Site of former Camsell Hospital searched for unmarked graves

·3 min read
First Nation members have been calling for construction to stop at the former Camsell Hospital where many believe patients may have been buried.  (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)
First Nation members have been calling for construction to stop at the former Camsell Hospital where many believe patients may have been buried. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)

Crews are working to determine whether human remains are buried at the site of the former Camsell Hospital in Edmonton, where for decades, Indigenous people were sent for treatment.

Edmonton area First Nations and the site's developer are both waiting to hear the results of the recent radar search.

Gene Dub, architect and owner of the site, initiated a ground-penetrating radar search on the grounds at 127th Street and 115th Avenue in late June.

He hired Maverick Inspections Inc. to do the scan after remains were found at the residential school in Kamloops, B.C. in late May and after consulting Chief Calvin Bruneau from Papaschase First Nation.

"Some people still feel like there could be burials on this site," Dub told CBC News Thursday.

The operations manager for Maverick, Steve Toner, said his teams are analyzing the data and preparing a georeference report, which he expects will be complete by next week.

Dub said he plans to continue with the search after getting the first report.

"We discussed this with Chief Calvin Bruneau and his feeling was that this is an area that we should look at so we're taking it one area at a time and it is our intention to do all of the area along 127th street."

Dub has been working on the building for several years to turn it into an apartment complex. Two more buildings are planned for the west and south of the hospital.

For the past two weeks, a group of Indigenous people has gathered at the former hospital site demanding construction at the site stop so more searching can be conducted.

Alberta Provincial Archives
Alberta Provincial Archives

Trinity Brandon-Demeuse from the Michel First Nation started a petition a year ago calling for a halt to the construction on the site.

She said a year ago, there was barely any interest.

"Now that people are able to listen and hear us and understand what we're saying, I feel like it's finally making a difference and people are finally taking this seriously."

"People went from being really negative about it to supporting the movement to get this done."

'People remember graves there'

Bruneau said unless remains were dug up years ago and sent to other sites, he believes the radar work may find something.

"People remember graves being there," Bruneau told CBC News. "I'm thinking there is a good chance that there will be graves."

Indigenous people from the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta were sent to the Camsell, mostly to be treated for tuberculosis.

The Camsell was a federally run hospital in 1944, then taken over by the province until it closed in 1996.

For decades, former patients shared accounts of people being buried at the hospital.

There are reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, accounts of forced sterilization, shock therapy and experiments with TB vaccines on patients without their consent

A class-action lawsuit is currently underway against the federal government over the alleged treatment there.

Bruneau said they've been talking about searching the grounds for many years, and it took the findings of remains in other parts of the country to bring attention to the Camsell site.

"I think it's long overdue," Bruneau said. "Now we can start looking at it, dealing with this, and try bringing closure to some families and to the issue."

Brandon-Demeuse said she'd like to see the grounds turned into a healing centre or cultural centre for Indigenous people.

"Whether or not there's mass graves here or anything like that, I want to see it reclaimed by our people and to be revitalized for our people."

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