Former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School National Historic Site of Canada

Portage La Prairie, Manitoba
View of the front of the Former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School (© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada)
View of the front of the building
(© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada)
Address : 5000 Crescent Road West, Portage La Prairie, Manitoba

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2020-07-23
  • 1914 to 1915 (Construction)

Other Name(s):
  • Former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School  (Designation Name)
  • The Rufus Prince Building  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 2019-24

Description of Historic Place

Warning: Reading about Residential Schools might be triggering or distressing. A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former Residential School students and their families. Please call the Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 if you or someone you know is triggered while reading the content on this website.

The Former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School National Historic Site of Canada is a large, three-storey brick building located on Keeshkeemaquah Reserve, part of the reserve lands of Long Plain First Nation, just outside the small city of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. It was designed in an imposing hybrid Neo-Italianate style that was one of several historical styles used for residential schools during this time period. The former school sits on a treed lot and is set back from a relatively quiet road, with a small residential development and other buildings owned by the First Nation nearby, and farmland and Crescent Lake beyond. The school’s farmland once extended far beyond these boundaries. The formal recognition refers to the area that encompasses the current boundaries of the lot, essentially the treed lot surrounding the school.

Heritage Value

The Former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2020. It is recognized because:
• built in 1914–1915, the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School is a rare surviving example of Indian Residential Schools established across Canada. Managed by the Presbyterian and later United Church, the school functioned within the system of residential schooling in Canada, whereby the federal government and Christian churches worked together in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children, convert them to Christianity, and isolate them from their families, cultures, languages, and traditions;
• children who were sent to the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School came from many First Nations and other Indigenous communities within Manitoba and elsewhere. There, they faced severe discipline and abuse, harsh labour, emotional neglect, the attempted suppression of their language and cultures, and isolation from their families and communities. Many children ran away, some to be later returned by force, and others engaged in acts of resistance such as secretly speaking in their own languages. The experiences of survivors of the Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School and other residential schools have affected members of these First Nations for generations;
• the design of this three-storey building is typical of Indian Residential Schools built in the early 20th century and reflects the norms of Euro-Canadian school design. Its imposing size, confining and institutional configuration, and isolated site generated feelings of dislocation, intimidation, and fear in the Indigenous children who lived there. The building was not culturally appropriate for children who were accustomed to living in familiar, open environments where they were free to explore.

The school closed in 1975 and six years later, the building and its surrounding lands were transferred to Long Plain First Nation to fulfill part of their treaty land entitlement. Since that time, the school has been readapted by the First Nation to serve a number of community purposes, and has been given new meaning by the community as a site of commemoration and resilience that keeps the legacy of the residential school era alive and educates the public.

The former residential school’s interior and exterior retain many features original to the time when it functioned as a school and residence however the cupola above the front entrance, and the verandahs at the rear of the building have been removed. In the 1980s, the school became the property of Long Plain First Nation and has been readapted for various community uses. This school building is valued as a site of resilience and part of it is dedicated to a museum documenting its history.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December 2019.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage value of this site include: its location on its original lot, with mature trees, grassed lawns, and paved/gravel roads; the u-shaped drive, part of the building’s original landscape design; the brick gateposts, original to the building, that mark the drive’s access points to Crescent Road West; the wrought iron fence, which once circled the lot and still exists at the end of the lot that runs alongside the road; the imposing, three-storey, brick, hybrid Neo-Italianate style; the H-shaped plan, typical for the time, with its prominent, central projecting entrance pavilion, further emphasized by a large triangular pediment containing a smaller semi-circular window, and long side wings running perpendicular to the main elevation on the left (south) and right (north) sides of the building, with dormer windows that break the roofline at attic level; the side entrances that give access to the south and north wings of the building, once the separate entrances for male and female students; the evenly-spaced, narrow windows that run across all sides of the building; the covered main entrance, which is reached by an exterior staircase rising to a tall covered porch supported by narrow columns; the basic layout of the main and second floors, with their long hallways with rooms off either side and large spaces (some already divided) in the wings, which reflects the original layout of the building when it was functioning as a school; the staircases at either end of the building, used separately by boys and girls to access their dormitories on the upper floor, their classrooms and recreation rooms on the main floor, and their washrooms and dining room in the basement.