The Former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School - Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia

Backgrounder

The former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was built in 1928-29 in the Sipekni’katik district of Mi’kma’ki, at the top of a small hill between Highway 2 and the Shubenacadie River overlooking the village of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, and 7 kilometres from Sipekne’katik First Nation (Indian Brook). The abandoned school building was demolished in 1986 and a factory now stands where it used to be.

The former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School was nominated by the co-chair of the Tripartite Culture and Heritage Working Committee of the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum on behalf of Survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School and their descendants. Parks Canada and the nominator collaborated to identify the historic values of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. The historical report prepared for the Board was co-authored by Parks Canada and the nominator.

Open from 1930 to 1967, it was the only Residential School in the Maritimes. It functioned within the residential school system whereby the federal government and certain churches and religious organizations worked together to assimilate Indigenous children as part of a broad set of efforts to destroy Indigenous cultures and identities and suppress Indigenous histories. It was first managed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and later the Missionary Oblates of Marie Immaculate, and staffed by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of Halifax.

Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqkew children from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec attended Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. It is also possible that children from other Indigenous communities were sent to this school. They were subjected to harsh discipline; malnutrition and starvation; poor healthcare; physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; medical experimentation; neglect; the deliberate suppression of their cultures and languages; and loss of life. From the earliest days of the school, students, their families, and community leaders voiced objections, and protested everything from forced attendance to poor conditions, mistreatment, and the inadequate quality of schooling. Many children fought against the system by refusing to let go of their languages and identities. Some children ran away from the school in an effort to return home.

Although the school building is no longer standing, the site of the former school is a place of remembrance and healing for some survivors and their descendants, who wish to preserve the Residential School history in the Maritimes. Others, for whom the building and site holds neither healing nor memorial status, believe that the building and site remain a testament and record for the experiences of the children who were there as well as for the legacies of those experiences throughout Mi’kma’ki. Many are concerned that the long-term intergenerational impact of these experiences on survivors, their families, and communities, is not forgotten. The history of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School is highly fraught and difficult to construct given the trauma that was, and is, inherent within its history. So many survivors are still unable to speak about their experiences.

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