Chapleau’s first industrial boarding school for native children was established through the combined efforts of George Holmes, Third Bishop of Moosonee, and members of the local Ojibway Indian community. When Bishop Holmes moved the Diocesan headquarters south from Moose Factory Island to Chapleau in 1905, he converted his former residence to a boarding school (Bishop’s School). Chapleau was an important railway centre on the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway, which was completed 20 years earlier. On his arrival at Chapleau, Bishop Holmes saw the need for a similar boarding school and successfully appealed to the Church Missionary Society in England for funding. Local native groups also contributed money and offered their help in labour.
Work commenced in August 1906 and the school building was opened in January 1907. The residential school property comprised 153 acres, situated on the east side of Chapleau and fronting on the Nebskwashi River. Enrolment soon stretched the capacity of the school, ultimately forcing Church administrators to search for a larger, more suitable site to erect an entirely new building.
By 1920, a large tract of land had been acquired three km south of the town. It totalled 2,142 acres and straddled the CPR and the main road running south to Lake Huron (later King’s Highways 129 and 101). Here the large new St. John’s Indian Ressidential School was constructed in 1921. A small portion of the extensive school lands was cleared for cultivation but the remaining forested area was used as a source of wood fuel for the school until its closure in 1948.
Students were drawn from a large area within the Diocese of Moosonee, extending from Fort Albany on James Bay in the north, to the Fort Francis Reserve in Quebec in the east, to the Six Nations Reserve in the south, and to Nipigon on the CPR main line in the west. Most were Ojibway and Woodland Cree from the northern communities. In later years, and especially the period following the school’s closing, many children from the most distant of these native settlements were sent to other residential schools, newly built or enlarged, such as Moose Factory, Fort George and Shingwauk.
- 1907 Jan. Chapleau Industrial School opens with enrolment of 12 children. By year- end the number increases to eighteen.
- 1911 New classroom added and bridge across the Nebskwashi River constructed, linking school lands with the Town of Chapleau on the other side.
- 1921 St. John’s Indian Residential School, funded by Ottawa, opens on large new site, 3 km south of town. It can accommodate 100 pupils.
- 1923 Indian School Administration of the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada assumes responsibility for operating the school.
- 1924 Former Industrial School building, closed in 1921, burns to the ground.
- 1937 Senior student John Jeffries is selected to attend the Coronation of King George VI on May 12 in London, in company with Clyde White of the Shingwauk School, Norah Gladstone of St. Paul’s School (Blood Reserve) and Ida Vandall of the Onion Lake School, Saskatchewan.
- 1939 Since its opening in 1921, 366 pupils have graduated from St. John’s Residential School. Several have continued their studies at Chapleau High School.
- 1948 Following a post-war review to examine the condition and viability of all residential schools, St. John’s School at Chapleau is closed. Most students transfer to residential schools at Moose Factory and Sault Ste. Marie.
- 1948-1949 Proposal to renovate former school building for use as a seniors’ home, largely for retirees from Sudbury. Two municipalities and senior levels of government cannot agree on cost of renovations and real need for this facility. Property is sold to Chapleau businessman who soon clears site for development.
Compiled by General Synod Archives, September 23, 2008.