One day in 1970, Phillip Swain and Roderick Taypaywaykejick escaped St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont. Their plan was to walk home to Grassy Narrows First Nation, an 85-km trek. They arrived in coffins instead.


One of thousands of stories. All told, the federal government spent more than a century snatching Indigenous children from their families and placing them in church-run schools, where assimilation, not education, was the primary goal. More than 3,200 kids died inside those hellish institutions, and hundreds of the dead remain unidentified, their names never properly recorded.


For Maclean's Magazine.

Grassy Narrows has long been a heartbreaking place, a reserve so ravaged that it’s difficult to diagnose the beginning of its breakdown. Many point to the mid-1960s, when Ottawa convinced the band to relocate from its ancestral land into prefab houses so
Grassy Narrows has long been a heartbreaking place, a reserve so ravaged that it’s difficult to diagnose the beginning of its breakdown. Many point to the mid-1960s, when Ottawa convinced the band to relocate from its ancestral land into prefab houses so close together—and linked to a Kenora-bound road—that it forever disrupted the community’s roots as hunters and gatherers.
info
×
“I will never forget that,” says Steve Fobister, 64, a member of the search team who found the boys frozen to death. “James picked up his son and stood him up—it was like standing up a board, he was so stiff—and he brushed the snow off his body. He was cr

“I will never forget that,” says Steve Fobister, 64, a member of the search team who found the boys frozen to death. “James picked up his son and stood him up—it was like standing up a board, he was so stiff—and he brushed the snow off his body. He was crying uncontrollably. Even the police, they couldn’t hold back their tears.”

info
×
The rock where Roderick’s body was found. “There it is,” says Steve Fobister, a member of the search, pointing out the window. Only a few metres from the dirt road, but Steve is too rickety to reach it anymore.
The rock where Roderick’s body was found. “There it is,” says Steve Fobister, a member of the search, pointing out the window. Only a few metres from the dirt road, but Steve is too rickety to reach it anymore.
info
×
More than 3,200 kids died inside residential schools, and hundreds of the dead remain unidentified, their names never properly recorded.
More than 3,200 kids died inside residential schools, and hundreds of the dead remain unidentified, their names never properly recorded.
info
×
Clifford Swain was forced to return to St. Mary’s after his brothers death, but the pain and the anger overwhelmed him. No one ever apologized to his face. And although he had no idea they were going to run away—not the slightest clue—he was still cripple

Clifford Swain was forced to return to St. Mary’s after his brothers death, but the pain and the anger overwhelmed him. No one ever apologized to his face. And although he had no idea they were going to run away—not the slightest clue—he was still crippled with guilt for not protecting him. “I wish I could turn back the clock,” he says. “I should have done something. I do feel it was my responsibility to look after him.”

info
×
What remains of St. Mary’s Indian Residential School on the outskirts of Kenora.
What remains of St. Mary’s Indian Residential School on the outskirts of Kenora.
info
×
Douglas Swain was five years old at his brothers funeral. He is 51 now. “I still remember like it was yesterday,” he says, sitting at his kitchen table in Grassy Narrows. “As a little kid, I just wanted to get inside that little casket and try to get him

Douglas Swain was five years old at his brothers funeral. He is 51 now. “I still remember like it was yesterday,” he says, sitting at his kitchen table in Grassy Narrows. “As a little kid, I just wanted to get inside that little casket and try to get him out.”

info
×
In the fall of 1970, two boys ran away from the St. Mary's residential school. Their plan was to walk home to Grassy Narrows First Nation, an 85-km trek. They froze to death and arrived in coffins instead. To the right is Jones Road, the winding route to
In the fall of 1970, two boys ran away from the St. Mary's residential school. Their plan was to walk home to Grassy Narrows First Nation, an 85-km trek. They froze to death and arrived in coffins instead. To the right is Jones Road, the winding route to Grassy Narrows; to the left is Lount Lake Road, the wrong way. The boys veered left.
info
×
Canadians should know about my brother and Phillip,” says Catherine Taypaywaykejick, Roderick’s sister, who was 15—and a fellow student at St. Mary’s—when the boys died. “I hope people know what we went through, and that some survivors are still here.”
Canadians should know about my brother and Phillip,” says Catherine Taypaywaykejick, Roderick’s sister, who was 15—and a fellow student at St. Mary’s—when the boys died. “I hope people know what we went through, and that some survivors are still here.”
info
×
Using Format