A search prompted by ground-penetrating radar is resuming again on land in Edmonton that houses a former so-called ‘Indian hospital,’ where Indigenous patients suffered abuse — and sometimes never came home.
Developers are working with Indigenous elders and chiefs to excavate the area in case there are any unmarked graves on the land.
“I can sense it there,” Fernie Marty, a Papaschase elder, told CTV National News. “Something’s not right here, eh?”
Starting in the 1930s, 31 hospitals were built in Canada with the goal of treating tuberculosis in Indigenous people — but according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, the hospitals were understaffed and used “experimental treatment” on their patients.
A class-action lawsuit brought forth in 2018 alleges patients suffered sexual and physical abuse, including forced sterilization, at these hospitals.
The Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton was the largest of these types of hospitals, serving as a tuberculosis treatment centre for Indigenous children in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Patients were brought to the hospital from all across Alberta and northern Canada.
Former patients like Victor Bruno describe mistreatment and abuse occurring within the hospital.
“I just get emotional,” Bruno said as he attempted to speak about the experience.
“Did it have a powerful negative impact on my life? Definitely.”
The darkest stories were of the young patients who reportedly went missing after being admitted.
Like a girl that Marty became friends with while visiting the hospital as a child.
“They told me she went home, but I later met her parents and they said their daughter never did come home,” Marty said.
This is only one story among many that has led to the widespread belief that bodies were buried here without record, ceremony, or even a grave marker.
“If we find these burials here, it proves that there was dishonour in how they were just buried,” Chief Calvin Bruneau of Papaschase First Nation told CTV News.
After evidence was found of as many as 215 unmarked graves outside a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., last spring, Gene Dub, the owner and developer of the land where the former hospital stands, paid for ground-penetrating radar here.
When the survey found evidence of underground anomalies, he excavated 13 sites last summer, finding nothing but debris. Now 21 more sites of interest are being investigated.
“I think we owe it to those families to search these grounds,” Dub said. “To find, truthfully whether they’re here.”
Dub, who is an architect, had purchased the land to redevelop into a multi-unit housing development. But no construction will be completed until the grounds have been properly searched.
Crews are excavating the sites one inch at a time, carefully peeling back the layers of the earth, until they reach the depth indicated as an anomaly by the ground-penetrating radar survey.
Nothing of note was found today, as the search continues, but it will resume tomorrow.
If remains are found, regional chiefs and elders will be consulted to decide what to do next.