Restoration of old residential school uncovers things students left behind

Hidden under a stairwell were signatures and writings of young girls.

A building that was once the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School is being renovated in southern Ontario.

And during the construction workers uncovered certain things within the walls that speak of the buildings history that closed in 1970.

Hidden under a stairwell were signatures and writings of young girls.

Dawn Hill first saw the writings in a virtual tour of the building last year.

She immediately noticed her mom’s name, Hazel Vanevry.

“My family knew that she was there. Two of my an aunts were there as well. So seeing that on the wall was pretty tough … it was hard,” said Hill.

Her mom came to school in 1934 at the age of nine. She left when she was 16.

The writings have been carefully removed from their original location for preservation and will be part of the building’s future as the Woodland Culture Centre in Brantford, Ont.

“We can’t ever forget what that history was, and we can’t ever deny what that history was because that historical trauma that was visited upon this First Nation community has really impacted not just that person, it has filtered down to generation after generation,” said Hill.

The building is scheduled to be open in 2020.

Producer InFocus / Winnipeg

Beverly is a member of the Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation in Manitoba. She has worked in media for over a decade, including broadcast, film and the arts. She joined APTN in January 2017 from Regina, SK where she was a video journalist for CTV and Indigenous Circle.

50 thoughts on “Restoration of old residential school uncovers things students left behind

  1. My heart feels such heaviness. The stripping away of innocence. The horrific crimes against humanity within those walls extended out onto mothers precious earth. Our Creators people, children & soulful beings…came forth…destined to nurture, feed & heal the waters, earth & sky were trapped, at the hands of twisted egos, who sought to gain control in every way they could. The land, the people, the light in heart & soul. This building holds many tears, horror & pain within the walls. Creator will choose its fate. Aho

  2. My heart feels such heaviness. The stripping away of innocence. The horrific crimes against humanity within those walls extended out onto mothers precious earth. Our Creators people, children & soulful beings…came forth…destined to nurture, feed & heal the waters, earth & sky were trapped, at the hands of twisted egos, who sought to gain control in every way they could. The land, the people, the light in heart & soul. This building holds many tears, horror & pain within the walls. Creator will choose its fate. Aho

  3. Where the “Onondaga Wonder” Tom Longboat went to school, where he literally ran away and escaped from. After Tom Longboat became famous and won the 1907 Boston Marathon, he was invited back to the school to say some good things and to encourage the students, Mr. Longboat declined and said he would not even send his dog to that place…. Way to go Tom Longboat for not becoming an “Uncle Tom” assimilated Indian, like so many Indian/Native leaders we have today!

  4. Where the “Onondaga Wonder” Tom Longboat went to school, where he literally ran away and escaped from. After Tom Longboat became famous and won the 1907 Boston Marathon, he was invited back to the school to say some good things and to encourage the students, Mr. Longboat declined and said he would not even send his dog to that place…. Way to go Tom Longboat for not becoming an “Uncle Tom” assimilated Indian, like so many Indian/Native leaders we have today!

  5. I am deeply sadden by what the Canadian government allowed!! All those poor souls who never made it! All thos children who wanted to go home to their moms … the government and the Catholic Church should be ashamed of themselves for taking something away taking lives away!!! … no one deserves to be treated like this!!! Especially children.. I hope one day those children who haven’t crossed. Find peace .

  6. I am deeply sadden by what the Canadian government allowed!! All those poor souls who never made it! All thos children who wanted to go home to their moms … the government and the Catholic Church should be ashamed of themselves for taking something away taking lives away!!! … no one deserves to be treated like this!!! Especially children.. I hope one day those children who haven’t crossed. Find peace .

  7. I went here this summer with my aunt. My grandfather is Mohawk so I went to the reservation, I knew about this school from reading things online and my own curiosity of what ancestors of mine may have been there. It did NOTHING to prepare me for what I learned that weekend. Aside from being under construction, there were land survey flags all over the property essentially searching for fragments of missing children. There were crows flying around is as we walked around the building, examining the hundreds of names carved in the brick on the outside walls. Clothes hanging from window sills, they looked stuffed in there for insulation or something. The place was a complete nightmare inside and out. To know that my relatives were in such a living hell designed to systematically take the Indian out of us was nothing short of pure pain and confusion as to WHY that place is being restored!!! I may not know everything about the situation but I know enough to HATE that building. It should be leveled to the GROUND and completely destroyed!! They should build a huge Indian style housing complex that does everything that building tried to take from US!! Children beading, learning about medicine from our earth, hunting and survival methods we once used. They should fill the place with Indians love and teaching each other there! A proper memorial for the hundreds to thousands of children who lost their lives to such evil!! Make the whole piece of land completely opposite of what they tried to and did do so much harm there. I was and still am completely baffled as to WHY that place is getting remodeled and not leveled!!! Love will always win and their HATE for us didn’t win!!! We are still here!!!

  8. I wrote earlier. I attended the Institute as part of an Akwesasne Mohawk group. We want the building preserved. We oppose its removal. It must stand as a testament to what we experienced there.

  9. I went here this summer with my aunt. My grandfather is Mohawk so I went to the reservation, I knew about this school from reading things online and my own curiosity of what ancestors of mine may have been there. It did NOTHING to prepare me for what I learned that weekend. Aside from being under construction, there were land survey flags all over the property essentially searching for fragments of missing children. There were crows flying around is as we walked around the building, examining the hundreds of names carved in the brick on the outside walls. Clothes hanging from window sills, they looked stuffed in there for insulation or something. The place was a complete nightmare inside and out. To know that my relatives were in such a living hell designed to systematically take the Indian out of us was nothing short of pure pain and confusion as to WHY that place is being restored!!! I may not know everything about the situation but I know enough to HATE that building. It should be leveled to the GROUND and completely destroyed!! They should build a huge Indian style housing complex that does everything that building tried to take from US!! Children beading, learning about medicine from our earth, hunting and survival methods we once used. They should fill the place with Indians love and teaching each other there! A proper memorial for the hundreds to thousands of children who lost their lives to such evil!! Make the whole piece of land completely opposite of what they tried to and did do so much harm there. I was and still am completely baffled as to WHY that place is getting remodeled and not leveled!!! Love will always win and their HATE for us didn’t win!!! We are still here!!!

  10. I wrote earlier. I attended the Institute as part of an Akwesasne Mohawk group. We want the building preserved. We oppose its removal. It must stand as a testament to what we experienced there.

  11. Donate the building to the First Nations People and let them decide what to do with it. For all too long First Nations People have not have the privilege to decide their past, present or future…

    1. First Nations People, from what I have read, would rather it be renovated to let it be a reminder of the awful things the Catholic Church and Government were responsible for. They denyed the truth for so long and are still covering up what really took place.

  12. Donate the building to the First Nations People and let them decide what to do with it. For all too long First Nations People have not have the privilege to decide their past, present or future…

    1. First Nations People, from what I have read, would rather it be renovated to let it be a reminder of the awful things the Catholic Church and Government were responsible for. They denyed the truth for so long and are still covering up what really took place.

  13. What a horrific tragedy for the spirits of those children . How bittersweet for the relatives of those kids to know thier loved ones were there , but suffered and grieved and were exploited , brain washed and abused . It would be so hard to know if the building shouldn’t be torn down because of the tragedy , but worrisome as to children’s spirits that might be stuck in that aweful place . It’s a loose loose all the way around , yet another reminder of the agenda of corrupt government and the total lack of respect for priceless children’s lives .

  14. What a horrific tragedy for the spirits of those children . How bittersweet for the relatives of those kids to know thier loved ones were there , but suffered and grieved and were exploited , brain washed and abused . It would be so hard to know if the building shouldn’t be torn down because of the tragedy , but worrisome as to children’s spirits that might be stuck in that aweful place . It’s a loose loose all the way around , yet another reminder of the agenda of corrupt government and the total lack of respect for priceless children’s lives .

  15. I visited the woodland cultural Centre for the annual Christmas Bazaar in November 1991. I’ll never forget the coldness in that building and sounds of children crying.
    I knew without a doubt it was unresolved trama those walls still held.

  16. I visited the woodland cultural Centre for the annual Christmas Bazaar in November 1991. I’ll never forget the coldness in that building and sounds of children crying.
    I knew without a doubt it was unresolved trama those walls still held.

  17. Y restore it?? Tear it down and build a memorial for all the kids that didn’t make it out of there!!! Y relive that buildings decease,mistreatment of the native children!!!!
    WHY?????

    1. Slap in the face to Indians everywhere. This is outrageous! Sicko government. Won’t stop abusing us. Always greedy wanting to steal our children because these kids are worth a lot of money. Greedy government will never stop.

    2. Sekon, I attended, or was sentenced, to the Mohawk Institute as part of a group of Akwesasne Mohawks. I can testify as to the abuses, the violence, the cries in the night from abandoned children. I know every inch of the “boy’s” side of the building. I am, as are our Akwesasnoron, adamant in preserving the building and having it stand as a permanent memorial to those who were there. I propose having prolonged visits (overnight) and to restore the dorms and rooms as we knew them. I propose having meals in the dining hall the same as what we ate. I propose making it mandatory for high school students in Ontario to visit the site-just as German students are required to go to Dachau or Buchenwald. I propose hiring us to give these tours just as former Alcatraz inmates serve as guides there. I propose a statue of Joey Commanda, the 13 year old Algonquin boy who died in September 1968 fleeing the Mush hole on a train track in Toronto as he sought to make his way home. His death was the last one at the Institute and he stands for us all.

      1. These are powerful ideas. And yet so are the ones from Melissa below. I hope both of your visions can come true in the places where it makes sense for them. I had not heard of the mush hole until this week. There are no words.

      2. Doug you’re a wonderful strong brilliant man! Your words of wisdom is very inspirational. This is our history and should never ever be forgotten! Prayers to all!
        Miigwetch for your courage still xo

    3. Bc seeing is believing. So few schools are left. It’s a beautiful old building, you’d never guess it’s dark history from outside. We can’t erase our history or these scars.

  18. Y restore it?? Tear it down and build a memorial for all the kids that didn’t make it out of there!!! Y relive that buildings decease,mistreatment of the native children!!!!
    WHY?????

    1. Slap in the face to Indians everywhere. This is outrageous! Sicko government. Won’t stop abusing us. Always greedy wanting to steal our children because these kids are worth a lot of money. Greedy government will never stop.

    2. Sekon, I attended, or was sentenced, to the Mohawk Institute as part of a group of Akwesasne Mohawks. I can testify as to the abuses, the violence, the cries in the night from abandoned children. I know every inch of the “boy’s” side of the building. I am, as are our Akwesasnoron, adamant in preserving the building and having it stand as a permanent memorial to those who were there. I propose having prolonged visits (overnight) and to restore the dorms and rooms as we knew them. I propose having meals in the dining hall the same as what we ate. I propose making it mandatory for high school students in Ontario to visit the site-just as German students are required to go to Dachau or Buchenwald. I propose hiring us to give these tours just as former Alcatraz inmates serve as guides there. I propose a statue of Joey Commanda, the 13 year old Algonquin boy who died in September 1968 fleeing the Mush hole on a train track in Toronto as he sought to make his way home. His death was the last one at the Institute and he stands for us all.

      1. These are powerful ideas. And yet so are the ones from Melissa below. I hope both of your visions can come true in the places where it makes sense for them. I had not heard of the mush hole until this week. There are no words.

      2. Doug you’re a wonderful strong brilliant man! Your words of wisdom is very inspirational. This is our history and should never ever be forgotten! Prayers to all!
        Miigwetch for your courage still xo

    3. Bc seeing is believing. So few schools are left. It’s a beautiful old building, you’d never guess it’s dark history from outside. We can’t erase our history or these scars.

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