Facts about the former Alberta residential school site Pope Francis plans to visit

The Vatican has provided more details on Pope Francis’ planned visit to Canada next month. The itinerary includes a stop at the site of a former residential school in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.

Here are some facts about the Ermineskin Indian Residential School:

The school operated in what was then known as Hobbema, Alta., from 1895 to 1975. The community was renamed Maskwacis in 2014.

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It was one of the largest residential schools in Canada.

Overcrowding and illness were problems in the school’s early years. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has recorded the deaths of 15 students at the school during its operation. In 1903, three children died of tuberculosis, while a government survey in the 1920s concluded that 50 per cent of the students were infected with the disease.

Survivors from the school told the Truth and Reconciliation commission they were physically abused for speaking their first language and for practising their traditional ceremonies. One survivor said she was victimized by staff and students.

The federal government assumed complete responsibility for the facility in 1969.

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The residence closed in the early 1970s and the educational facilities were transferred to the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

The First Nation started conducting a survey of the former school site using ground-penetrating radar last summer in a search for potential unmarked graves.

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The papal visit is set to start in Edmonton on July 24 and end in Iqaluit on July 29. It is to include public and private events with an emphasis on Indigenous participation.

Pope Francis is expected to deliver an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during the journey to Canada.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on July 24 to a brief ceremony at the airport. The next day he is set to join survivors at the Ermineskin Indian Residential School.

Francis is also scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in downtown Edmonton, on July 25. The church was recently restored after a significant fire in 2020.

The following day, Francis is scheduled to attend a large mass at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Edmonton Elks CFL football team. It is to be open to the public and the facility can hold about 65,000 people.

The pontiff is to go to Lac Ste. Anne that evening where a large pilgrimage takes place each year.

The Pope is next scheduled to travel to Quebec City on July 27.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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