Presbyterian Residential School in Spotlight

A Presbyterian residential school is about to take centre stage when Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie holds two concerts to raise money and awareness about a boy who died escaping from the school 50 years ago.

Chanie Wenjack was just 12 years old when he ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, near Kenora, Ont., in 1966 and died from exposure. He was trying to get back home to see his father and travelled 60 km before succumbing to hunger and harsh weather.

“The tragedy of Chanie Wenjack is a part of the sad legacy of residential schools,” says Stephen Kendall, the PCC’s principal clerk, in a news release. “His story has an important place in our history as a denomination. As we continue to ask forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples, we pray and hope we can also find opportunities to find healing and wholeness together.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Wenjack’s death and several big names in Canada are highlighting the tragedy. Downie, along with Jeff Lemire, has published Secret Path , a graphic novel detailing the story and will release an accompanying album Oct. 18. He will also play two concerts in Ottawa and Toronto to promote the project. Proceeds will go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba. An animated film will also be broadcast on CBC on Oct. 23, and a book by author Joseph Boyden, simply titled Wenjack , will be released on Oct. 18.

“Chanie haunts me,” said Downie in a statement. “His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.” —AM with files from the PCC

Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives, File G-5475-FC-16