Residential School scars

While you reflect, I remember.

Canadians are debating how and whether to reflect on Sept. 30 – the day set aside for Truth and Reconciliation. The day that honours residential school survivors. Past and present. Wish I could partake in that debate . . . not be living it. 

I am a residential school survivor. I attended a Presbyterian-run school in the early 70s. It closed soon after. Is the name of the school important? Or the memories that I hold of that ugly place? Darn it . . . I didn’t want to be shedding tears as I write this piece. 

Memories of that grey playroom. 

Grey lockers. 

Where we lined up to be counted. 

Lined up to head into the dining room. 

Lined up to go into the shower room. 

Lined up for the fire drill. 

I hated that shower room. Hated the hands that touched me. These memories have scarred me – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

a building
The school building at Cecilia Jeffrey, where Vivian attended. (The building where the students lived and slept is no longer standing)

Through generations

a sepia photo of a man and woman
Viv’s parents (Viv Ketchum)

I have lost my older sister and my brother in the past few years. They say it was because of alcohol abuse. In truth they passed away because of the heavy memories of the residential school that they carried with them. Government papers won’t have that information on the death certificates. I sat in my sister’s hospital room during her final days. She relived her residential school days in her last moments.

Let’s not forget my mother and dad who attended residential school as children. My mom attended a Catholic-run school near Kenora, Ont., as did my aunties and other relatives. My mom once shared a small piece of her story with me. About how the nuns cut her black hair that was down to her waist. My mom shed tears as she told me that small part of her experience. My dad attended the same residential school as his children. Allegedly my dad’s last name was taken and replaced with Ketchum.

Sharing the weight

I am a mother of three children. I only managed to raise one child. I lost the two others to “the system,” which labelled me as a mother with poor parenting skills. The government had that in writing. The child that I raised had to deal with a mother who cried at nights behind a closed door. Residential school memories. I fought hard to become a good mother and did a good job raising my son, despite the challenges of those scars of residential school. 

You can keep debating about if you should honour Sept. 30 or not. 

I will keep living it. 

a crowd of people dressed in orange walking down the street
Thousands of people in Winnipeg participated in the Every Child Matters March on June 21, 2021.

Or you can choose to walk with me and other residential school survivors that day. 

Honour us with a minute, an hour or the whole day. 

Wear that Orange Shirt. 

Reflect on the past history of residential schools. 

Honour us with sharing the weight of the memories that we carry. 

Honour us as we grieve for survivors. Past and present.

Viv Ketchum lives in Winnipeg and attended Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Kenora, Ont. She works on healing and reconciliation programs with churches and community groups.


  • Vivian Ketchum

    Vivian was born in Kenora, Ont., in the Treaty Three area. A member of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation, she is a residential school survivor. She writes to empower herself and to raise awareness of social issues. She has been called an activist and a protestor, but she prefers 'mother' and 'grandmother.' A kwe (an indigenous woman) trying to overcome past injustices with words and actions.

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