98 Names: Part II

Walking around the cairn, squinting at the fading letters, I found a brief answer to my questions of how these bodies came to be here and how these people died.

There carved into the stone:

“Commemorating the resting places of those who have been called to the home of the Great Spirit from the family circles of Indian (Dene and Métis) and Inuit peoples. The majority died of Tuberculosis at the Charles Camsell Hospital between 1946 and 1966. Transportation difficulties to areas of origin made it necessary for burials at this location.”

But I wanted to know more about the story of the cairn, the Aboriginal Cemetery, and the list of names. Luckily Google told me some of this information was available in the archives of the St. Albert Musée Héritage Museum. So the same morning I visited the cemetery, I combed through the Aboriginal Cemetery fonds, one regulation-sized archival box with a handful of file folders separating out the sections.

St. Albert Musée Héritage Museum

In one of those file folders I found typed out lists of the names. The same names as were on the cairn, but with extra information that didn’t get included. There were odd letter-number combinations after some of the names: Susie Oviluk, W1-378. I stared at them for awhile unknowingly, then realized what they were: they referred to the identification disk numbers the Federal government assigned to Inuit beginning in 1941 to help them keep track of individuals and administer services. Non-indigenous government agents had trouble with the Inuit names and naming traditions; rather than try to understand, accommodate, and respect these traditions, they assigned numbers, sometimes dubbed “Eskimo dog tags.”

After Project Surname in the early 1970s, these numbers began to disappear from view as Inuit closed the door on this particular colonial policy. [Now, interestingly enough, the numbers are being reclaimed by young Inuit and Inuvialuit across the Arctic]

So Susie Oviluk, W1-378, was from the first Western District and was the 378th individual counted by the government agents. Ootak Kakeeanook, E4-345, was from the fourth Eastern District.

There were also tallies in the files:

  • 62 Inuit
  • 6 Dene (NWT)
  • 17 from Yukon
  • 1 from Saskatchewan
  • 1 from Manitoba
  • 1 from BC
  • 10 from Alberta

But in those lists and tallies, something didn’t quite add up: In the original typed list from 1984 in the archives there were blank numbered spaces among the 98 names. 10 blank spaces, to be exact. I counted. Do they mean anything? Is there anyone still around who would know? Do you know?


14 thoughts on “98 Names: Part II

  1. Bob Ford March 29, 2015 / 5:17 pm

    The resltess ones?


  2. historiandmc March 29, 2015 / 5:35 pm

    I can certainly understand why they might be restless. It’s quite the history that has echoes into the present day.


  3. Sheila Willis March 30, 2015 / 4:44 am

    Was there any religious organizations that were involved in any form? For instance if a Priest performed a service perhaps there would be records?


    • historiandmc March 30, 2015 / 2:29 pm

      Definitely something I’ll be looking into in the posts to come!


  4. Samantha McCrea Morin April 6, 2015 / 2:19 pm

    With regards to the blank spaces; we know that several children who attended the St. Albert residential school and who were NOT at the Charles Camsell, are buried in this cemetery. I suspect and believe that these are the unrecorded graves of these lost children.
    If records did exist, they were often destroyed upon closure of the school. St. Albert residential was not catholic, and therefore had a head master and matron. The head master resided in one of the homes still standing next to Poundmaker’s. I have more info and would be interested in sharing via email. Hai Hai.


    • historiandmc April 6, 2015 / 8:02 pm

      Samantha, thank you so much for writing this comment and wanting to share by email. Please contact me at info@daniellemc.com. I look forward to talking more.


  5. Poundmakers Lodge Treatment Centres June 7, 2015 / 4:48 pm

    Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres has conducted much research in this area based on conversations with elders who previously attended the Edmonton Indian Residential School. There is much to be learned.


    • historiandmc June 8, 2015 / 12:18 am

      Hi Brad, Thanks very much for your note! I’m hoping to talk with someone at Poundmaker’s down the road when I have some more funding and time in place for this research. I hope we can connect further on this so I can learn more. Best, Danielle


  6. Marjorie Blake July 31, 2017 / 10:14 pm

    My adopted mother’s son Jim Blake was buried out there too, the old nurses now take care of the graves in St Albert grave site, i have been wanting to go out and see where it is located too, just havent got a chance to go out to edmonton, one day hope to bring closure for deceased mother Elizabeth Blake


  7. Louise Beaulieu October 30, 2017 / 10:09 pm

    Hi I’m interested in finding any pictures of patients. I was in Charles camsell hospital from 1969 to 1970. Please let me know how I can find pictures? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • historiandmc November 1, 2017 / 7:12 pm

      Good afternoon. There are quite a few photos available at the Edmonton City Archives, the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and the National Archives in Ottawa. If you contact them directly and tell a reference archivist what it is you’re interested in and the dates, they can help you out. There are also lots of photos in old issues of the Camsell Arrow and Pictorial Review, although those stopped in 1969 (they’ve got back copies in hard copy at Edmonton City Archives and on microfilm at PAA). Enoch Archives at Enoch Cree Nation also have a growing photo collection from the Camsell. Hope this helps! If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate and I’ll try and help!


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