A friend of mine does some excellent writing on her personal blog about life and growing up in Northwestern Ontario. A few years ago, I confirmed her approval to feature a couple of her initial posts on my blog. I am finally getting around to it! I grew up in the same township as “Little Monik”. It was a “township” at the time, but the area eventually became a part of the new boundaries of Kenora when it became an official city instead of a town. I still think of the area as the small town I grew up in.

This area of Kenora has been mentioned in the news more lately since Gord Downie’s Secret Path advocacy project. I got thinking again about Monik’s posts about living near “CJ School”, which we called it back then. She wrote about some of her memories and reflections in two parts:

CJ School Part I

CJ School Part II

My family also lived within walking distance of “CJ”. The children in our area attended elementary school for several years in the building adjacent to Cecilia Jeffrey Residence. I attended for Grades 1 through 5 together with a number of children who were living in the CJ residence during that time (late 60s/early 70s). I also had friendships with a few of the girls that Monik had mentioned. We played at school and occasionally in the community in the evenings. I remember a few of my classmates being invited into the residence to see their rooms. I am not sure why a number of children still lived at the residence during that time. I think they returned to live with their families on the reserve in the summertime, but I am not really sure. Through researching and reading a few documents online, I found closure dates for the residence ranging from 1960 through 1976. Monik mentioned the closure date as 1974 in her post. Maybe there were different dates for the residence and the school building itself and also a transition period. CJ residence was run by the Presbyterian Church. My report cards from the time have “The Kenora Board of Education” listed.

I don’t recall questioning much about why the children had to live at the residence and attend school there. As a child, I was only aware of this one residential school in our small world that was Kenora. I think I understood that their parents lived far away on reserves – but I didn’t know very much about reserves. As a child, I think I just accepted this as the way their children would be able to attend school. This would have been the time during the final years of First Nations children living in these residences in Canada. I don’t recall being aware of the previous history of residential schools at the time. I don’t think I was told much about it at age 6 or 10 during those years at “CJ School Block”.

In the summers, I remember attending large pow-wows hosted on the residential site. The experience was rich for the senses for sure. I still remember much about the site back then – the playground, the field, the baseball diamond and the forested area that separated it from Round Lake.  I visited the site just over a year ago.  An office building sits where the school had been – I think it is the same building. I took this picture of the monument that is now on the site where the residence building used to be:

I also located it on Google Maps as, “Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School Memorial Park”.

I just wanted to write down a bit about this time during my childhood – a statement that Monik wrote in a reply on her second post prompted me:

 Thanks, that was a tough one to write. Strange how my memory seems to get better when I write it out and then think about it more… I think it’s because at first I’m just remembering what the “little me” could process, but then on reflection I can understand more of what else was happening. Hindsight is a new perspective.”

I am still learning, listening, reflecting, questioning, and filling in the gaps too.  It is like we lived so close, and yet so far away…

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