Vandalized residential school memorial brings communities together in B.C.

Students from Queen Mary Elementary School in North Vancouver visit a recently re-dedicated memorial, which bears the names of 600 former residential school students. (Submitted photo - The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

By The B.C. Catholic staff

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – When a First Nations memorial at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary in North Vancouver, B.C. was vandalized in the winter, the incident could have provided more fuel for ongoing residential school tensions that have spread across Canada since last summer.

Instead, the vandalism has brought various communities together to celebrate the restoration of the memorial with messages of good will.

A June 17, 2022 re-dedication ceremony near the site of the former St. Paul’s residential School was attended by residential school survivors and elders, students, municipal leaders and representatives of St. Thomas Aquinas who gathered to see the two seven-foot-high cedar carvings returned to their concrete base.

The memorial, which bears the names of 600 former students, along with dates and native communities they came from, was created in 2014 in time for National Aboriginal Day, June 21. Funded by local donations, it was placed in the front garden of what used to be the Convent of the Child Jesus.

In January someone vandalized the memorial, ripping an arm from one of the carvings and breaking glass around the site.

Jason Nahanee, who carved the memorial statues, Barb Wyss, chair of the Eslahn Social Society who spearheaded the memorial project., and Deacon Rennie Nahanee, who worked with Wyss to plan the memorial and with the Archdiocese of Vancouver to have it placed on the property of St. Thomas More Regional Secondary, former site of St. Paul’s Indian Residential school. (Submitted photo – The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

Among the many speakers at the ceremony were Squamish Nation spokespersons Wilson Williams and Stewart Gonzales. Appreciation was offered for the support shown for the memorial, including by STA students who responded to the vandalism by helping to find broken pieces of the memorial.

Artist Jason Nahanee, a residential school student who spent a year carving the statues, worked with family members on their restoration.

The Archdiocese of Vancouver was represented by Sean Rodrigues, director of construction and property renewal, Ryan Barata, Project Manager for RCAV Property and Infrastructure, and Sister Denece Billesberger, SEJ, of the Sisters’ Association of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

Squamish Nation singers at the recent re-dedication of the vandalized memorial. (Submitted photo – The B.C. Catholic, CCN)


Jason Nahanee, in white regalia, with sons Ray Natroro in blue and Nathan Nahanee in black, watch as cedar boughs are used to bless a vandalized residential school memorial during a re-dedication ceremony at the former residential school site. (Submitted photos – The B.C. Catholic, CCN)