Plans for an Indian residential school at Elkhorn date from 1885, the year Anglican missionary Edward Francis Wilson travelled extensively throughout the eastern prairies (a journey facilitated by the just completed Canadian Pacific Railway). As a champion of schooling for Canada’s aboriginal peoples, Rev. Wilson had established the Shingwauk Home at Sault Ste. Marie a decade earlier. He now planned to establish four similar schools, two in Ontario and two in the newly accessible areas of the Territorial Districts of Rupert’s Land and Assiniboia. He focused on Elkhorn first.

This would be the second Indian boarding school in Manitoba since the Red River Settlement Indian Boarding School operated at Fort Douglas (Winnipeg) 1820-1833. The earlier school was set up by Anglican missionary John West, with Hudson’s Bay Company permission. It was the Church’s first of many Indian residential schools to be founded and operated throughout Canada over a period of 150 years.

Unlike existing (1880s) Anglican boarding schools that received direct funding from the Church Missionary Society, the establishment of the Elkhorn School was the sole responsibility of Rev. Wilson, working at arm’s length from the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. This would be his only school in the west due to later financial troubles and competition from other religious denominations.

The Washakada Indian Home at Elkhorn opened in mid-summer 1888, with capacity for 16 boarders. It occupied four surplus town lots donated by the CPR. Rev. Wilson successfully appealed to the Indian Department for $6,500 in capital funding and an annual per capita grant of $100 for up to 80 pupils as the school was expected to expand. Ottawa’s few conditions were not enforced, freeing Rev. Wilson to manage the school his way. The following year the government secured farmland for the school, 8 km west of town. Its distant location proved to be impractical for students to engage in farming and this acreage was soon rented out.

In 1891, the new Kasota Home for Boys opened and the previous co-ed boarding school became the Washakada Home for Girls. However, Rev. Wilson was unable to meet the expected enrolment and both schools incurred mounting debts. He relinquished trusteeship of his schools to the Indian Affairs Department the same year.

Fire destroyed most of the school complex in 1895, except for the Boys’ Home. Temporary buildings were rented in town and the school carried on in a dysfunctional manner. Indian Affairs recognized the need to rebuild and relocate quickly. The new Elkhorn Industrial School opened in 1899 on a large tract of land southwest of town, below the CPR. A major three-storey addition was added in 1912. Farmland adjacent to the school was soon under cultivation and used for pasture.

Operational losses continued to plague the school. By 1910, Indian Affairs was eager to transfer administration to the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, but Archbishop Samuel Matheson’s steep conditions for capital improvements and funding support could not be met. The government finally closed the school in 1919 and transferred the property to the Soldiers Settlement Board who used it for two years as a training centre for ex-service men. With renewed interest in re-establishing the residential school, Indian Affairs acquired title to the property again and, in 1922, concluded negotiations with the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada (MSCC) who would henceforth operate the school until its permanent closing in 1949.

Milestones

  • 1888 Rev. Edward F. Wilson opens Washakada Indian Home July 1st. Government provides $100 per capita grant. Eight pupils are enrolled but four become run aways.
  • 1891 School expands with opening of Kasota Boys’ Home. Original building becomes Washakada Girls’ Home. Each has capacity for 35 boarders.
  • 1891 Ownership and management of school is transferred from Rev. Wilson to Indian Affairs Dept.
  • 1895 Nov. 13 Fire destroys most school buildings. Boys’ Home is saved. Temporary buildings quickly leased in town to enable school to continue operating.
  • 1899 Sept. 7 Elkhorn Indian Industrial School reopens on new site south and west of town. Capacity is 100 with 15 staff. School lands total 320 acres, with large tract set aside for farming which soon begins in earnest.
  • 1915 Enrolment reaches peak of 122 pupils with average attendance of 96. Both figures will fall sharply in the following three years and financial situation will worsen.
  • 1917 Enrolment is 78 pupils with average attendance of 42. School becomes the most expensive to operate in Canada, with an actual per capita operating cost of $220.
  • 1918 May 1 School is closed by government and property transferred in 1919 to the Soldiers Settlement Board as a training centre.
  • 1921 April Indian Affairs regains title to the property and makes plans to reopen the residential school. Repairs and upgrades are made to the buildings.
  • 1923 Following agreement made with the government in 1922, the Indian and Eskimo Commission of MSCC takes over the operation of the school. Elkhorn Indian Residential School opens in September with enrolment of 129 pupils, a large proportion being orphaned and destitute Indian children.
  • 1930s-1940s School building deteriorates and complaints from parents increase over care of children. During this period, the school is not under the direct supervision of the Indian Agent.
  • 1949 June 30 School is permanently closed and property transferred to the government’s Lands and Development Services Branch for redevelopment. Property is soon subdivided and sold to private interests for housing and farming.

Compiled by General Synod Archives, September 23, 2008.