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The Kuper Island Residential School on Penelakut Island near Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia opened in 1890 and operated to approximately 1975. It was run by the Roman Catholic Church although it was primarily funded by the Department of Indian Affairs. Its mission was to provide manual and domestic training for Indigenous children of the Cowichan Indian Agency and adjacent Coast Salish groups. The school was run first by the Diocese of Victoria with Rev. G. Donekele as principal from 1890 to February 1907. He was replaced by P. Claessen and W. Lemmens of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary (Montfort Missionaries). By 1957 the school was being run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI).
When the school officially opened in 1890, there were 17 boys in attendance, but the student population would number approximately 171 between 1890 and 1906. By 1920, 320 children had attended the school. The school was designed to be only for male students, but in 1891 12 females registered and the school continued to be co-educational.
Children who went to the residential school were isolated from their community, and frequently forcibly taken from their families. They were forbidden from speaking their language at the school, suffered neglect, were underfed, and often faced sexual, physical and mental abuse. Approximately a third of students died from tuberculosis. Students set fire to the school in 1896 when holidays were cancelled. A survey carried out in that year showed that of 264 former students 107 were dead. In one case, a student was whipped and placed in solitary confinement for taking apples. In the 1930’s, doctors undertook medical experiments on children. Several children drowned trying to escape by swimming across to Vancouver Island, or floating logs across the water, and another student committed suicide in 1966.
The federal government took over the administration of the school in 1969 and closed it between 1975-1978; the building itself was demolished in the 1980s. In 1995 a former employee plead guilty to three charges of indecent assault and gross indecency. Examples of Kuper Island Residential School survivor testimony can be found in the report "The Survivors Speak: a report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada" (2015), and information sources about residential school history in British Columbia are being collated by the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia.
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