“Isabelle Knockwood, born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, attended the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie from 1936 to 1947… At the age of fifty-eight, she enrolled at St. Mary’s University in Halifax seeking a major in Anthropology and a minor in English; she graduated in 1992.” These are some biographical details from the back cover of her account titled Out of the Depths. The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.

First published in 1992, Knockwood based her history on interviews with forty-two of the students and her own dozen years in the School. She updated her book three times; the fourth edition (2015), from Fernwood Publishing, adds a chapter on the reactions of 21 survivors to the government apology in 2008. Isabelle Knockwood died last July at the age of 89.

Knockwood provides balance. She recounts the horrors told to her by the survivors, but also the better moments of kindness and play; she includes statements by some survivors who compliment the School. But the litany of cruelty is overwhelming and bizarre, as if a critical mass of School leaders and staff had been chosen for their sadism and the ability to hide it. And this cannot be blamed on 19th-century thinking: the school opened in 1930.

Praise the Lord

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