Residential School Trek
250 kms of tracks From Sault Ste. Marie to Espanola on foot! That’s the route Grandpa took when he escaped from residential school in 1919, at the age of twelve. After the Spanish Flu had decimated the community on Christian Island where Grampa lost both his mother and grandmother, the Indian Agent ordered him to Shingwauk Residential School. After a short stay of about eight days, he was “beat up” by the principal for something he apparently did, although he never did understand why. Perhaps it was for speaking Anishinabemowin as he didn’t know any English but we’ll never know. The escape plan involved Grandpa and three other boys and the agreement was to leave in the morning after the first roll call. They put all their clothes on and shoved bread in their pockets at breakfast for the journey. When it came time to go, only two left, and they made a run for it, they knew they had until supper at the next roll call, when the school staff would become aware of their absence. They listened for the train whistle and followed the sound to the train tracks and began their walk east. These tracks were to become their trail to freedom. They walked as far as Espanola, a distance of 250 km, where Grampa lied about his age and got a job working in the lumber camps. He did not return home to his community for 20 years. In honour of our Grandfather Vance Reuben Essaunce, Lisa, Gabe and myself are going to walk this route beginning this Thursday morning. We will start at the same location where Shingwauk Residential School was which today is Algoma University College. Just after breakfast we’ll begin the journey where we’ll stop at places he noted and recreate similar experiences as we examine the courage, strength and conviction it took to begin a new life. This trek also honours all children who were sent to Residential Schools and the trauma they endured. This is a walk of hope and represents the healing of the successive generations from the atrocities of Residential Schools our families have lived through.
All my relations,
Shelley Essaunce, Lisa Myers & Gabriel Lamarche

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