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Reminiscences of St. Paul’s Industrial School

by Rev. Canon M. Sanderson
Mackenzie Island, Ontario

Manitoba Pageant, September 1958, Volume 4, Number 1

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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It was always the policy of the Anglican Church (and other Churches) to encourage education and to undertake teaching as part of their missionary work, so whenever a mission was opened among the Indians, a school soon followed. At first this work was undertaken by the Church itself, but when the government made a treaty with the Indians, it took over the responsibility and made certain arrangements with the Churches.

As time went on it was felt by those interested in the Indians that, because of changing conditions arising from the settlement of the country, the Indian way of making a living, by hunting and trapping, would have to give way to something different. In order to prepare them for the change, it was felt that an opportunity should be given the young to learn some other occupation.

With that in view, larger schools for Indian children were built here and there throughout the country, away from the Reserves, where children might be taught not only the three R’s but also some trade or occupation.

One such school was in the parish of St. Paul, Middlechurch, Manitoba, a few miles north of Winnipeg, and was called Rupert’s Land Indian Industrial School. Later, when the government took over full responsibility, it was known as St. Paul’s Industrial School. The building had been finished in 1889 and opened at the beginning of 1890. The first pupils began entering during the early part of January of that year.

As different trades and occupations were taught, buildings were put up and equipped for the purpose, but these were added only as funds became available. However, as it was necessary to provide for the common needs of such an institution as soon as possible, stables for cows and horses were built. The cows provided milk and the horses were used to work the farm for the growing of vegetables.

An old flour mill, long since in disuse, stood on the bank between the other buildings and the river. Because of its many angles and coves, that building provided a favourite place to play hide-and-seek and other games. When summer came the machinery was taken out and the building was divided by a partition, one part being fitted up for a carpenter shop and the other for a blacksmith shop.

In those years oxen were still used for the heavier work such as breaking new land, and at the School there were two oxen, one red and the other white. I don’t remember correctly what we called the red one, but I think it was “Buck,” and the white one was soon dubbed “Wab,” this being the first syllable of the Indian word meaning “white.” He was quite a rangy animal, not like Buck who was low-set and heavy, and he could certainly run. Besides, being quiet and gentle, he didn’t mind being ridden. He seemed to be particularly tolerant of a little fellow named “Shorting,” and when Shorting was on his back he acted like a thoroughbred. No ox in the neighborhood could touch him in a race; nor was a picnic complete without an ox race, if there were any to challenge him. Of course, Shorting and Wab always came in first. I am sure Wab enjoyed the fun for he seemed to know what was required of him.

Some time later, printing was added to the line of trades taught. There was no building on the school grounds in which to set up the outfit, but across the road on the parish grounds there stood St. Paul’s rectory, old and unused, but still in pretty good condition. Under proper arrangements, this was fitted up for a printing shop, and continued to be so used until a more suitable place was found.

At the school there were about the same number of girls and boys, and they were trained in the useful homemaking duties, such as laundering, sewing, cooking and housekeeping.

There were, of course, the classrooms where every child had to attend until they reached a certain age, when each was assigned to the kind of work he seemed adapted for, or wished to take up. They worked for half the day, and spent the other half in the classrooms.

The first Principal was the Reverend (later Canon) W. A. Burman who was quite a noted botanist. He later became Lecturer in Botany at St. John’s College, Winnipeg and a leader in the formation of the first Horticultural Association in Manitoba. So it is not surprising that, when he came to live on that bare piece of land at the School, he soon had a garden laid out, and trees planted. The large trees standing now on the grounds of the Old Folks’ Home at Middlechurch are the ones planted at that time — sixty-seven years ago.

Children came from Indian Reservations near and far, and with the increase in enrollment the original buildings had to be enlarged or new ones built. In order to provide more classroom space, a large hall was built near the main building; the lower floor was used for recreation and the upper for classrooms.

Some years later this building was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. This meant the closing of the School. Few institutions, I suppose, turn out one hundred percent perfect graduates, and that cannot be claimed for the School, but it can be truthfully said that in that old School was laid the foundation that set many on the way to a useful life.

After standing idle for a number of years the remaining buildings were taken over by the Welfare Society of those days and turned into an Old Folks’ Home. And there it stands, on the same grounds, and in its original outward form, surrounded by flower plots, and shaded by trees that were planted by Indian boys. I know, for I planted some myself, sixty-seven years ago.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Rupert's Land Indian Industrial School / St. Paul's Industrial School (RM of West St. Paul)

Page revised: 4 June 2021

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