Two new exhibits at the Fort Frances Museum aim to show the truth about residential schools as a step towards reconciliation and to create stronger bonds within area communities.
The first exhibit, entitled “We Were Taught Differently: The Indian Residential School Experience,” is on loan from the Lake of the Woods Museum in Kenora.
It looks at life at home before residential schools came into being, the reasons why the schools were established, which schools were in the Treaty #3 area, as well as aspects of school life such as staff, music, recreation, health, food, and discipline.
The exhibit also covers the integration and closures of the schools, the apologies and settlements made, and the legacy of residential schools that’s still felt today.
Meanwhile, a complementary exhibit on the former St. Marguerite’s Indian Residential School here has been put together by Couchiching First Nation historian Glenn Jourdain, who attended it.
It will focus on the local residential school, with documents and photos gathered by Jourdain, including some focusing on hockey, which played a big role in his youth.
Museum curator Sherry George said the exhibits, which will be up through the end of August, are very important at this point in time and she hopes as many people as possible come and learn from them.
“There are certainly a lot of people that know something about residential schools,” she remarked. “They know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“But there’s still many people that don’t really realize that this has been determined now; that this [the residential school experience] actually happened.
“This isn’t speculation,” George stressed. “These are the sorts of things that happened.
“And I think it’s very important that people understand that it’s because of these schools, and generations of children being removed from families and from communities, that the First Nations’ people went through some very, very dark times.
“And as much as Glenn and many of the survivors understand that they’re looking forward to the future with some hope, and they want to put this behind them, it is still critical that we, as communities, understand the truth first,” George reasoned.
“We can’t have reconciliation without first knowing the truth of what happened; that our government was responsible for attempting to remove the Indian culture, their language, their lands,” she noted.
“I think that’s what important here.”
“It will be really eye-opening, I think, for a lot of people,” echoed Laura Gosse, the museum’s new community engagement co-ordinator.
Gosse added she and George have worked with Jourdain to “pull everything together to create an impactful exhibit that hopefully will make people think.”
While the new exhibits opened yesterday, an opening reception has been planned for next Wednesday (May 23) from 3-7 p.m.
Opening remarks will be at 3:30 p.m., with the event also to include traditional drumming and refreshments.
“We’ve invited area chiefs and mayor and council and other dignitaries we hope will attend,” said George.
“It is open to public, and we really hope people will come from our community.”
In related news, the Fort Frances Museum will switch to its summer hours of operation this Friday (May 18).
It will be open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for seniors/children. The family rate is $12.
This admission grants access not only to the museum but the “Hallett” and lookout tower on La Verendrye Parkway, as well.
George noted the “Hallett” will be undergoing repairs sometime this summer, but she’s hoping this work can be done so at to not prevent the public from visiting it.