Birtle’s Indian Residential School that can be seen today was built in 1930 and managed by the Presbyterian church. It was one of many such structures built as part of Canada’s aggressive assimilation policy, wherein aboriginal children were sent, forcibly and under strict penalty, to live and learn.
The first school at Birtle with teepees, as photographed in 1908. From Rob McInnes, Manitoba Historical Society.
Seen from the air in 1931, the peak of the Residential School program. From Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba Historical Society
It was hoped that graduates from the schools would forsake their native traditions and blend into Anglocentric Canadian culture with useful job skills. For example, Birtle’s campus included a small model farm for students to get experience in the agriculture industry. Schools such as that at Birtle held a range of normal grade school classes, with the caveat that students were forbidden to speak their tribal languages or otherwise participate in their native culture. The buildings rightly became symbols of gross government ethical issues and extreme emotional, if not culture, abuse.
The front of the school overlooks the town of Birtle, Manitoba. It replaced a circa-1894 building which was a little farther down the hill.
A postcard of Birtle in the 1930s. From Manitoba Historical Society.
The church transferred the school back to the federal government in 1969, shortly before it closed in 1972, about two decades before the last residential school closed. In 2007, Canada formalized a $2 billion package to compensate survivors of the residential schools.