of 6 and 15 were coerced or taken away from their homes and forced to attend residential schools for 10 months each year, in many cases suffering physical, emotional, cultural and sexual abuse. By the late 1950s, St. Eugene was at its peak with 150 students, and even by its final year, it still had 56 students in residence.

A blurry black-and-white photograph of a building taken from the side, showing the main entrance and the front of the building.

St. Eugene Indian Residential School – Kootenay, main building looking south, Cranbrook, B.C. Photograph taken on September 11, 1948 (e011080318)

The painful impact of these institutions continues to cut through generations. In Rick Hiebert’s 2002 article in Report Newsmagazine, Chief Sophie Pierre, who attended St. Eugene from ages 6 to 16, says, “…there was this feeling to just blow it up. Knock it down. No one wanted to see it anymore.” But, Pierre continues, they were swayed by the powerful words of Elder Mary Paul. “She said it was within the St. Eugene Mission that the culture of the Kootenay Indians was taken away, and it should be within this building that it is returned.”

A technical drawing of a three-story building with a high peaked roof. The central front entrance has a peak with a cross above it.

A technical drawing showing the front elevation of St. Eugene Mission in Cranbrook, B.C. (e010783622)

Moving forward

In 1996, the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council submitted St. Eugene Residential School for designation as a site of national historic significance. According to Geoffrey Carr’s 2009 article in an academic journal, the application was rejected for a number of reasons: the site was going to be changed too radically, it did not satisfy the other criteria for the designations of schools, and finally, there was some wariness to commemorate a place that might be perceived as an embarrassment to the Canadian government. Instead, two years later, Coast Hotels & Resorts and the five bands of the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council (St. Mary’s, Columbia Lake, Lower Kootenay, Tobacco Plains and Shuswap) announced that they would turn the historic site into a $30-million resort. The five bands would hold the lease to the property and control all the shares of the development corporation.

Chief Sophie Pierre, the major coordinator of the project, recalls her time at the school as terribly lonely. “Brothers and sisters were kept apart, not allowed to talk to each other,” she says in a 2003 Toronto Star article by Ian Cruickshank. Elder Mary Paul was a key inspiration for this project, saying,“…if you think you lost so much in this building, it’s not lost… You only really lose something if you refuse to pick it up again.” For the Tribal Council to maintain the building, studies showed that a resort would be the most profitable way to proceed. Although most funding came from federal government loans and grants, the Tribal Council made a particular effort to operate the business without governmental help.

The St. Eugene residential school is “…the only project in Canada where a First Nation has decided to transform the icon of an often sad period of its history into a powerful economic engine,” according to the resort’s website, “by restoring an old Indian Residential [S]chool into an international destination resort for future generations to enjoy.”

Critics argue that the redevelopment of St. Eugene has put economic gain before social memory. Carr writes that “…St. Eugene’s bears both the imprint of national contrition and the grotesque, enduring features of colonial violence.” Nevertheless, Chief Pierre takes great pride in how much this project will benefit the community in the long term.

In 2001, the resort’s golf course was named Golf Digest Magazine’s third-best golf course in Canada. According to statistics from Aboriginal Tourism BC, the main demographic group to visit such resorts are upper-middle-class baby boomers. By 2004, after some unfortunate financial struggles and a court order by the B.C. Supreme Court, the project was taken over by the Mnjikaning First Nations of Ontario, the Samson Cree First Nations of Alberta, and the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council—effectively maintaining a complete First Nations operation, but with the Tribal Council no longer in its previous position of sole ownership.

Library and Archives Canada plays an important role in the collection and maintenance of information about residential schools across Canada. The records are integral for research regarding claims, architectural plans, and reports of administration and attendance. These records speak to the fact that the Indian residential school system was a deliberate choice by the Canadian government to take care of “the Indian problem,” as it was referred to in many government documents throughout this period.

Related resources

Sources

  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Indian Residential Schools Located in the Province of British Columbia – One-Page Histories. Government of Canada, 2013.
  • Geoffrey Carr. Atopoi of the Modern: Revisiting the Place of the Indian Residential School. English Studies in Canada 35:1 (March 2009): 109–135.
  • Ian Cruickshank. Indian chief brains behind resort. Toronto Star (July 5, 2003): J16.
  • Rick Hiebert. Holidaying in Auschwitz: a BC indian band is turning an old residential school into a new resort casino [St. Eugene Mission residential school]. Report Newsmagazine 29:1 (January 7, 2002): 54.
  • Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, www.steugene.ca.
  • Ted Davis. C.’s First Nations welcome the world; Baby boomers are now joining international travellers in exploring the province’s aboriginal-based attractions. CanWest News (June 17, 2008).

Katrina Swift is a master’s student in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University who was doing a practicum in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Residential Schools: Photographic Collections

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is presenting a series of galleries consisting of photographs of residential schools, federal day schools and other similar institutions attended by First Nation, Inuit and Métis children in Canada from the late 19th century to the 1990s.

Organized by province and territory, the images featured in these galleries derive from many collections held at LAC—both government and private—and represent a selection of our holdings. The majority of the photographs were taken by federal government employees who worked for the former Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. You can find photos of residential and federal day schools in Accession 1973-357, RG85 and RG10. Use Archives Search—Advanced to search for additional images not included in the galleries.

Two examples include the group of students at Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Manitoba and the page of six photographs showing different views of Lejac Indian Residential School and other buildings in Fraser Lake, British Columbia.

Black and white photograph of Aboriginal girls seated at their desks with a nun standing beside them

Group of female students and a nun in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School, Cross Lake, Manitoba, February 1940 (MIKAN 4673899)

Cream-coloured page with six black and white photographs depicting views of various buildings

Views of Lejac Indian Residential School, and other buildings, Fraser Lake, British Columbia, August 1941 (MIKAN 4674042)

Some of the images are found in the collections of other government departments, including the Department of the Interior (Accession 1936-271), the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys (Accession 1960-125) and the National Film Board of Canada (Accession 1971-271).

Photographs of the students, staff and schools are also found in a number of private collections—Henry Joseph Woodside, Joseph Vincent Jacobson, Kryn Taconis and Charles Gimpel—to name a few.

Black and white photograph of a group of Aboriginal girls and boys, nuns and two men posing in front of a building

Port Harrison (Inukjuak) Federal Hostel, group of students, nuns and Aboriginal men, Quebec, ca. 1890, by Henry Joseph Woodside (MIKAN 3193392)

 

Colour photograph of a group of Inuit boys posing in crouched positions on a large flat rock; two of them are holding rifles

Marksmanship group, Coppermine School (Tent Hostel), Kugluktuk, Nunavut, ca. 1958, by unknown photographer, Joseph Vincent Jacobson fonds (MIKAN 3614170)

You can access additional photographs of Aboriginal students and schools using Archives Search—Advanced. For tips on searching the database, see the Online and non-digitized photographs section in Residential School Records Resources under What is found at Library and Archives Canada.

If you have information about a photograph, please let us know. We will add this information to the record in the database. You will need to include an image reference number, for example, PA-102543, e011080332, e011080332_s3 or the MIKAN number—3614170.

Albums featuring sample sets are available on LAC’s Flickr and Facebook pages.

The School Files Series, 1879 -1953

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds records created by the federal government about the administration of residential schools.

The School Files Series (archival reference RG10-B-3-d) within the Indian and Inuit Affairs sous fonds contains records created from 1879 to 1953 about residential schools and day schools.

This series contains some records of the admission and discharge of students at residential schools, as well as files on the establishment of individual schools.

The School Files Series has been digitized and is available through the Microform Digitization section of the LAC website.

Our reference specialists recommend a list of which schools are mentioned in which volumes and reels of the series. This list can be found in the Search Help section of the digital version of the series. It will prove to be quite useful when navigating the School Files Series.

Additional Resources

  • For more information on how to search the Microform Digitization section, use the Search Help section.
  • View the description of this series in Archives Search for additional information.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you.