Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
An entire middle school walked to the Coqualeetza grounds in recognition of the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week.
Vedder middle school students and staff make the 2.5-kilometre trek on Wednesday, Sept. 29 and walked “solemnly” to the former Coqualeetza Residential School site, said Vicki Rees, education assistant special needs at Vedder middle.
“We want our students to know and understand that residential schools were not in far off distant places, there was one right here in Chilliwack,” said Val Tosoff, Indigenous enhancement teacher at Vedder who organized the event.
The kids heard a welcome song and an honouring song when they arrived, plus they were given a brief presentation about the history of the site, the former residential school, the nuns’ quarters and the tuberculosis hospital.
Students were greeted by Terrington Prest and Chris Thomas, both cultural workers through Steqó:ye education program at Stó:lō Nation. Prest told the students how his ancestors held sit-ins at Coqualeetza to reclaim their land.
Coqualeetza Residential School opened in 1889. After it was closed in 1940, the building was converted into a federally-run tuberculosis hospital in 1941. The Coqualeetza Indian Hospital closed exactly 52 years ago today, on Sept. 30, 1969.
“The kids were respectful and listened quietly. We walked back along Vedder Road and a lot of cars honked in support. It was quite moving,” Rees said.
– with files from Eric Welsh