The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Boniface is planning to erect a monument to students who died at the former St. Boniface Industrial School.
The monument would be located at the cathedral cemetery on Tache Avenue, where as many as 74 of the estimated 80 students who died while at the school might be buried.
Daniel Bahuaud, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said research by the Société historique de Saint-Boniface confirms 34 students are buried in the cemetery, along with five probable burials.
Bahuaud noted the research into what happened to the students who died is ongoing. The graves are not marked, which is not unusual for the cathedral cemetery, Archbishop Albert LeGatt said.
"There are over 6,000 people buried in the cemetery," he said, noting only a few hundred are marked with headstones.
Placing permanent stone memorials on graves was not a usual practice in earlier times, LeGatt said.
"That was usually only done by those who could afford to place memorials on graves," he said.
Wood markers might also have been used, but they would have deteriorated over time and disappeared, LeGatt said.
The graves are not found within the current boundaries of the cemetery, he said, noting that at one time the cemetery — which was established in the early part of the 19th century — once extended to the Red River and to the north and south of its present location.
This was underscored some years ago when a city crew digging up a sidewalk on Cathedral Avenue, on the opposite side of the street bounding the cemetery, discovered bones from an unmarked burial.
"It was estimated the bones dated back to the early 1800s," LeGatt said.
The locations of the graves of the students are not known, he said.
"We don’t know where they are buried, just as we don’t know where most of the others who are buried in the cemetery are located," the archbishop said. "There are no records of their location. That was not a concern about burials at that time."
LeGatt said the creation of such a memorial would only be undertaken through consultation with Indigenous people in Manitoba, particularly representatives from Sagkeeng First Nation, from where the students were taken to the school.
No timeline has been set for the creation of the monument, which would be located on the grounds in a place where people could easily find it to pay their respects.
"The purpose would be to honour those children," LeGatt said. "We don’t want them to be forgotten."
As for other efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous people, including an apology from the archdiocese, those conversations are ongoing, he said.
The St. Boniface Industrial School was one of 139 residential schools across Canada, including 14 in Manitoba.
Located on Des Meurons Street at Hamel Avenue, it operated from 1889 to 1905 and was funded by the federal government.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.