The story of Canada’s residential schools would not be complete without mention of British Columbia’s answer to a small group of Russian immigrants, the Doukhobors. Known as The Sons of Freedom, they were extremely religious, believed in communal living, and wanted no outside interference. They immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s to escape persecution in Russia. By way of Saskatchewan, a large number settled in B.C., primarily around Grand Forks in the Kooteneys.
Wanting to be left alone, they were tolerated for a while. When pressured to send their children to public schools, they became known for their unusual protests. In particular, burning their own homes to the ground, and nude marches. In 1953, by order of a new law passed by B.C.s Social Credit government, making public education mandatory, R.C.M.P. officers entered their villages, removing their children.
Between 1953 and 1959 these children were placed in residential schools in New Denver, B.C. As with the aboriginal children, they were forbidden to speak their language, practice any of their customs, and subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Survivors launched a class action law suit in the late 1990s, the Canadian government wants no part in it, stating it’s a regional matter. In 2004 the government of B.C. issued a “statement of regret” but no formal apology. No compensation has been offered, however construction began on a roadside memorial at New Denver, but was never completed, as there were disagreements between Freedomites, and government on the presentation .
By no means were all Doukhobor immigrants the more radical Sons of Freedom, or Freedomites. There are massive differences between the situation of Aboriginal Schools, and the case of the Sons of Freedom children. The children were still innocent victims, and this story deserves mention.
The Doukhobor pilgrims entering Yorkton, Sask, 1899
The above link is to an article appearing in the National Post