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Residential Schools in Canada

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in New France, the term usually refers to schools established after 1880. Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. The last residential school closed in 1996. (Grollier Hall, which closed in 1997, was not a state-run residential school in that year.) Since then, former students have demanded recognition and restitution, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School .)

This is the full-length entry about residential schools in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Residential Schools in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

Interactive Map

Residential Schools in Canada Interactive Map

The map below indicates the location of many residential schools in Canada. Click on individual points to learn a school’s name, religious denomination, opening and closing dates, and any other names by which the school was known. This map does not reflect every residential school that operated in the country. It only includes schools listed in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and a similar agreement reached for survivors of schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. This means that schools that operated without the support of the federal government — as in schools run by a province, a religious order, or both — are not included on this map. Day schools, where many Indigenous students experienced treatment similar to that described at residential schools, are also not included.

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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

(This article is a plain-language summary of residential schools in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Residential Schools in Canada.)

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain-Language Summary)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started working in 2008. It was a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRRSA). The IRRSA recognized the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous students at residential schools. It also provided financial compensation (money) to the students. The TRC performed many tasks. It created a national research centre. It collected documents from churches and government. It held events where students told their stories. Also, it did research about residential schools and issued a final report. (See also Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Resistance and Residential Schools

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that many Indigenous children were forced to attend. They were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Indigenous parents and children did not simply accept the residential-school system. Indigenous peoples fought against – and engaged with – the state, schools and other key players in the system. For the duration of the residential-school era, parents acted in the best interests of their children and communities. The children responded in ways that would allow them to survive.

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Residential Schools Podcast Episode 1: First Nations Experiences

When Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan shut its doors in 1996, it was the last federally run residential school to close. More than two decades later, the school’s legacy continues to be felt by Survivors, their families, and communities. In this episode, University of Manitoba’s Dr. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair describes the effects of residential schools on First Nations peoples. Survivors Riley Burns and Ed Bitternose recount their personal experiences at Gordon’s. Hosted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, this is “Residential Schools: First Nations Experiences.”

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Residential Schools Podcast Episode 2: Métis Experiences

The Métis are sometimes described as the “forgotten people,” particularly when it comes to the residential school experience. In this episode, Dr. Tricia Logan, a Métis historian and researcher at the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC, describes the complex and nuanced experiences of Métis students within the system. Survivors Linda Blomme, Larry Langille and Louis Bellrose recount their experiences in the residential school system. Hosted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, this is “Residential Schools: Métis Experiences.”

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Inuit Experiences at Residential School

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools created to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. Schools in the North were run by missionaries for nearly a century before the federal government began to open new, so-called modern institutions in the 1950s. This was less than a decade after a Special Joint Committee (see Indigenous Suffrage) found that the system was ineffectual. The committee’s recommendations led to the eventual closure of residential schools across the country.

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Residential Schools Podcast Series

Residential Schools is a three-part podcast series created by Historica Canada and hosted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais. It aims to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools, and honour the stories of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Survivors, their families, and communities. The series is part of a larger awareness campaign created by Historica Canada and funded by the Government of Canada. Along with the podcast, Historica also offers a video series, an education guide, and several new entries on The Canadian Encyclopedia about the history and legacy of residential schools.

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Residential Schools Podcast Episode 3: Inuit Experiences

In the late 1940s, a Special Joint Committee created by the Government of Canada found that Indian Residential Schools weren’t working. Residential schools across the country were ordered to be closed and their students to be transferred to provincial schools. But then, over a decade later, two new residential schools opened in Inuvik, Northwest Territories: Grollier Hall and Stringer Hall. In this episode, Dinjii Zhuh historian Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser, an assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies, explains why the government ignored those recommendations, and what that meant for institutionalized students. Survivors Piita Irniq and Abraham Anghik Ruben give first-hand accounts of life in Northern residential schools. Hosted by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais, this is “Residential Schools:  Inuit Experiences.”

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Métis Experiences at Residential School

Although the first residential schools in Canada were established with the intention of assimilating First Nations children into Euro-Canadian culture, Métis and Inuit children were also institutionalized in such facilities. Métis children experienced similar day-to-day conditions to those of other students in residential schools, but they were often considered “outsiders” by their peers and administrators. This perception affected their experiences within these institutions in particular ways.


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Intergenerational Trauma and Residential Schools

Historical trauma occurs when trauma caused by historical oppression is passed down through generations. For more than 100 years, the Canadian government supported residential school programs that isolated Indigenous children from their families and communities (see Residential Schools in Canada). Under the guise of educating and preparing Indigenous children for their participation in Canadian society, the federal government and other administrators of the residential school system committed what has since been described as an act of cultural genocide. As generations of students left these institutions, they returned to their home communities without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. The impacts of their institutionalization in residential school continue to be felt by subsequent generations. This is called intergenerational trauma.

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Peter Henderson Bryce

Peter Henderson Bryce, physician, public health official (born 17 August 1853 in Mount Pleasant, Canada West; died 15 January 1932 at sea). Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce was a pioneer of public health and sanitation policy in Canada. He is most remembered for his efforts to improve the health and living conditions of Indigenous people. His Report on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories exposed the unsanitary conditions of residential schools in the Prairie provinces. It also prompted national calls for residential school reform.

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Tricia E. Logan

Tricia E. Logan is the head of Research and Engagement at the University of British Columbia’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre and is cross appointed as an assistant professor at the UBC School of lnformation. She is a Métis scholar with more than 20 years of experience working with Indigenous communities in Canada.

Before joining the Centre in January 2019, Tricia previously held roles at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the Legacy of Hope Foundation. She has a Master of Arts in Native Studies from the University of Manitoba, and completed her PhD in History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her PhD is entitled Indian Residential Schools, Settler Colonialism and Their Narratives in Canadian History. Originally from Kakabeka Falls, ON, Tricia has worked with Survivors of residential schools, completed research on the Métis experience in residential schools and worked with Métis communities on a Michif language revitalization project.

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Reconciliation in Canada

In Canada, the process of reconciliation is tied to the federal government's relationship with Indigenous peoples. The term has come to describe attempts made by individuals and institutions to raise awareness about colonization and its ongoing effects on Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation also refers to efforts made to address the harms caused by various policies and programs of colonization, such as residential schools. For some, the word represents an opportunity to reflect on the past, to heal and to make right. For others, however, current gestures of reconciliation are merely performative and lack meaningful action to address the harms done by colonization.