This is not a happy book. Two hurtful themes run through it. One is the cruel treatment of the children who attended both of the Chapleau residential schools. They were ill fed, ill clothed and ill shod and were severely beaten for the most trivial of offenses. They spent less than one third of the time in the classroom than their counterparts in the Ontario elementary school systems and, at the end of the term in which they turned sixteen, they were unceremoniously thrown out. Grade Seven and Eight boys were forced to go into the bush to cut wood which the principal made them peddle to the citizens of Chapleau. The second theme is the deliberate religious, cultural, linguistic and familial genocide perpetrated on all of the pupils – what the Federal Government described as “taking the “Indian” out of them".
There are numerous villains in the book, the worst of whom was Rev. Canon George Prewer, the school principal from 1913 to 1923. A cruel sadist, he seemed to derive great pleasure from beating and humiliating innocent and defenseless children.
There were actually two residential schools. The first, situated on one side of the town of Chapleau, operated from 1907 to 1921 and accommodated about forty children. The second, on the other side of the town, had beds for about one hundred students. It operated from 1921 until it closed in 1948.
Although the records are incomplete, it is reasonable to conclude that over one hundred students died while enrolled in the schools. Some are buried in a hidden cemetery on the grounds of the first school and over twenty in the cemetery on the grounds of the second school. The cause of many of the deaths was tuberculosis.
Chapter five describes six bad Anglican Bishops. Three were out and out racists who penned some dreadful comments about Chapleau area Indigenous people. Two more just turned a blind eye to what was going on at the schools. The sixth also ignored the problem and, in addition, he was a criminal who transferred one of his clergy who was a pedophile from one parish to another instead of informing the police.
Chapter six profiles some of the movers and shakers who played significant roles in the history of the schools and in the wider community of Chapleau. The first is Duncan Campbell Scott, the federal bureaucrat in charge of all of the residential schools. He was a dreadful man who was named by the magazine The Beaver as one of Canada’s worst citizens. The second is George B. Nicholson, long time reeve of Chapleau and thrice elected as the Member of Parliament for Algoma East. Numbers three, four and five are Chapleau Indian Agents William McLeod, Thomas Godfrey and Fred Matters. Number seven is Dr. J.J. Sheahan, the revered Chapleau physician who provided medical care for the students. Number eight is Rev. Canon Alfred J. Vale, principal of the second school from 1926 to 1947. He was not as vicious as George Prewer, but he too wasn’t shy about administering unnecessary and cruel beatings.
At the risk of being accused of being too personal, I wrote a whole chapter about William McLeod, my grandfather, who was the Chapleau Indian Agent from 1913 to 1916. I obtained a file of about one hundred letters written to him by various officials in the Federal Department of Indian Affairs. Taken together, the letters paint a vivid picture of the role of an Indian Agent in the early part of the twentieth century. The most appalling of the letters was a reprimand he received for arranging the burial of a residential school student. He paid the funeral home $35.00 and submitted the bill to Ottawa. He was quickly told never to pay any more than $15.00 for the burial of an Indian - $18.00 tops. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain correspondence between the Department of Indian Affairs and the other Indian Agents.
The book has few heroes but some stand out. Fed up with how George Prewer was treating their children, some parents banded together and somehow engaged the services of Andrew Chisholm a London, Ontario, lawyer. Chisholm deposed the parents of some of the abused children, sent the depositions to Ottawa and Prewer was finally sent packing.
Chapters 17 and 18 deal with racism and bigotry in Chapleau and reveal comments and actions of the high school principal, a high profile dentist and a thoughtless and unwarranted prosecution of my father by a local game warden.
Chapter 19 outlines the role of the railroad school cars and how they could have been a better educational alternative for Indigenous children than the residential schools.
Near the end of the book I also listed the names and some of the hometowns of over 500 children who attended the schools.
Chapter 1 - Rev. George and Mary Vincent Prewer
Chapter 2 - The First Residential School
Chapter 3 - The Second Residential School
Chapter 4 - Who’s the Boss?
Chapter 5 - Six bad Bishops
Chapter 6 - Some Movers and Shakers
Chapter 7 - Letters to William McLeod, Chapleau Indian Agent
Chapter 8 - George Prewer: The Beginning of the End
Chapter 9 - Child Abuse in the Chapleau Public School
Chapter 10 - The Agricultural Dimension
Chapter 11 - Fire, Water, Refrigeration and “Inspections”
Chapter 12 - The Missionary Society Gets Involved
Chapter 13 - Runaways, Keepaways and a Takeaway Try
Chapter 14 - Health, Eyes and Teeth
Chapter 15 - Deaths and Burials
Chapter 16 - The School Closes
Chapter 17 - Racism, Bigotry, Intolerance and Misogyny
Chapter 18 - Vince Crichton and Dr. William R. Pellow
Chapter 19 - The Railway School Cars
Chapter 20 - Book Reviews
Chapter 21 - Partial List of the Children Who Attended the Two Schools
Chapter 22 - Pot Pourri
Bill McLeod Bio
William E. “Bill” McLeod is a retired Community College business professor.
He has published extensively in the fields of family finance and life insurance.
His latest book is about the Chapleau Residential Schools