The site of the former Charles Camsell Hospital in northwest Edmonton has been a cause for concern for years. The structure is currently being developed for multi-family residence apartments. With recent revelations of Residential School sites, many called for the area to be searched and scanned before any further construction can occur on the land.
The Camsell Indian Hospital was one of the twenty-nine sites operated by the Canadian government between 1945 and 1981 to segregate Indigenous people. The building was used as a tuberculosis sanatorium, and patients suffered overcrowding and substandard living. Claims of sexual abuse, medical experimentation, and forced sterilization are among the long list of abuses towards patients. The Camsell Hospital was in operation between 1945 and 1979, housing Indigenous patients from western provinces and Arctic communities.
The architect and developer of the site, Gene Dub, has already begun work to turn the land into condo apartments. Dub, who purchased the land in 2004, said that in 2016 a city archivist confirmed there were no records of burial grounds on the site. Nonetheless, recent discoveries and the requests of local chiefs prompted the developer to hire workers to perform Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) scans of the southeast portion of the site. Results are expected later this week. Unfortunately, the scans are late as much of the site is already under development and cannot be scanned if construction continues.
Maxime Beauregard was chief of Bigstone Cree Nation from 1947 to 1962. Maxime, however, was not buried on the nation. Travis Gladue-Beauregard discovered through research that his great-grandfather died at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in the late 1960s. Gladue- Beauregard stated, “It was back then, the way the government was, the way Indian Affairs was, they didn’t have a lot of roads (or) infrastructure to haul bodies back home and I know that affected my family… I don’t even know if he got even a Christian burial or a traditional burial. I don’t know. I think for a lot of families who didn't have their loved ones come home, the idea is we’d just like to see some type of acknowledgement and also really try to bring some closure. For myself and for my family, for my family's legacy, we want to have something to go to.”
Lorelei Morin Mullings and Andrea Jenkins stated, “I know there are spirits there. I know they want to be free.” On June 25th, Mullings (Enoch Cree Nation) and Jenkins (Métis/Dene from the Northwest Territories) followed the discovery of 751 unmarked graves on Cowessess First Nation by speaking up about the Camsell site. Mullings and Jenkins occupied the site, being joined later by 35 others. Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey also made an appearance to show support for the group. Mullings, Jenkins, and their group of demonstrators will remain on the site in protest for July 1st, wearing orange to support awareness for crimes against Indigenous people by the Canadian government. They want people to know about the horrific crimes that happened at the hospital and others like it. An online petition calls to “Stop The Redevelopment of the Charles Camsell Hospital” and has over 400 signatures. Jenkins stated, “It’s just mind-blowing to me that so many people to this day have no idea what has happened there.”
Chief Arthur Nosky previously shared his thoughts regarding the discoveries of burial sites, “I’m angry, I’m hurt… It’s as if this wound cannot heal. With that comes healing, we need to know. I know we’re resilient. We’ll go through this together.” Nosky also said it’s time to search all former residential school sites.
A public service announcement from the City of Edmonton has asked Edmontonians to reflect on the country’s legacy of residential schools. This Canada Day, the city is asking residents to “demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation” by reflecting on the now thousands of children (across the country) found buried in unmarked graves. Mayor Don Iveson stated, “Understanding that this Canada Day comes at a time of renewed reckoning with our history, I urge Edmontonians to come together to ensure that every single person in this country is welcomed, accepted, and safe. … when horrors from our past are at the forefront of our minds, let's move forward together…” City Manager Andre Corbould added, “Canada Day is an opportunity for us to come together to learn and reflect on our nation’s Indigenous history. I encourage all Edmontonians to take time to support Indigenous peoples and honour the lives of children who are forever lost, those who survived residential schools, and those whose families continue to mourn as we recommit ourselves to moving towards reconciliation.” Several public areas in Edmonton will be lit in orange on July 1st in recognition and residents are encouraged to wear orange clothing.
Gene Dub stated if remains are discovered, the construction of the single-family homes will not continue, and developers will look into building a memorial area.
Gladue-Beauregard hopes the scanning will relieve the uncertainty of the site and the families affected, “These are the little stepping stones. But finally to get to this point, I’m happy that it’s happening now instead of happening in another 100 years from now. But should the government have been listening back then? Absolutely.”
Plans for ground scanning around the site (in Edmonton’s Inglewood neighbourhood) began last week as Indigenous community members, such as Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papaschase First Nation, pushed for awareness. Bruneau believed there were remains of Indigenous people on the grounds and stated, “A lot of people came and got treated and left – but some didn’t make it back home.”