by Bill McLeod
Growing up in Chapleau I heard many stories about the two St, John’s (Anglican) Residential Schools. In times much less politically correct than those of today, people just called them “Indian” Schools. I was born in 1941 and the second school was closed in 1948 and torn down about 1950 so I vaguely remember it. But I was always intrigued when I passed the cemetery which can still be viewed along Highway 129 on what was part of the grounds of the second school. The burial place of David Cheese was the only one marked by a granite tombstone. It took some digging but I was able to find out his story. Thanks to Chapleau Cree the cemetery has been cleaned up and restored.
During the research one of the big surprises for me was the fact that very few Chapleau people knew much, if anything about the two residential schools. Early on in the research process I was discussing the schools with the mayor and deputy mayor of Chapleau. I was astounded to learn that neither knew anything about the first school even though both had been born and raised in Chapleau and had lived there all their lives.
My father and my aunts and my McLeod grandmother were great story tellers and, on more than one occasion, they spoke about the cruelty of George Prewer, the principal from 1913 to 1923. They were pretty shrewd judges of character but were completely fooled by Canon A.J. Vale, the principal from 1927 to 1946. My dad described him as a gentle and caring man – which I later found out not to be the case. My family thought highly enough of Canon Vale to invite him to be one of the three officiants at my grandfather’s funeral when he died in 1940.
What really convinced me to write the book was when I was given an extensive Government of Canada file on the schools by the people who were running the Shingwauk Project at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
In the early part of my life I developed a strong dislike of organized religion in general and St. John’s Anglican Church in Chapleau in particular. It was often difficult to write parts of the book and, at the same time, keep those feelings somewhat in check.
Even when I was a child I was appalled by the cruelty of some of the teachers in the public school. The fact that nobody did anything about that cruelty seems to explain why important people in Chapleau and in the Anglican Church turned a blind eye to the dreadful goings on at the residential schools. On one occasion I wrote a letter to the editor of the Chapleau Express describing some of the stuff that went on at the public school and was dumbfounded at several replies from people who had lived in Chapleau. They were outraged that I had dared to shine a light on the cruelty and sadism in the public school when I was a student there. To them I was the problem for daring to write about it.
I was very surprised to find out that six Anglican Bishops were simply awful people who did nothing to make lives better for the hundreds of children who attended the schools. Three were out and out racists who were not a bit shy about putting their opinions about indigenous people in writing. So I wrote a whole chapter about them.
Writing about racism and hatred in Chapleau was quite upsetting, particularly because of some scurrilous letters and e-mails, several of which were directed at me. After considerable contemplation I described the content of the communications and named the writers.
As I write this, the book has been out for nearly a year. I am deeply appreciative of the scores of embarrassingly complimentary letters, phone calls and personal conversations that have come my way. With a handful of expected exceptions, readers like the book. Many descendants of school survivors have gotten in touch as well as a few survivors themselves. Without exception, the memories of the survivors were as vivid as if the events had occurred yeaterday. That in itself made writing the book well worth the time and effort I put into it.Why I wrote Murder in the Schoolhouse
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