Coqualeetza Indian Residential School

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Coqualeetza Indian Residential School

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Dates of existence

1894 - 1940


Coqualeetza was the largest residential school in the province, and opened on April 26, 1894. There had been a school for First Nations children on the site prior to the building of the Industrial School, but it was largely a day school and attendance was sporadic, often dependent on whether or not Sto:lo families were traveling for work at the time. Previous schools had been funded by missionary groups, but the Industrial School received partial government funding. When the school opened, 63 children were in attendance.

In 1906, a primary classroom burned and was not replaced. Four years later, the government funded two tent dormitories, one of which was to be used as a primary classroom until the old one was replaced. The tents were seen to prevent tuberculosis and provide a healthier atmosphere for children.

Coqualeetza operated a small farm, with 20 acres under cultivation at the time of opening. This had expanded by another 70 acres in 1899, when the Mission Board purchased additional land and made it available to the school through a lease. The farm was to provide the school with food for the local market, and in 1903 the land yielded approximately 600 pounds of small fruits, 200 pounds of rhubarb, and other vegetables, orchard fruits, and grains. Cows and hogs were also raised. It was this farm produce, as well as products made by the students, that supplemented the government grant and formed part of the operational budget.

Coqualeetza is known for its somewhat unusual curriculum, which differed from other residential schools of the time. Both boys and girls were taught the domestic arts, and boys were taught blacksmithing, shoe repair, and carpentry. Children attended grades 1 through 6, but a number also sat the exams for high school, and an evening book-keeping course was offered.

By 1920, the student population had risen to 137 children, and the old buildings were woefully inadequate, despite additions and extra tent dormitories. The old building was demolished and by 1924 a new institute opened with space for 200 pupils. The principal had pressed for semi-private bedrooms and sitting rooms for older students, in order to provide a European sense of home. Over 800 pieces of First Nations art work were displayed in the halls, and principal George Raley introduced wood carving classes for boys and basket weaving for girls. This program was expanded by Raley’s successor, R C Scott, who assumed the role in 1934. Cowichan sweater production was also added and the boys were encouraged to make miniature totem poles.
Unlike other schools, the administration at Coqualeetza tended to resort more to suspension of privileges rather than corporal punishment, although incidents did occur.

In 1939, the Industrial School was put under the control of federal government, who planned to convert it into a sanatorium to treat tuberculosis cases amongst the Aboriginal population. The government built a school for 200 pupils at Alberni and improved facilities at other locations. The school closed in June 1940 and most students returned to their own communities. Many of the teachers took up work at the Alberni institution.


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Created by: Dennis Duffy.

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