Good Intentions, Debatable Results: Catholic Missionaries and Indian Schooling in Hobbema, 1891-1914

Gary Taljit


Oblate missionaries played a large role in educating and "civilizing" natives in the Canadian Northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The missionaries' goals were to gain converts and to prepare the Indians to cope with the new, white-dominated society. Under the aegis of a Dominion government that sought an inexpensive means of assimilating the Indians, the missionaries built schools where native children could be inculcated with "Canadian" values and mores. This essay looks at missionary education at the Hobbema residential school from 1891 to 1914 as a case study. The writer argues that for a variety of reasons, Indians often resisted the educational efforts of the Oblates and the sisters who taught at the school. Indians questioned the motives of the missionaries, the health conditions at the schools, and the benefits of the education. However, some Indians believed education could help them adjust to the new society. Nevertheless, the ethnocentrism, paternalism, and strict discipline that characterized the residential school experience often made it an unhappy one for children, although the situation for students at Hobbema was probably not as bad as it was for Indian students at other localities.

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