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Early Church Efforts

Early Church Efforts

- Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005 -

Indian residential schools existed in Canada since at least 1620. In that year the Recollect Order of Franciscans (Roman Catholic) established a boarding school at Quebec, which they operated until 1629. A number of French boys along with eight Aboriginal boys were taught at the school in its first years of operation. The Recollets had difficulty keeping the students in class as the children preferred to play and roam the fields and “the Franciscans found themselves unable to curb the Indian youths’ freedom-loving ways”. Eventually the Aboriginal boys returned to their homes and the Recollects found it difficult to obtain replacement students.

By the end of the 1620s “the Recollets had abandoned their efforts at evangelization through forced cultural change”. In 1632 the Recollets were ordered to leave Canada and they were replaced by the Jesuits[2].

The Jesuits[3] first efforts at educating Aboriginal children consisted of sending promising students to school in France, but this practice was discontinued when the parents of students refused to send their children to the school because they might not see them again. By 1636 the Jesuits established a boarding school at Quebec and accepted several students, including several orphans. Many parents refused to send their children to the school as it was too far away and the children would have “to live with strangers, quite different from them in their habits and customs”. The Aboriginal people were also concerned about how their children were treated while at school. By 1639 the Jesuits changed their idea about converting the Aboriginal people through the education of their children at a boarding school. Instead, they focused on providing instruction in Aboriginal communities, allowing them to convert adult as well as children to the Catholic faith.

The next effort at educating Aboriginal students in boarding schools in communities on the St. Lawrence River was made by the Ursuline Sisters, who had come to Quebec in 1639[4]. They established a school for girls within a few months after their arrival and recruited six female students in the first year. Tow years later there were 48 girls attending the school and the Sisters were able to move to a three-story convent in Quebec City in 1642. The school flourished under the direction of Sister Marie de l’Incarnation from 1640 to 1673. “New France” was created as a French colony in 1663 and in 1668 the Colonial Governor issued orders to educate Aboriginal and European children together. Thereafter the Ursuline School admitted students from both groups.

Indian Residential schools were also established by other Roman Catholic groups[5]. For example, the Capuchins educated French and Micmac students at separate institutions in Acadia during the early 1600s; the Congregation of Notre Dame, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, operated girls’ school in Montreal called “Le Montagne” in 1660; and the Sulpicians operated a boys’ school in Montreal until 1677. Most of these schools did not continue to operate for very long. 

[2] Miller, J.R. Shingwauk's Vision. A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996, at pp. 39-40.

[3] Miller, at pp. 41-49

[4] Miller, at pp. 49-51

[5] Miller, at. pp. 54-55