Area museum hosts virtual tour of Canada's oldest former residential school

·2 min read

Amid the discovery of mass graves that have spotlighted a dreadful chapter of Canadian history, a Southwestern Ontario museum is offering a virtual tour of what was Canada's oldest Indigenous residential school.

The St. Marys Museum, northeast of London, is offering an online glimpse Friday into the former Mohawk Institute Residential School that operated for more than a century on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, near Brantford.

“This is an opportunity for us to help educate folks in the St. Marys area,” Amy Cubberley, the town’s cultural services supervisor, said of the tour. “We thought that facilitating a tour through our museum would be a good way for locals" to learn more.

The 10 a.m. tour will be held by Zoom video-conferencing with the Woodland Cultural Centre, on the site of the former residential school, which offers monthly tours through its website.

Guided by Lorrie Gallant, an artist and storyteller from Six Nations, tour participants will move through different parts of the former school, including its dormitory rooms, the cafeteria and laundry room. The two-hour tour also includes interviews with survivors and a question-and-answer period.

“I think people can be a little bit apprehensive about where to even start with this topic, so attending something like this in a Zoom format is a really good first step,” Cubberley said.

The grim legacy of Canada's system of church- and government-operated Indigenous residential schools has come under renewed attention this summer amid the discovery of what are believed to be more than 1,000 unmarked graves at three former schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Nationwide, more than 4,000 children are known to have died at the schools that operated from the 1800s well into the 1900s.

The Mohawk Institute, one of two residential schools in Southwestern Ontario, operated for 140 years before it closed in 1972. Nearly 15,000 children attended the school.

Another such school, Mount Elgin, operated on the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation near London.

Residential schools were a network of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children across Canada, started by the federal government and run by churches with the goal of assimilating them into Canadian culture at the expense of their own. An estimated 150,000 children were sent to them.

Tickets for the St. Marys tour cost $10 a person, with all proceeds going to the Save the Evidence campaign that aims to restore and develop the former Mohawk Institute site into an educational centre.

The tour was created by Thru the Reddoor, a production company based at Six Nations.

To register, call the St. Marys Museum at 519-284-3556 or email

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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