NORTH GRENVILLE — Flags at the North Grenville Municipal Centre are being lowered to half-mast to honour the lives of the 215 children found in a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Flags will remain lowered for 215 hours (9 days) to represent one hour for each child.
Multiple jurisdictions across Canada are conducting the same observance — the federal and Ontario governments included.
“The mass grave found at the former Kamloops Residential School in British Colombia is a profoundly distressing discovery, and a heartbreaking reminder of the thousands of children who died in residential schools, including here in Ontario,” said Mayor Nancy Peckford.
In its final report in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said while some burial places were located within or near old school grounds, many were not readily identifiable and not maintained.
The Commission has now identified approximately 4,000 deaths of residential school students. It is estimated, however, that this number could be as high as 6,000 or more due to the fact that so many of these First Nations children were not accounted for, including ones that passed away from illness.
If children tried to run away from the school, and died while doing so, they were rarely searched for and their families were infrequently advised.
The discovery is, in the words of B.C. Premier John Horgan, “a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.”
While tuberculosis was cited for many deaths in residential schools, the cause was unknown in about half the cases. Further, many of the diagnoses may have been inaccurate as they were made by individuals without medical training.
Residential schools were operated by the Canadian government between the 1870s and the 1990s, in partnership with the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. It is estimated that over 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Métis children attended Indian residential school.
This discovery has amplified calls for the creation of a statutory holiday to honour survivors and victims, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.