Ron Gosbee, bottom left, and his little sister, Lou, also in the bottom row, third from the left, with other students on the front steps of St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany, Ont. (Ron Gosbee) Ron Gosbee was five and wearing his "Sunday best" when he got in a freighter canoe bound for St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, on the coast of James Bay in northern Ontario.
His mother warned him not to get mud on his shoes.
It was September 1958 and as the son of the local Hudson’s Bay Company post manager, he was headed along the Albany River toward a world few white children in Canada ever glimpsed — the world inside a residential school.
Decades later, St. Anne’s would be exposed as one of the most notorious of the institutions created to assimilate Indigenous children by stripping them of their language and culture.
It was the subject of a sprawling Ontario Provincial Police investigation in the 1990s that found widespread evidence of physical and sexual abuse. School staff used a homemade electric chair for sport and punishment, survivors said.
"I don’t think I remember anything where I was happy," Gosbee, now 65, said of his three years at St. Anne’s.
"I felt that I had to button down anything personal into my mind, lock it away, because it doesn’t apply here and you survive, you’ve got to survive." Saying goodbye
Gosbee attended St. Anne’s along with his two sisters because the school was the only one in the area. His mother had befriended some of the nuns at St. Anne’s and believed her children would get a good education there.
"People say, ‘But you have white skin and they treated you different because you had white skin,’" said Gosbee, who lives in Millbrook, Ont., and works as an information technology consultant.
"I didn’t know that. I am a five-, six-, seven-year-old kid … and if your friends, the little ones beside you, are afraid, you are afraid, too." Donovan and Margaret Gosbee, Ron’s parents, outside a Hudson’s Bay Company store. (Ron Gosbee) He experienced the school’s violence on his first day, after the freighter canoe trip with his siblings and parents.
They were met by a "friendly" nun who took him into a playroom with old toys and a "scratched and tired" rocking horse.
The time for his parents to leave came suddenly. "There were a lot of tears and pulling at my parents and breaking handholds," he said.
After his parents and younger sister left, a different, much sterner nun arrived to take him to the boys dormitory.
Gosbee said he remembers resisting.
"She grabbed me by my left ear and wrenched me," he said. "I fought her by digging in my heels and she stopped and gave me two hard whacks on my bottom that took the feet out from under me." Ron Gosbee of Millbrook, Ont., attended St. Anne’s Indian Residential School from 1958 to 1961. (CBC) He was half-dragged into the dormitory, a large room full of metal-framed beds with white blankets. He was led to a bed near the centre and there he sat and lay for what seemed like the whole morning and afternoon.
"And then the boys started to come in and they were all First Nations and they were looking at me and I remember not being sure how I would be accepted," he said. "There were snickers and pointing but no physical aggression. Some of them just say, ‘Oh, hi.’" No statistics It’s unknown how many non-Indigenous children attended residential schools because Ottawa never kept track of the data.The Crown-Indigenous Relations Department said former students who […]
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