Nain's former residential school coming down

Norman Anderson says he won’t bother to watch when they tear down the former residential school in Nain that still haunts his memories seven decades later.

But he’s a practical man.

“I might get some wood out of it,” he said with a chuckle.

Anderson, 80, was elated Wednesday, Nov. 9, to hear the dilapidated structure that has served as everything from a radio station to a cottage hospital will finally be no more.

“That’s great news. You made my day,” he said in a phone call from Nain.

The Hudson Bay Company gave the structure to the Moravian Church in 1936 to use as a second school building, which was its purpose until almost 50 years ago, when it closed its doors.

The building was then last used for storage by a local contractor, but has been more or less abandoned for more than 30 years.

The Moravian Church left a complicated mark in Labrador.

According to HeritageNL, there were between 30 and 40 missionaries on the coast at any one time during the 1800s, most of them German. At that time the local language, Inuktitut, was used in church and school.

But the 20th century left a much darker legacy.

Some survivors described physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of staff members at the school, in addition to the trauma of having been taken from their homes and families.

Anderson was only six years old when he and other Inuit children were housed in the school complex.

“We had no toilet. We had no place to use the bathroom. No bucket, no nothing.”

Morning meals consisted of cold porridge, saved only by a dollop of molasses. At night they slept in sealskin sleeping bags on a hard floor.

They were forbidden to speak Inuktitut.

“In the nighttime, when everything was quiet, we used to communicate in our beds, quietly,” he said.

Mayor Joe Dicker said Wednesday the church had refused previous requests from residents to demolish the building, but finally had a change of heart.

The town will tear it down on Nov. 14, weather permitting.

In its letter to the town, the church said it wanted to “acknowledge that its presence is a painful reminder to some of their experiences while attending this institution,” and that it wanted to “honour their wishes in the spirit of reconciliation and a desire to promote healing.”

Although there are few former residents left, Dicker said Wednesday the building won’t be missed by the older people who remember what it represents.

Dicker, a residential school survivor, told The Telegram last year it’s a particular eyesore for him.

“I see that bloody building all the time,” he said. “I’m looking out my window at it right now, it’s right next to my office. It’s a reminder to people every day.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram