In 1867, the St. Joseph’s Mission was established by the Oblate Order at Williams Lake.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Canada from France in 1841 to promote Christianity to Indigenous people and new settlers. While many of their contributions were celebrated in the past, they have more recently issued apologies for their role in the residential school system and for the part they played in the “cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious imperialism” towards Indigenous people.
In the 1870s, separate schools were opened for boys and girls, the latter with the Sisters of St. Ann as teachers. The Sisters of St. Ann arrived in Victoria from Quebec in 1858, to establish education and health service for new settlers and Indigenous people. While many of their contributions are celebrated, in 2014 the Sisters acknowledged that their involvement in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools contributed to a form of cultural oppression that has had a lasting effect not only on those who attended the schools but also on subsequent generations.
The school served Métis children as well as those of local pioneer families. This place is valued by the Francophone community for its associations with these two religious orders. In particular, the Mission is associated with Father Adrien Gabriel Morice, who became the Mission Superior in 1882. Father Morice is noted for his ethnologic and philological contributions, particularly the written syllabary of Dene language.
While Father Morice’s linguistic achievements were celebrated in the past, more recently his use of fear tactics on Indigenous people to break their ties with traditional spiritual practise have come under criticism and Indigenous people are now feeling that Morice bullied them into Catholicism.
In 1886, St. Joseph became an Indian Residential school and remained one until it burned down in 1957. Today, all that remains of the building is its foundation. The historic cemetery also remains.
In 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada issued an apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools system, acknowledging that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.