The remote location of the island drew comparisons to Alcatraz, a former federal prison located on an island off the coast of San Francisco. Several children drowned trying to escape the school. Another student was reported to have committed suicide in 1966, although family members of the student, Richard Thomas, said in a 1996 Vancouver Province article that he may have been murdered.
In the 1930’s, doctors conducted medical experiments on children at the school, according to the archives of the Royal British Columbia Museum
Deaths from disease were common at residential schools. In 1908, the Kuper Island school principal described the school as “unsanitary” and “ruinous,” according to the commission. An 1896 survey reported that of 264 former students at Kuper Island, 107 of them had died.
Bishop Gary Gordon of the Diocese of Victoria said in a June 3 statement that the diocese’s archival records related to the Kuper Island and Christie residential schools had previously been forwarded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated between 2008 and 2015.
Speaking on July 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Kuper Island discoveries “only deepen the pain that families, survivors and all Indigenous Peoples and communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known.”
The announcement at Kuper Island follows other recent discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools.
In May, the remains of 215 children were found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. In June, local Indigenous leaders announced that 751 unmarked graves were discovered at the site of the former Catholic-run Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. In July, 182 more unmarked graves were announced to have been discovered at the site of the former St. Eugene’s Mission School in British Columbia.
More than two-thirds of the residential schools in Canada were run by Catholics or members of Catholic religious orders.
A number of Catholic and Christian churches in Canada - many of them on tribal lands - have been found ablaze in recent weeks in fires deemed either “suspicious” or cases of arson. Some Indigenous leaders have condemned the fires as unacceptable reactions to the discoveries of unmarked graves at former Catholic-run institutions.
Two more Canadian Catholic churches were destroyed in fires last week, and police have already charged a juvenile with arson in one of the burnings.
On Thursday, Holy Trinity Catholic Church near Redberry Lake, Saskatchewan was reported to be on fire. The historically Polish parish was no longer active, and the church building was sold to a local family in 2020.
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Firefighters arrived too late to save the church building, but nobody was reported to be hurt in the fire. The burning was declared “suspicious” by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as there were no signs of fire in the grass surrounding the building.
On Friday, a former Catholic church on Kehewin Cree Nation near Bonnyville, Alberta was destroyed by arson. The church, which was called Our Lady of Mercy, was vacant and had been set to be demolished. Nobody was injured in the fire.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged a youth with arson. The person’s name was not released to the media under the provisions of Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, but the suspect is set to appear in court in September.
Bishop Stephen Hero of Prince Albert said that the burning of Holy Trinity church was a “terrible, shocking thing,” and added that there “are a lot of good memories” at the former church.
“So even if the church hasn't been used as a parish for a long time, or for worship, it still has a lot of associations,” said Bishop Hero.
Since the Our Lady of Mercy church building was declared condemned, Masses have been offered at the community recreation center on Kehewin Cree Nation.