Temporary residential school memorial at Robson Square

Temporary residential school memorial at Robson Square

The temporary residential schools memorial on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery was initiated by Haida artist Tamara Bell in May 2021 after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.  

The temporary residential schools memorial fulfilled an important and acute need for a site to gather and grieve together during this painful time. It became a place of grieving and healing for many Indigenous Peoples, including residential school survivors, and a place for non-Indigenous people to learn and pay respects to the children who died at residential schools across Canada.   

The City of Vancouver, with support from xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, have respectfully asked for the temporary residential schools memorial at Robson Square to come to a conclusion. 

A part of our journey towards Reconciliation

As a City of Reconciliation, and in-line with the City's UNDRIP Strategy, the City has a responsibility to recognize the rights and titles of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations and to support the observance of cultural protocols.

The City has come to better understand that any commemorative or art project as significant and long-standing as this temporary residential schools memorial, requires consultation and permission from xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

The local Nations were not consulted and did not give formal permission prior to the installation of the temporary residential schools memorial.

Reconciliation is a learning journey, and the City acknowledges its own misstep in not acting earlier to observe the rights and titles and cultural protocols of the local Nations due to the sensitive nature of the temporary residential schools memorial.

Next steps  

This is very hard and emotionally charged work and the City is committed to handling this process with care, compassion, and respect.

City staff have connected with the artist and volunteers keeping vigil onsite to share this decision and offer resources and support. City staff will work closely with this group to establish good process for bringing the memorial to a close over the coming months. This will be a private process. 

Future commemoration

The City understands that this may be an emotional and difficult decision for many and acknowledges there is a need for public, culturally appropriate spaces for mourning and healing from residential schools. The City is committed to working with the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, and Urban Indigenous communities, including communities in the Downtown Eastside, on all future planning for such spaces. An initial conversation at the elected official level has affirmed this commitment. 
 
The conclusion of the temporary residential schools memorial may be painful to Indigenous community members, residential school survivors and their families. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society Emergency Crisis Line is available 24 hours, 7 days a week, for those that may need counselling or support after receiving this distressing information. Call 1-800-721-0066 or the 24-hour crisis line 1-866-925-4419.