Museum revisits difficult past in new exhibit

The majority of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s new exhibit on St. Joseph’s mission residential school is based on oral reports by survivors compiled by muesum coordinator Joe Borsato and edited by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad. Patrick Davies photo.

The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin invites people to learn about the history of St. Joseph’s Mission residential school with a new exhibit.

Years after being shut down St. Joseph’s Mission residential school still casts a long shadow over the lives of many Indigenous people in and around the Williams Lake area. It was open and in operation from July 19, 1891 to June 30, 1981, just 38 years and one generation ago.

While the physical building no long remains — two monuments stand at the location in 2013 to mark the site, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s museum coordinator, Joe Borsato, felt it was time to catalogue and remember this dark but significant chapter of Cariboo history.

Read More: Remembering, Recovering and Reconciling

Throughout the process of building the display, Borsato said it was important to listen to the accounts of residential school survivors and pair their stories with appropriate visuals, while putting St. Joseph’s Mission in the context of the national conversation going on surrounding the history of residential schools. As Williams Lake is the founding city of Orange Shirt Day, he feels this exhibit is especially important to keep this conversation going.

“We didn’t come at this from the perspective of just showing one perspective, we had 14 people or so we interviewed for this and the overwhelming response to the mission is not a positive story. We also wanted to highlight the resiliency of many of the survivors because ultimately, the fact that the mission was designed to destroy Indigenous culture the fact that it failed is one thing I really wanted to show and emphasize,” Borsato said.

This was why Borsato worked closely with Phyllis Webstad, whose story about her experience at St. Joseph’s Mission inspired Orange Shirt Day. He worked with Webstad throughout the process when it came to editing stories and collecting artifacts for the exhibit.

Webstad, who now works for the Orange Shirt Society, said this exhibit and Orange Shirt Day is part of an ongoing effort to keep the conversation around residential schools going that started with the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As a former director of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, history and culture has always been Webstad’s passion, which is why she was happy to provide support and pictures for the exhibit, as well as a good portion of the artifacts.

Despite a lot of talk about reconciliation in society and the government, Webstad said she feels that there’s not enough real public knowledge about what went on in residential schools that were “top to bottom” located across Canada. This exhibit, along with her book The Orange Shirt Story, she feels will help educate locals, tourists and Canadians in general that there was a residential school not 10 minutes from the Tourism Discovery Centre.

Read More: Indian residential schools: Canada’s sad legacy

“I’m a third generation survivor. My grandmother was the first generation, she went from 1925 to 1935. All of her 10 children were taken away and sent to residential school, including my mother who attended for 10 years. I went for one year when I was six, so my experience is a walk in the park compared to the first and second generation,” Webstad said. “I have a hard enough time talking about it and I know those that have more years than I do have an extra hard time talking about it.”

Even within their own homes and communities, Webstad said this topic is not commonly broached and many survivors never talk about their experiences, even today. There is a lot of emotion that goes with addressing this chapter in survivors’ lives and part of the reason many don’t talk about it today is the coping mechanism they developed while there.

Webstad said her aunt told her that when they were at St. Joseph’s Mission, they were all in the same boat and there was no use crying or talking about it. When they went home for the two months a year, she said they wanted to be happy rather than cry and talk about what they were going through. Addressing these emotions now she said is difficult and every survivor is at a different point in their journey.

For example, September is a particularly difficult time for residential school survivors, as that was the time the children left their families and returned to school.

Every little bit to educate people, however, helps Webstad said. In addition to this exhibit and her story, residential school history is now a part of the curriculum in all B.C. public schools and in many provinces across Canada.

“Any kind of understanding and help we can get to spread this word, we need allies, First Nations people can’t do all of this ourselves. This is not just First Nations’ history, this is Canadian history and the onus is on everyone to know and to understand,” Webstad said.

Webstad wanted to thank Borsato for his work on putting the exhibit together and the amount of listening he did when interviewing community members.

Borsato would like to thank all the community members who contributed or donated artifacts to the exhibit. He said he is still looking for and interested in any artifacts from the mission, though they need to be able to be traced directly back to St. Joseph’s here in the Cariboo.

He also wanted to thank the Heritage Legacy Fund, the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society, the City of Williams Lake and the Cariboo Regional District for helping to fund and support the project.



patrick.davies@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews responding to vehicle fire on Highway 97 south of Williams Lake

A witness said the 150 Mile House volunteer fire department is attending, traffic lanes still open

LETTER: Williams Lake Dry Grad Committee officially cancels festivities for 2020

Socially distanced photos to adorn some local businesses

IG Wealth Management Williams Lake gifts iPads to Cariboo Place for residents’ use

With long-term care homes on lockdown during COVID-19, residents visit family virtually

BREAKING: Jayson Gilbert charged in murder of Richard “Savage” Duncan

Gilbert also faces first degree murder in the Rudy Johnson Bridge death of Branton Regner

RCMP seize stolen vehicles, equipment and firearms in Quesnel

Quesnel resident facing multiple charges

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Williams Lake Tribune continue its mission to provide trusted local news

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read