The Dorm

When I was twelve years old my parents sent me away to boarding school in Edmonton. It was at great sacrifice for them and for the family because with my many siblings needing attention and money spent on them, investing as much as they did in me was surely a hardship. The parish paid for my tuition and that sort of thing, but my parents still had to dish out lots of cash for my expenses like hockey equipment, clothes, outings and sundry other things. Attending Collège St-Jean was a privilege because I got a very good classical education in French and English and I can still speak French more or less fluently to this day because of it. I doubt if I would have gone to university later without this early experience.

I was a student at the Collège St-Jean on the south side of Edmonton for 4 years starting in 1959. I went for a fifth year but couldn’t handle it and came home after a couple of weeks. I was a bit of a psychological mess. I’m sure I badgered my parents to attend this boarding school over a thousand kilometres from home because all of my friends were going too. In fact, there were 40 of us boys from BC attending the College in the early 60s. As I said, it was a privilege attending the College, but it was not all fun and games. The testosterone alone was choking as was the odor in the dorm. We played a lot of sports and not all of us were careful with our personal grooming…and that’s putting it gently.

The first 2 years I attended the College I slept in a dorm with 124 other guys 12 to 15 years of age. Five rows of bunk beds were the main feature of this building along with a narrow washroom/shower room containing probably 5 or 6 shower stalls and as many toilets along with a whole row of sinks where we would wash, brush our teeth and admire ourselves in the mirrors. This is  how I remember the dorm:

Dorm

This is how I remember my relationship with the priests who ran the school:

Blue me.jpg

Well, that’s a little unfair because some of the priests at the College were caring and respectful men. Some were less so and some were downright violent, not that my friends and I didn’t deserve a little chastisement from time to time. In fact, at times we were not the best examples of good behaviour. In fact, we were often little shits. I won’t go into detail but I’m sure we deserved any punishment we got.

It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to look back on my College days with some degree of objectivity. It was a very emotional time but that’s the way it is for teens.

 

 

Prime Directive: Save Them Savages.

Without the benefit of anthropology and archaeology it would be difficult indeed to come to North America from Europe in the 19th Century and not wonder where the indigenous people originated. In fact, Europeans imbued with Christian principles and values must have wondered, wherever they went outside of Europe, what could be the origins of all the strange and wondrous human beings they encountered. The clues had to be in the Bible or as logical extensions of ideas expressed in the Bible. They tried hard, but it was tough to deny that indigenous people were not human because they readily mated successfully with European explorers and colonizers all the time. The following is my translation of an excerpt from La Vie de Monseigneur Taché by Dom Benoit. I find it fascinating how the author grapples with the descent of the indigenous people and how these ‘savages’ became so ‘degenerate’. Read on:

On page 47*:

“From  whom do the savages descend? They are men therefore they are descendants of Adam. I might add: Noah was their ancestor and Sem their father as the red or American race is mongoloid, differing less from them as Noah’s three sons differ amongst themselves. It is clear that America was populated by peoples from Asia or even from Northern Europe. Everybody knows how easy it would have been to migrate to America from Asia even if the distant wanderings of these travellers were not supported by means any more sophisticated than those of today. This last proposition seems improbable to me; I am convinced that the savages were more civilized at one time than they are now, that they abased themselves by turning away from traditions that connected them to God, just as they will redeem themselves by accepting the teachings that bring them closer to their maker and to their end.

So, the author concludes that the ‘savages’ were no doubt more civilized at one time but because they turned away from the traditions that kept them attached to the teachings of the Church, they became lost to God. Seems reasonable, I guess, but I’d like to see even just a little evidence. Nevertheless, the only rational way that ‘savages’ could be brought back to God, obviously, is by missionary work. What a job they were tasked by God and the Church to do: bring back the godless savages to the bosom of the Church and to God. Further in the book, the author also warns that the situation is urgent and critical because their work could be thwarted by the ‘methodist’ missionaries who were eager to have the ‘savages’ turn against the Church of Rome. Tough competition required urgent measures and an army of priests had to be deployed as soon as possible between the Red River settlement and the Mississippi. That’s when the archbishop of St. Boniface at the time, Msg. Provencher, appealed to Monseigneur de Mazenod, the bishop of Marseilles and founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to send as many ‘troops’ as possible for the battle ahead. This was in the middle of the 19th Century, before 1853. Travel was treacherous. It took roughly 8 or 9 weeks depending on the weather to cover the 1400 miles from Montréal to St. Boniface by canoe before the railroad was build a few decades later. War can be hell and there is no doubt that the Oblates were tough and disciplined in their urgent mission to save as many ‘savages’ as they could.

*From: La Vie de Monseigneur Taché, Archevêque de St. Boniface by Dom Benoit, Superior of the Regular Canons of the Immaculate Conception of Canada. Published in a limited edition in 1904 by the Librairie Bauchemin, Montréal, Québec.

This man ran an Indian residential school in Alberta.

Fr. Martin Michaud OMI

Martin Michaud OMI
Martin Michaud OMI

 

Father Michaud OMI was born on January 31, 1922 at Fort Kent, Alberta, Canada.

He passed away on August 28, 2007.

 

When I was a boy, maybe 11 years old, my mother and father packed up the ’57 Dodge with about 8 or 9 of us kids and piles of supplies [I have no idea to this day how they did it] and took us on a road trip.  My memory is a little sketchy as to the exact itinerary, but I distinctly remember that we left Maillardville, near Vancouver, BC, and headed north up highway 1 to 97 to Prince George where we spent some time with some  family who lived there.  I remember that we went as far north as Dawson Creek then headed east into Alberta to Edmonton, then south again to a place  that stunned me and that I have never forgotten. As far as I can remember, the place was close to Trochu, Alberta, but I can’t guarantee that.  It was an ‘Indian’ residential school and my ‘uncle’ Martin Michaud was the man in charge. It was summertime so all the ‘residents’ were away at the time with their families.  Us kids [maybe all of us] slept in the dorm.  I had no clue about the political significance of the place and others like it.  I was struck particularly by the names of some of the kids that lived here during most of the year.  I remember specifically two names: Johnny Born With A Tooth and Johnny Born With A Gun.  I’m quite sure about these names because they were so distinctive.  I found them so unusual, so foreign to me.  How could anyone be called something like that?

But back to Martin Michaud.  I didn’t really know him.  I knew his brother, Father Guy Michaud, OMI, much better because I went to a private residential school in Edmonton, College St-Jean, a kind of prep school for the French Canadian boys (mostly) west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.  He worked there as director for a short period of time when I was there.  My parents sent me there hoping that I would become a priest, but as it turns out, I became a sociologist instead.  They tell me that I begged them to send me there because all of my friends were going.  That may be, I really don’t remember.  The point is, my experience at College St-Jean, where I got a superior, classical, education, was much different from Johnny Born With A Tooth’s experience at his residential school.   As I said, I didn’t know Martin Michaud.  But given what I know about Indian residential schools, at least as reported in Shingwauk’s Vision by J.R. Miller and What is the Indian ‘Problem.’ by Noel Dyck, among many other reports, and given the stories of pain and grief experienced by residents of the many residential schools in Canada, I wonder about what kind of a man Martin Michaud was.  Noel Dyck points out that in many cases the people who worked in residential schools or as Indian Agents were people with the best of intentions.  The religious personnel of these schools would have believed that the only way to salvation for the poor little Indian children in their care would have been to rescue them from their savage parents and cultures.  This may have entailed using physical punishment to ‘beat the indian out of the child.’  I don’t know what kind of director Martin Michaud was.  I’d like to know.  Obviously, it’s been many years since the residential school I visited was shut down.  I’m hoping there are survivors who can help me determine want kind of a man my ‘uncle’ was.  If you have any information about Martin Michaud or the residential school he directed, please, I’d like to know.  So far, my research hasn’t gotten me too far.  I’m hoping you can help.