Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School National Historic Site of Canada

Muskowekwan First Nation, Saskatchewan
The Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School (© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada / Alisson Sarkar, 2020)
The Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School
(© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada / Alisson Sarkar, 2020)
Address : Muskowekwan First Nation, Saskatchewan

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2021-04-28
Dates:
  • 1930 to 1931 (Construction)
  • 1886 to 1997 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Roland Guerney  (Architect)
  • Smith Bros and Wilson  (Builder)
Other Name(s):
  • Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School  (Designation Name)
  • Muskowekwan Education Centre (M.E.C.)  (Other Name)
  • Muscowequan Student Residence  (Other Name)
  • Lestock Indian Residential School  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 202-07

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 Muscowequan Indian Residential School National Historic Site of Canada is located on the reserve lands of Muskowekwan First Nation in Treaty 4 Territory (southeastern Saskatchewan). The site is located on the open prairie a short distance from the Muskowekwan First Nation Band Office and the First Nation’s primary settlement, with the tiny village of Lestock just beyond. The three-storey brick building stands on a large property at the end of a tree-lined drive off Highway 15. The area immediately surrounding the building has mature trees, bushes, grass, and access roads, and nearby are several modest buildings and a small residential development. Unmarked graves were discovered behind the school building and this area has since been delineated as a graveyard. Official recognition refers to the building and surrounding grounds of the Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School.

Heritage Value

The Former Muscowequan Indian Residential School was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2021. It was recognized because:

• built in 1930-31 to replace residential school buildings dating to the late 19th century, and open until 1997, this former residential school functioned within the system of residential schooling in Canada. This system was imposed on Indigenous Peoples by the federal government and Christian churches, who worked together in a deliberate effort to assimilate Indigenous children and convert them to Christianity by separating them from their families, cultures, languages, and traditions. Until 1969, it was operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic missionary congregation, and staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (Grey Nuns) and Missionary Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart and of Mary Immaculate. In the 1980s, it came under the administrative control of a local First Nations organization and was among the last residential schools to close in Canada;
• for over a century, children from many First Nations and other Indigenous communities in Treaty 4 territory, across Saskatchewan, and elsewhere in Canada attended this residential school. While there, they faced severe discipline, punishment and abuse, harsh labour, inadequate nutrition, poor living conditions, separation from siblings and cousins attending the school, the attempted suppression of their language and cultures, and isolation from their families and home communities. Many children ran away, some to be later returned by force. Some children died while attending the school. In the face of threats by government officials of fines or imprisonment, Indigenous families engaged in acts of resistance such as refusing to send their children to school, withdrawing them without permission, and writing letters to government officials protesting the poor treatment of their children. The far-reaching effects of the residential school experience continue to have significant impacts on former students, their families, and communities today;
• this three-storey, monumental brick building stands at the end of a long, tree-lined drive in the middle of the open prairie. It was once part of a large school property that included a working farm, outbuildings, playgrounds, skating rinks, and an unmarked graveyard. Built in the Classical Moderne-style and designed by R.G. Orr, Chief Architect for the Department of Indian Affairs, its large size, imposing main entrance, and institutional appearance created feelings of isolation and intimidation in the children who attended school there. It is the only standing residential school in Saskatchewan, and one of the few remaining residential school buildings in Canada;
• located on the lands of Muskowekwan First Nation, this building has been saved from demolition by Muscowequan IRS survivors and community members who see the school as an important witness to the history of residential schools, and wish to repurpose the site into a place of commemoration, healing, cultural learning, and as a site of memory for all Canadians.

Source : Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December 2020.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include: the school’s location on its original lot, with its tree-lined drive from the highway and the viewscapes of open prairie and low hills surrounding the building; the imposing Classical-Moderne style, with its flat roof and severe, unadorned, symmetrical appearance; the E-shaped plan, typical for the time, with a three-storey main elevation, two-storey side wings, and a one-storey wing at the rear; narrow evenly-spaced, windows that run across all sides of the building; the two-storey main entrance portico, centrally located and reached by a staircase; the layout of the main and second floors, with their long hallways with rooms off either side and large rooms (some already divided) in the wings, which reflects the original layout of the building; the large open spaces on the third floor, which functioned as dormitories.