St. Mary’s Mission, BC

Mission Sign

Welcome to Mission

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mission (formerly and formally known as ‘Mission City’), British Columbia was named after a Mission that landed here in 1861 (functional in 1863). It was named ‘St. Mary’s Mission School’.

ST. MARY’S RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL

St. Mary's Residential School, Mission BC

St. Mary’s was a ‘Residential School’ for local First Nations People, opened by Father Leon Fouquet. Father Leon was a member of the O.M.I – Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate – whose mandate is to ‘preach the Gospel to the poor’.

The O.M.I were considered to be ‘specialists in the most difficult missions of the Church’ by the Pope. They had missions and institutions in the Americas, Australia, Philippines and Hong Kong.

For a time the main goal of the O.M.I was to ‘naturalize’ Native Aboriginal populations.

Unit 9056 St. Mary's Residential School

Families were separated and held against their will, in (often) prison like settings where they were forcefully taught a new culture, language and religion – with the idea that this would make them comply more readily with colonization.

Many, in residential schools across Canada, experienced all forms of abuse at the hands of those in ‘trusted’ positions. Physical, mental and sexual abuse have all been widely reported – and St. Mary’s was not immune to its share of atrocities.

Father Leon chose the name St. Mary’s not in recognition of the Virgin Mary (as is commonly thought), but rather to honour Saint Mary of Egypt, who was ‘saved from prostitution’ and did penance in the desert – for 47 years (from heritagepark-mission.ca).

The Long View Heritage Park

Overlooking the original St. Mary’s site.

We have walked the site of the oldest part of St. Mary’s many times. It is now a scenic, beautiful park overlooking the Fraser River with a majestic lining of snow capped mountains.

Nothing but stone foundations remain of the original (first) buildings, but the obvious honouring of this difficult past is apparent everywhere throughout the park.

Memorial gardens, detailed plaques, the original cemetery and the Heritage Centre are a few ways preservation has taken form.

Heritage Park Map

From heritagepark-mission.ca;

1. Administration Building / Park Info Centre
2. Ernest Jacobsen Rose Garden
3. Norma Kenney House / Blackberry Kitchen
4. Tennis Court : used only by the Oblate Priests and Sisters of St. Ann
5. Memorial Garden – Small Staff Residence : housed male supervisors and maintenance staff. The foundations of this building were used to create the Memorial Garden Read more…

In 1961 a new set of buildings were erected and the old, dilapidated (though once quite beautiful) ones were torn down. It was at this new set of buildings that the mistreatment of Native populations dramatically escalated.

MEDICINE WHEEL

We passed a traditional Native Medicine Wheel on our walk to the newer school buildings. A rare spiritual, healing circle created for ceremonies.

Hopi Wheel, Mission BC

Not much is written about this particular wheel (though it must be quite old), and sadly not much care is being given to it either. Despite posted signs and various pleas – the area is being used as an off-leash park by locals.

Sacred Medicine Wheel, Mission BC

Even getting to the site is somewhat daunting. We were charged, TWICE, by a huge black dog – one whose owner clearly had no control of it. We also had to dodge various giant dog ‘bombs’.

Unpleasant, DISRESPECTFUL.

It is said that in the beginning of St. Mary’s existence, many ‘graduates’ reported that they had fond memories of  their experiences at the school. The horror stories started filing in around 1960 when many report suffering extensive abuses.

View of St.Marys

From a distance the newer of the old residential schools (St. Mary’s site 2) looks abandoned . On further inspection, we discovered that in fact it was not.

From Wikipedia;

The Oblates opened and operated a mission school in 1863 in what was to be later named Mission, British Columbia. Its aim was to bring the indigenous people – the Sto:lo – to a Christian and agrarian lifestyle. Later, the school became a federally mandated residential school named St. Mary’s and was closed in 1984, making it the last BC residential school to close. It is now operated as a cultural centre by the Sto:lo people.

1984 seems like yesterday to me – it is hard to believe that society tolerated the institution such a short time ago.

Today the site contains an active daycare, gym and various social services. We also noticed signs that the Sto:lo Peoples have plans for further cultural development. The rear parking lot was full.

Unity Pole, Mission BC

And though it will never be enough, here too you can find various memorial expressions of regret, including this ‘Unity Pole’, pictured above.  The plaque beside it reads;

UNITY POLE

This pole, carved by Native offenders,

is presented to the Native community

of the Fraser Valley to celebrate

the healing of the past and mark a

new era of cooperative justice.

Presented on October 15, 1992 by the

BC Corrections Branch Fraser Region

(CAPS on ‘Native’ added by me).

Many additional photos in the slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To learn more about Canada’s residential schools, including St. Mary’s in Mission BC, check out the links below.

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8 responses to “St. Mary’s Mission, BC

  1. You are back! Great post Ana. Not long ago I listened to a program on CBC Radio One on this subject of Aboriginal, First Nations people in Canada and was sickened. I thought – how dare these foreigners come and destroy this nation. Present day, I think Ottawa owes these people an awful lot of compensation in some manner.

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    • Isn’t it so AWFUL? And RIDICULOUS even? What kind of thought process led to the decimation of our Native populations…I will never understand.

      I know compensation has taken place in a few forms over the years – but I would think it will never be enough….how could it be? Aboriginal populations are still suffering, and still marginalized over here… well, in North America in general, I think.

      So sad! And shameful!

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  2. “1984 seems like yesterday to me – it is hard to believe that society tolerated the institution such a short time ago” – Exactly!

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  3. Perhaps if more people were aware of what took place there, they would be more respectful? Maybe not, but it would be nice to think so.

    We need to hear more of these stories, even if they are painful to hear. Thanks for this post.

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    • I would like to think so – but there are signs posted everywhere & the site is OBVIOUSLY a memorial….I hate to say it, but I think most people just don’t care… 😦

      Which is why I took some time to write about it… thanks for the read Leslie :D.

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  4. Thanks for this thoughtful and beautiful post. It’s a hard past, and yet perhaps uncovering it and letting it breathe can promote understanding and healing. I wish people could listen to one another rather than jumping in to convert and fix. But I suppose it was/is really about maintaining the comfort of those who have the upper hand.

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    • Thank you, and I think you are right. Sometimes I try to imagine what our ‘culture’ would have been like with a little more Native influence – better I think!

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  5. I went to this school as a kid, but I didn’t realize until recently that it was a former residential school. The native residents who lived on the reserve would get on buses and leave (go??) while the general population kids from off the reserve would attend school here – it was called Manson elementary school

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