Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
A first-in-Canada exhibition telling the story of the nation’s residential school system is on display at the Chilliwack Museum until October.
Travelling exhibition Where are the Children? Healing the Impacts of the Residential Schools, on loan from the Legacy of Hope Foundation, is now on the walls of the museum alongside Chilliwack artifacts from the Coqualeetza Indian Residential School.
“Given the recent findings at residential school sites, I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the history and effects of residential schools that are ongoing,” said museum curator Kate Feltren.
The exhibition, which is the first of its kind in Canada, spans more than 125 years and contains photographs and documents from the 1880s to the present day.
“It’s difficult history, but important to talk about.”
In the first section of the exhibition, photographs, text panels and artifacts move people through the process of leaving home and arriving at school to in-school activities and being part of a classroom.
Where are the Children? has been supplemented with objects from the Chilliwack Museum’s own collection and panels that depict the history of Coqualeetza.
“When visitors come, they can expect to learn about the progression from the Coqualeetza Home to the residential school to the hospital and then reclamation by Stó:lō.”
Artifacts from the Chilliwack Museum include a brick from the original Coqualeetza building, conductor’s baton and petticoat made by students.
One unique aspect about Coqualeetza Residential School is principal Rev. George H. Raley had an extensive personal collection of Indigenous artifacts, Feltren said.
“He saw the value of preserving that culture and those skills. But he also saw it from an economic perspective… he decided to implement a handicrafts department at the school so they actually had classes where students were learning basketry and carving and beading.”
The objects would then be displayed at local fairs like the Chilliwack Fall Festival. That learning continued when Coqualeetza became a hospital and the patients would then make the items.
The exhibition is curated by Iroquois photographer Jeff Thomas. He took photos of “contemporary role models” and a handful of them are in the second part of the exhibit, Feltren added.
Also in that part of the display is a section remembering those who were lost and a family photo album area.
The exhibition ends with a section focusing on cultural resurgence. It includes items like weavings that were donated to the museum by the Salish Weavers’ Guild, and materials from Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre showing how the Halq’eméylem language and culture have been revitalized.
Where are the Children? opened on June 30 and was open on Canada Day where they offered free admission.
“We had a lot of people coming in and saying that they connected with it because they had personal experiences with family members that had been (in residential school),” Feltren said. “Overall it’s been a positive response.”
A reconciliation-themed art installation outside the Chilliwack Museum is also on display for the duration of the Where are the Children? exhibit.
Tracey-Mae Chambers’ #HopeandHealingCanada project serves as an opportunity to extend the dialogue about reconciliation using the medium of contemporary art, Feltren said.
Featuring a woven web of red yarn, the artwork can be seen draped over the museum balcony.
“This site-specific artwork serves as a reminder that the process of healing and redress is ongoing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” Fetren said.
Where are the Children? Healing the Impacts of the Residential Schools and the #HopeandHealingCanada art installation are both on display until Oct. 15 at the Chilliwack Museum.
Museum hours are: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 8 pm. on Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Admission: $3 for adults, $2 for students and seniors, $7.50 for families (up to four adults/students), free for kids 12 and under and for Historical Society members.
They are offering free admission on Thursdays 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and all day on Saturdays until Sept. 3. Indigenous visitors also get free admission for the duration of the exhibit (until Oct. 15).
History of the Coqualeetza grounds:
Methodist missionaries Charles M. Tate and his wife Caroline began the first day school in 1886, taking in children to their own private residence. In 1889, the Tates opened Coqualeetza Home and it operated until it burned down in 1891. In 1894, Coqualeetza Industrial Institute was opened, funded by the Department of Indian Affairs. In 1920, amendments to the Indian Act made attendance compulsory at residential schools, and to meet the increasing number of students, the federal government re-acquired the Coqualeetza Land (previously sold to Methodist Church), demolishing Coqualeetza Industrial Institute to make way for the new Coqualeetza Residential School, which opened in 1924. Coqualeetza Residential School closed in 1940 and the building became the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital in 1941, which closed in 1969. It wasn’t until 1995 when Stó:lō Nation opened Shxwt’a:selhawtxw which housed the Longhouse Extension Program in the renovated former Coqualeetza Indian Hospital garage. In 2010, the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre opened.
NOTE: A previous version of this story had some incorrect info about the history of the Coqualeetza ground. The Progress regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused.