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New memorial to be erected at Wawanosh residential school site (3 photos)

Indigenous-led ceremony held on legion property Saturday to honour Wawanosh students, forthcoming memorial

A large teepee was erected at the Royal Canadian Legion on Great Northern Road over the weekend for a special ceremony to honour the students who attended the Wawanosh Home for Girls, one of the first residential schools for girls in Canada. 

Saturday's ceremony also acknowledged the work that will be done to establish a highly-visible memorial at the site of the former Wawanosh school, which opened in 1879 and closed in 1900 when the girls' school was moved to the Shingwauk site. 

Representatives of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25, Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and SalDan Developments Ltd. all took part in the Indigenous-led ceremony Saturday.  

“We speak for them and honour them, and it’s our sacred duty as a human being to honour the people that have gone before us,” said Shingwauk Indian Residential School survivor Shirley Horn.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to one before,” said Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 President Helen Stewart of the ceremony. “It was so moving and touching. They were so willing to allow us to be there and to teach us. 

“It was an amazing feeling, really.”

A number of local stakeholders are currently at the table, working together in order to develop a more visible memorial for the former Wawanosh site, while preserving the existing sandstone monument that was erected on the present-day grounds of the legion back in 1967. 

The stakeholders for the Wawanosh memorial project consist of Children of Shingwauk, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25, SalDan, Algoma University and the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

CSAA vice president Jackie Fletcher, a survivor of Shingwauk Indian Residential School and Horn’s sister, told SooToday that she never knew about the Wawanosh monument on legion property until a couple of years ago.  

“I never knew that monument was there, and it really inspired me once I found out about it. Why is it not known to the community?” said Fletcher. “And so, I told the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association I wanted to do something about that.”

The forthcoming Wawanosh memorial, when completed, will be a highly-visible part of the legion’s multi-million dollar building and apartment complex that will be built and co-owned by SalDan Developments.  

“We will definitely honour and enhance the memorial - not only the existing memorial, of course it will be 100 per cent maintained and protected - we’ve already designed around it, to make sure that it’s never going to be touched,” said SalDan general manager Sam Biasucci. “But we’re going to go the extra mile now and make sure that it becomes a lot more visible. Now the people have been made more aware of the meaning and reason why the memorial was there in the first place, and we will work with the legion and with our partners on the Indigenous side to enhance it, probably even greater than what they envisioned. 

“They’re very humble people and as you’ve heard all along, they’re not expecting a whole lot. They’re not expecting anything extravagant, but I will want to go as far as I possibly can to make it be an amazing memorial and an amazing remembrance forever.”

“When we told him [Biasucci] it had to stay, he worked the plans around it so it wouldn’t even be touched. So it’s perfect - perfect for everybody, really,” said Stewart. “But that’s what was on this property back then, is that residential school.

“And it had to be honoured. It had to be.”

Fletcher says plans for the updated Wawanosh memorial are still in the preliminary stages. 

“I know it’s going to happen in a very good way,” she said. 

It’s believed there are no unmarked graves at the former residential school site. 

The existing Wawanosh monument received heritage designation from the City of Sault Ste. Marie in June of this year.

- with files from David Helwig

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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