Mapping Canada's Indian Residential Schools

This is one of the most interesting yet disturbing projects that I've done. I was hired in the spring of 2017 to map the 140 Indian Residential Schools and their surrounding Reserves. These schools are a notorious part of Canadian history, and these maps were for the Justice For Day Scholars initiative. 

Imagine my surprise when I found out there was no geographic data for these schools. That's right. Despite the research efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Comission, there was no list of latitude/longitude data for the schools, no pre-existing maps of their actual locations.

On the other hand, there were several online maps that located the schools. One was at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), one at Carleton University, and one at a site called Eugenics Archive. However, none offered their geographic data for download. As well, the three sites disagreed among themselves about the locations of a number of schools, and since none of them made their evidence, references, or chain of reasoning available to the visitor, it was not possible to decide which was right.

So, I set out to do this research myself. Using survey maps at the Canada Lands Survey System I found primary source maps that located sixty-two of the schools. There were other archival documents that led me to be able to locate another sixty-eight schools. Thirty-four of the schools I was never able to locate precisely, but had evidence that allowed me to determine their position within a kilometre.

Those numbers add up to 164 locations. This is because many of the 140 schools moved, sometimes more than once.

You can download the data I created, in LibreOffice Calc format, here, and in KML (Google Earth) format here. It includes references! However, there are a few caveats:

  • Better data, based in part on my research, is now (2017-2018) being produced through a collaboration between NCTR and York University. My hope is that it will eventually be posted on the web in a download-able format, along with references for each location.

  • I was hired to map only the 140 schools listed in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. These are only the schools that the federal government funded and therefore was willing to take responsibility for. My data does not include any of the three following categories.

    • Schools that were funded in some other way, such as through privately-raised church funds

    • Day schools that never built a residence and thereby made the transition to being residential schools

    • Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, which were not included in the settlement

  • I did not thoroughly research the dates that each school operated. There is much conflicting information about these dates, and sometimes dates given reflect only the years that a school was government-funded. I did not attempt to resolve these issues.

  • The field called "Location precision distance (km)" (abbreviated to "location p" in the KML file) is an expression of how precise the location is. A zero value here means I feel confident that the school is right there; a 0.5 or 1 value means the school was not percisely locatable, but must be within 0.5 or 1 km of the location given.
If you are interested in the complete 201-page atlas of residential schools, with maps of each location at 1:50,000, feel free to drop me an email at, and I can send you a PDF.

The base map for this atlas was the Canada Transportation Basemap WMS service, available from Geogratis. The atlas was assembled in QGIS.

The projection was Lambert Conformal Conic,  centred on 96 west, with standard parallels of 20 and 60 north, lat_0 = 40.

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