The former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School in Manitoba
Built in 1914-1915, the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School is located on Keeshkeemaquah Reserve, part of the reserve lands of Long Plain First Nation. This building was nominated for designation by Long Plain First Nation. Parks Canada and Long Plain First Nation worked collaboratively to identify the historic values of this former residential school, and the report on the building prepared for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board was co-authored by members of the First Nation and Parks Canada.
This large, three-storey brick building is a rare surviving example of residential schools that were established across Canada. It functioned within the residential school system whereby the federal government and certain churches and religious organizations worked together to assimilate Indigenous children as part of a broad set of efforts to destroy Indigenous cultures and identities and suppress Indigenous histories.
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 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. It is now known as the Rufus Price Building, named for a survivor of Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School who served in the Second World War and later became chief of Long Plain First Nation and vice-president of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. The building 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.