A woman cries as she watches the front facade of St. Michael’s Residential School torn down as part of a special ceremony in Alert Bay Wednesday morning that saw more than 300 people gathered on the front lawn of the school.

Emotional ceremony provides closure

Hundreds of survivors, relatives and elders from First Nations communities up and down the B.C. coast shed tears and shared memories

ALERT BAY—Hundreds of survivors, relatives and elders from First Nations communities up and down the B.C. coast shed tears and shared memories Wednesday in a healing/blessing ceremony to mark the decommissioning of St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.

The school, built by the federal government in 1929 and administered by the Anglican Church, operated for more than four decades. It was part of a system of residential schools since discredited for a system of abuses while attempting to strip native youths of their language and culture.

Transferred to the ‘Namgis First Nation in 1975, the building served as band office and a North Island College campus before being largely abandoned in the last decade. It is scheduled for demoltion beginning next month, following asbestos remediation, and the ‘Namgis chose to host Wednesday’s ceremony to provide closure for former students and family members impacted by their residential school experience.

“It was very, very emotional,” said Vickie Brotchie of the ‘Namgis First Nation, which hosted Wednesday’s ceremony.

The ‘Namgis have no plans to rebuild on the location. Verna Ambers, assistant band manager, said part of the property would be given over to parking for the adjacent U’mista Cultural Centre. Some of the bricks will be retained for the construction of a prospective memorial, though the type of memorial and time frame for its construction have not yet been determined.

A backhoe begins destruction of St. Michael’s Residental school in Alert Bay Wednesday morning during a special ceremony. Photo by Erin Haluschak/Black Press