Three additional Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools




Our update (November 3, 2022) identifies 3 additional Indian Residential Schools managed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates). Recently the Canadian government disclosed that no School Narratives had been prepared for these institutions – though Bilingual One-Page Summaries were available.

We have pulled together some background information on these 3 institutions from various sources.

Lac La Biche (aka Notre Dame des Victoires), 1863-1898

Lac La Biche, Alberta

Bilingual One-Page Summary

“The physical development of the new Mission was not a simple matter. Buildings were put up directly in relation with its proselytizing activities, number and needs of its residents and the expansion of its farm.

“As was the case at most North West missions, missionaries at Lac La Biche quickly set out to provide basic education to the children of local residents. “From the outset,” according to a leading historian of Canadian missions, “education had been regarded as an indispensable adjunct to Indian mission.” The Mission would not only teach the Gospel through direct instruction and practical skills through example, but would also provide training in the basic a civilization so that native and Métis children might assimilate more easily into that on-rushing world.

“The first step in that direction came about when Tissot and Maissoneuve started a residential school for the local children. Almost nothing is known about the facility and, for reasons unknown, it failed. Shortly thereafter, the priests, with the able assistance of their carpenter, Brother Patrick Bowes, started work on a large house that would eventually accommodate a party of Sisters of Charity, or Grey Nuns as they were more commonly known. It is no coincidence that construction such a facility came on the heels of a decision by Grey Nuns to enter into a permanent association with the Oblates to provide teaching, medical and charitable services at all major Oblate centers.

“The convent rose slowly, with the two priests working under the instruction of Brother Bowes. By the summer of 1859, half of the masonry work on this stone house completed, and 18 months later virtually all of interior finishing had been done. When completed, in the early winter of 1862, the structure was two stories in height, and approximately 30 by 50 feet in size. Although direct evidence is lacking, it must also have in these years that Father Tissot, who was experienced in such matters, set up the lime kiln at the mission, for lime would have been required in the mortar and interior plaster of the convent.

“The convent was occupied immediately upon the arrival of three Grey Nuns in May of 1862. Differences between Father Tissot and the Sister Superior precluded the immediate opening of a school at the Mission, but by 1864, the Sisters were instructing 53 pupils. The number of pupils in attendance fluctuated according the whim of their parents who did not look kindly upon the absence of their children and repeatedly withdrew them from the school.

“Between 1865 and 1870, for example, only seven girls and eight boys resided at the Mission and none stayed longer than a few months. This must have been very disappointing to them for, as Brother Bowes assessed it, education “is one of the principal means available to our holy religion to take root in this uncivilized world.” The Sisters, realizing that their best hope for enrolment stability in the classroom lay with orphans and sick children, soon established an orphanage at the Mission. Thereafter, the convent functioned as a residential school, orphanage, chapel and the Mission’s main refectory. Not only did the Sisters provide all the labor needed to perform these duties, they also accepted responsibility for all the cooking, baking, washing and ironing and assisted with farm husbandry, sowing and harvesting as required.

“While the convent was the most important building to be erected in these early years, it was certainly not the only one. Neither the original house built by Father Remas nor the hastily-erected house that Tissot and Maissoneuve had put up before the winter of 1855-86 was suitable for long-term clerical accommodation, and in 1858, Brother Bowes built a rectory. Such a facility was greatly needed, for in addition to the two priests and one lay brother, the Mission housed three workmen – presumable permanent assistants – who were described merely as ‘jeunes gens.’”

~ Source:

“In the mid-nineteenth century, the Hudson’s Bay Company, facing stiff competition from the growing ranks of free traders, decided to expand its northern operations and established a new trading post at Lac La Biche in 1853. Recognizing the post’s strategic access to both the Churchill and Mackenzie drainage basins and appreciating the wealth of proselytizing opportunities afforded by the area’s mixed population of Metis, Indigenous, and Euro-Canadians, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate founded the Notre-Dame des Victoires mission at Lac La Biche the same year. Shortly after the founding of Notre-Dame des Victoires, concerns about the feasibility of the site and the corrupting influences of the trading post prompted the Oblates to relocate the mission to its present site on the south shore of Lac La Biche.

“Over the following decades, the Lac La Biche Mission Site would become the heart of the Oblates’ territory in the province’s north, a vital entrepot integrated into a vast river and land transportation network. The Mission’s importance to Oblate operations was reflected in its selection as the Episcopal seat of Bishop Henri Faraud of the Athabasca District between 1877 and 1889.”

~ Source:

Also – CBC

St. Augustine (aka Smoky River), 1898-1908

Smoky River, Alberta

Official OMI website lists St. Augustine as theirs

  • checked with Ms. Goulet at the Peace River Museum

Bilingual One-Page Summary (no School Narrative yet)


“St. Augustine Mission School. St. Augustine Mission was considered to be a
unique situation. Although, Schedule “F” of the Settlement Agreement listed “St.
Augustine (“Smoky River)” as a recognized institution, the IRS closed in 1907
and was succeeded by the St. Augustine Mission School, which was operated
by the Roman Catholic Church as a private school. Canada did not consider the
St. Augustine Mission School to be an IRS, and the supervising Court
eventually sided with Canada. All the applicants who claimed the CEP for
residing at “St. Augustine” after 1907 received the following decision:
The information provided by the applicant indicates he/she resided at St.
Augustine Mission School. However, St. Augustine Mission School is not
recognized as an Indian residential school in the period requested on
appeal. There is an institution on the list of recognized Indian residential
schools named St. Augustine (Smoky River). This institution was an Indian
residential school until 1907. From 1907 to 1951, St. Augustine Mission
School was operated by the Roman Catholic Church as a private boarding
and day school. Former students who resided at the institution during
those years are not eligible to receive the CEP.”


Also – local newspaper w great photo and map

Also – APTN

Also – CBC

St. Joseph’s (aka Dunbow; High River), 1884-1922

High River, Alberta

Bilingual One-Page History (no School Narrative yet)

Also – Globe and Mail:

“Lucie Sinclair. Lizzie Devins. Charles Godin. Esther Wolf. Louisa Wolf.

“One by one, the students read aloud the names of children buried in this grassland graveyard beside a dirt road marked only by two plaques erected by the government of Alberta. Then they released butterflies in the children’s honour.

“In some cases, there was no name to read. Enrolment records from Dunbow Industrial School, which operated just south of Calgary from 1884 until 1922, when Ottawa closed it in favour of residential schools, are scant. But the names weren’t their birth names anyway. They were the Christian names (along with numbers) given to aboriginal children taken from their families for assimilation into Canada’s burgeoning colonial society. Of the 430 students trained here, 73 died due to what the province called ‘poor living conditions and health care.’

“For a group of 32 young students from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, a private school in Okotoks, Alta., a field trip to this sacred place on Wednesday was a poignant step back in time.

“‘It’s a very interesting site just because it’s sad that there’s nothing left any more, but there are still all the memories that are here,’ 12-year-old Alice Yates said.

“As part of her school’s Humanitarian Outreach Program, this visit was the conclusion to a year of studying the challenges facing aboriginal people around the world, but also in their own backyard. Teaching about residential schools is included in many school curriculums across the country. In Alberta, the topic is mandatory at the Grade 10 level, but arises elsewhere in the curriculum. In British Columbia, it is woven through several courses in Grades 6 through 12, and, in Ontario, residential-school lessons are a key part of several courses in Grades 10 and 11, but appear elsewhere in the curriculum as well.

“During this, Aboriginal Awareness Week, teachers and volunteers with Strathcona-Tweedsmuir were reading out 27 Christian identities uncovered so far by a researcher. They didn’t sugarcoat anything that went on here – and the students, Grades 4 through 6, responded.

“‘It’s extremely emotional,’ Alice said. ‘And I really loved the experience of being here even though it’s sad; it’s an experience I won’t forget.’

“During the 19th century, the fledgling Canadian government created its “aggressive assimilation” policy as it took over education of aboriginal peoples. Native traditions and languages were banished, and in their place English and Christianity were taught in church-run boarding schools. An estimated 150,000 children of aboriginal, Métis and Inuit descent were forced into schools nationwide. Stories emerged of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Children were kept from contact with their families.

“Over time, commissions were held, apologies came, including from various churches and by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Parliament in 2008, and compensation packages flowed. Payments are now expected to top $4-billion as the number of former residents alleging abuse has climbed to 37,716, according to the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat. That’s more than triple original estimates, and doesn’t include another fund, which handed out an additional $1.62-billion in compensation by the end of last year to about 80,000 former students, whether they were abused or not.”


The Dunbow school in High River, in what is now Alberta, was one of the first three industrial schools established by a partnership between the Canadian government and Canadian churches. Dunbow (also known as St. Joseph’s) was a Roman Catholic school and its first principal was Father Albert Lacombe. Built on the High River, southeast of Calgary in 1884, the school had trouble recruiting and retaining students from the outset. In 1918 the principal and three students died of influenza. In 1922 the school, which had only 26 students at that point, was closed.”

~ Source:

Also – local newspaper

Also – OMI World re Lacombe

“In 1882, he left Winnipeg for the diocese of Saint-Albert and took over responsibility for the district of Calgary where he was superior from 1882 to 1886 and pastor of the newborn town (1883). In 1884 he founded and became principal of the Indian school in Dunbow (De Vinton, High River), Alberta, an appointment he received from the federal government (1883). In that same year he was intermediary between Canadian Pacific and the Blackfoot Indians who objected to having the railway pass through their reserve. The success of those negotiations earned him the honour of becoming, for one hour, president of the powerful company and he benefited from their generosity for the rest of his life. From that time onwards he lived habitually in the region of Calgary although he was continually travelling on various missions entrusted to him by the government or by his ecclesiastical superiors. He was principal of Dunbow School in 1884-1885 and from there he visited Pincher Creek in 1884, Okotoks and Medicine Hat in 1885. Afterwards, he lived in Fort MacLeod (1887-1889) and Calgary (1883-1886, 1893, 1897).”