Remembering the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School: 1898 to 1958
St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in North Vancouver opened more than 60 years ago and stands on the site of the only Indian Residential School in the Metro Vancouver area.
Built in 1898, the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School was a three-storey, wood-frame structure and began as the first school for First Nations people on the North Shore. The Department of Indian Affairs took over the school in 1900 and operated it as a residential school until 1958. It was one of 28 Indian Residential Schools in BC.
Photographs indicate that at any given time, approximately 75 students were in the school. Over six decades, more than 2,000 children from the surrounding Squamish Nation reserves in the Lower Mainland including the Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Nations were forced to attend the school. Some lived at the school, while others were at the school during the day and went home at night. Canadian federal legislation required all First Nations children – aged 7 to 16 – to be sent to residential schools.
Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School closed in 1958 and was demolished a year later because of fire safety concerns. The land was handed over to the Archdiocese of Vancouver for construction of St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School.
A monument, dedicated in 2014, honours the survivors of the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School. Designed by Jason Nahanee, a survivor of the school, the memorial is a piece Squamish Nation art. The concrete base has the names of those who attended the school. A red cedar carving depicting two children sits on top of the concrete base. The monument is located in front of the convent on West Sixth Street. The North Vancouver School District now uses the memorial as a learning tool for students. The monument was created in collaboration between the Squamish Nation, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Sisters of the Child Jesus, the Assembly of First Nations and the City of North Vancouver.
First Nations students began attending St. Thomas Aquinas in 1959 and students from the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations continue to be part of the school today.