Friday, 17 June 2016

History of Algoma University: Remembering the legacy of Shingwauk ‘Indian’ Residential School

By Paige Sillaby, 1st year MDP student

Shingwauk Hall, formerly the Shingwauk Indian Residential School
For my 1st MDP field placement I am working with Thessalon First Nation (TFN) and the NORDIK Institute at Algoma University (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario). 

Our collaborative project looks at diversification potential for the TFN Bio Centre. The Bio Centre is a green house facility that is currently underutilized. The First Nation is actively exploring options to develop this asset, including for a wild food storage and processing distribution hub. I have divided my time between  Algoma and TFN (approximately 1 hour east of the Sault).

One aspect of the placement that I am interested in exploring is the history of Algoma University. Three days out of the week I work out of the 5th floor of Shingwauk Hall. This is the main building on campus, and also the remaining structure of the Shingwauk Residential School building. In 1971, Algoma was seeking opportunity for growth thus moving into the former Shingwauk Residential School building, one year after the residential school closed its doors. Shingwauk and Spanish Indian Residential School, another school 2 hours away, took children from North Shore communities in Ontario and across Turtle Island.

Since being on campus, I have been able to go on a residential school tour. On this tour, I learnt that my office was the boys living quarters (although some people say it was the girls). And while the building has been renovated, there are still areas of the original building that remain, such as little cupboards found in hallways and stairwells that the children would hide in to keep safe. The reason for keeping these spaces was something that the survivors of the school wanted to keep on site. I think that it would be powerful to see these images, but I would not feel comfortable taking these images and sharing them… knowing what they were used for. I believe that some of these children’s spirits remain at the school.

Monument at the front of Algoma University for the children that never returned home

Another area that was kept on the campus grounds is the graveyard which is located at the back of the university. I tried to visit this site, but there are a lot of unmarked graves on campus. Another story that was told to me on the tour, talked about the water ways. The school faces onto Lake Huron. Residential school survivors explain that the water way was how they got dropped off at the school, and they would run to the water at night hoping to return home. There are bushes there now but years ago there was a clear path to the water.
A view from Shingwauk looking towards Lake Huron

It seems clear to me that Algoma and the city of Sault Ste. Marie have a long history with the Aboriginal peoples of the north shore of Lake Huron. Both Batchewana First Nation and Garden River First Nation are within a 10-minute drive. Members of local First Nations have told me that they won't enter the school. I wonder if it is ethical, if it is right to preserve the residential school, as it transforms into a growing Ontario University. This is a question I will struggle with for the remainder of my placement.

For additional information, please see the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) website:

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