The St. Eugene Residential School: Part II

Janus looks at the history of a Cranbrook area landmark.

Top: A rear view of the St. Eugene Residential School and chapel nearing completion in 1912. Bottom: A present day view of what is now the centerpiece of  the St. Eugene Mission Resort.

Top: A rear view of the St. Eugene Residential School and chapel nearing completion in 1912. Bottom: A present day view of what is now the centerpiece of the St. Eugene Mission Resort.

Jim Cameron

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then, it is done, no matter how brave its warriors nor how strong its weapons.”

Cheyenne proverb.

On April 20, 1910, the Department of Indian Affairs invited tenders for the immediate construction of an industrial school at the St. Eugene Mission near Cranbrook. It would be one of the first in the province and would replace the existing school established two decades earlier. In early June, Fernie contractor J. J. Woods was awarded the task. Authorization arrived from Ottawa the following month and work began on July 26, 1911.

On the afternoon of Nov. 1 1911, Oblate Missionary Father Beck laid the cornerstone of the building in front of a large gathering comprised chiefly of members of the Kootenay (Ktunaxa) tribe. R.T. Galbraith, local Indian Agent of eighteen years, gave a short address followed by Father Beck. The keynote of Father Beck’s address dealt with the fact that “the true Christian made the best man and therefore the Canadian government took care to see that its Indian protégées should have every opportunity of becoming good Christians. In closing he impressed upon the Indian parents to realize their responsibility and see to it that their children enjoyed the privilege of the training given at the residential school.”

The cornerstone itself contained a written history of the establishment of the school, two Cranbrook and one Nelson newspapers, coins of the reign of Kings Edward and George and (perhaps somewhat oddly) medals fashioned from copper taken from Lord Nelson’s flagship “Victory.”  What was not included was the fact that many residential schools soon to be constructed throughout Canada, would function in the most Draconian fashion imaginable, with children of all ages torn away from their homes for the duration of their “education” and held as little more than prisoners while being subjected to abuses and deprivations of the worst sort. That lay in the future, however. First came the building.

The construction of the St. Eugene school carried on through the spring of 1912. Various delays, including an extended wait for the granite steps of the main entrance and the boilers necessary for the heating system slowed things and thus it was not until Dec. 1912, that the school was more or less complete. It stood as one of the largest buildings in western Canada, a bleak, concrete behemoth hulking over the landscape, a constant reminder to parents that their children were now firmly in the hands of the Federal government and its appointed  taskmasters.

Fifty-five feet high and composed of nearly 27,000 exterior concrete blocks with 350,000 locally manufactured bricks in the interior, it was proclaimed as one of the most up-to-date building for the purpose in the west.

Upon entering the main entrance one passed through a vestibule into a corridor to the left of which was the Sister Superior’s reception room and staff living room. To the right stood the Indian Agent’s office and a parlour, bedroom and bath for visiting officials. To the fore stood the staff and visitor’s dining rooms, the staff infirmary and convalescent wards and a bathing area.  A corridor connected to the Mission-style chapel at the rear of the building. At the southern end stood the girls classrooms and to the north, that of the boys.

The upper floor held the dormitories, with the Sister’s in the center and the children’s at each end. Connected to both the Sister’s and the girl’s dormitory was a loggia, or outdoor sleeping balcony, connected to an infirmary with the same for the boys on the other end. The exposed sleeping areas were intended, so it was reported, “for the treatment of the children that may from time to time develop or exhibit signs of tubercular troubles or for the children who are fresh into the school from the reserve, where they live very largely in the open air and tents.”  (It should be noted that a 2011 Canadian government inquiry into deaths of students at Indian residential schools failed to ascertain actual numbers although numerous other reports and research papers have made educated guesses. Overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of medical care led to a high rate of tuberculosis and whooping cough causing death rates in some schools estimated as high as 50 – 60 per cent. Compulsory government sterilization of students was also practiced in some provinces.)

Each end of the basement contained recreation, shower and toilet rooms for the children while the central portion was taken up by the large main dining room, kitchen, larder and cold storage rooms. The foremost section contained the heating plant adjoining a generator room (containing a 15 horsepower gasoline engine which produced all light at the Mission including the two hundred bulbs in the school) and a dispensary. The bakery, creamery and living quarters for the farm instructors and janitor sat beneath the chapel. Under the basement floor was the sewage drainage system leading to a large septic tank 350 ft. from the building. The attic was reserved as a recreational space during inclement weather and storage.

As to the schooling received, a 1910 school report issued by Father Beck indicates that education consisted largely of the tending of gardens, orchards and farm animals. Boys were given some manual training while girls studied the “domestic arts.”  The school closed in 1970. It is now part of the St. Eugene Mission Resort.


Next week: The Black Robes of the White Man’s Burden.

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read