Canadian Geographic and Google launch residential schools education project

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Within the span of a few minutes, students can travel from the first residential school in Brantford, Ontario, through to residential schools in Amos, Quebec, all the way to Kamloops, BC.

Along the way, they’ll learn about government objectives behind the schools, the devastating impacts of culture and language loss, physical and sexual abuse, and, finally, efforts to begin healing and reconciliation.

That’s the intention behind a new project launched by Canadian Geographic Education (Can Geo Education) and Google Earth Voyager, with support from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). It’s available to anyone online, but is intended as a resource for teachers across the country.

It features historical photos, videos and survivors’ testimony selected from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports.

“The Google Earth’s Voyageur residential school story is an extremely important tool that encourages discussion in a way that complements the learning styles of today’s students,” NCTR Director Ry Moran said in a press release. “This is exactly what we need for a tough topic like the residential school story, if reconciliation is to begin.”

Google launched its Google Earth Voyager platform in the summer of 2017, and asked Can Geo Education if they were interested in creating a story to be told through the platform.

Sara Black, Education Programs Coordinator for the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, thought the proposal could be a great opportunity to create a free, interactive and educational resource for classrooms.

“Many teachers didn’t know Google Earth Voyager stories existed. When we told them that our first one was Indigenous themed, many were excited – many were looking to include more Indigenous resources and content,” Black said.

Comments have been very positive so far, she notes, even though the project was only launched in December. She described a number of teachers in North Bay using the tool and being surprised how close they were to a former residential school location.

She hopes it can serve as a tool to help educate children on a dark part of Canadian history as part of a starting point to bigger discussions.

Raymond Frogner, Head of Archives with the NCTR, observes that the story has never been fully told or recognized.

“The residential schools program was a program of cultural genocide designed to remove Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, languages and family ties, and propel assimilation into settler society,” Frogner explained. “There’s a need for understanding, and education is a way that that’s possible.”

The NCTR sees this project as a way to enable the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action around education.

He cites the TRC Chief Commissioner, Justice Murray Sinclair, who said it took seven generations for Indigenous Peoples to lose their identity – and that it would take another seven to bring them back.

Already, Frogner says the Alberta Ministry of Education is considering introducing Indigenous issues from kindergarten to Grade 12, while using the Google Earth Voyageur tool to help tell the story.

The project is available in English, French and a variety of other languages translated by Google. Black says that while it is not currently available in Indigenous languages, it is something they would like to see happen.

The project is online at

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