‘A grim project’: B.C. mapmaker creates atlas of residential schools

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A Smithers, B.C., cartographer has mapped out the locations of every former residential school in Canada to create “An Atlas of Indian Residential Schools of Canada.”

“It’s a grim project,” said Morgan Hite, an independent cartography consultant in Smithers, B.C.

“It’s kind of a horrifying subject to map. But you don’t want to lose the memory of where [the residential schools] were located.”

Hite was contracted for the project by the Kamloops Indian Band as part of its work to receive compensation for students who attended B.C. residential schools but did not live at them.

He said when he started, he discovered existing maps were imprecise, particularly in areas where the buildings no longer stand.

Kitimat IRS

An image from the atlas showing the location of a residential school near Kitimat, B.C. (Morgan Hite)

No list of the schools’ latitudes and longitudes could be found, so he set out to build maps from scratch, drawing on archival photographs and letters, as well as surveyor reports.

The result is a diverse set of locations across the country.

“Some schools are in the middle of nowhere. Some are stately buildings in the middle of the city. Some are just gone,” he said.

“Frequently, the graveyards are still there.”

Hite views the mapping project as an important part of truth and reconciliation.

Shingwauk Residential School

Shingwauk Hall, the site of the Shingwauk Residential School, is now the central building of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Fungus Guy)

“I have a friend who’s a cartographer who maps the death camps of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust … it’s not an exactly comparable situation [but] you really want to know where these schools were. They’re part of local memory and they’re part of national memory. It can easily be lost.”

Hite has made the maps publicly available online, and said as he completed his work he found he wanted to visit the sites themselves and would like plaques to be created, so people know what happened, even if the buildings are gone.

“So much memory resides in the landscape, even if the building is no longer there.”


Listen to an interview with Hite.

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‘A grim project’: B.C. mapmaker creates atlas of residential schools

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