A Survivor of Residential School Shares Her Memories

Williams Lake Indian Residential School

When Laurine Vilac was just six years old she was dropped off by her parents at a residential school in William’s Lake, BC. She remembers her mom and dad holding her hands, and she remembers them leaving her there without knowing why:

“I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know why they left me there.”

Now 84 years old, living in Kamloops, BC, the Canim Lake First Nations woman shares her painful memories in the peace of her small apartment with her teenage grandson beside her, holding her hand:

“There were always lineups. It seems we lined up for everything. The first thing the nuns did was line us all up and cut off our hair. They dumped anti-bug powder on our heads regardless of whether we needed it or not.

We were often told that if we misbehaved we would not get to see our parents for summer vacation. And if we lost our tam (a head piece worn for church) we would have to kneel on a cold floor for long periods of time. Some kids would fall asleep. I still have dreams of them, finding them curled up in their nighties on the floor the next morning.”

Laurine spent six years at her first residential school and four more at a second one before she carried onto college to be a nurse. The years away from her family were detrimental:

“When I went back for summers my mom didn’t know me anymore. She didn’t know how to talk to me. We didn’t have a relationship anymore.

Every September we were gathered up and transported back to the school in cattle cars. We would arrive covered in dirt, wiping our eyes clean.

Some people question why some of us are messed up after growing up like this. I don’t understand that. We were removed from our parents. We were traumatized.

Bad things took place at those schools and we had no one to tell. I remember some girls ran away, trying to get home. They gave up and returned to the school, cold and asking to come in. The nuns locked them out and the next morning they found the body of a little girl who had frozen to death in the night. These are the kinds of things I still have nightmares about.”

Laurine finally found ‘home’ when she married and had children of her own. She raised three of her sons and three of her nephews and was married for over fifty years. Sadly, her husband passed away six years ago after a battle with cancer.

Laurine and her sons have spent hours donating their time and kindness to others. Her late son, David, knew every street entrenched person by their first name:

“It was kind of a running joke. David would come to my house to ‘shop’ when someone he knew needed something. Of course I didn’t mind, I knew he was helping someone in need.

I have taught my kids to respect others. I have taught them we are no better than anyone else.”

This isn’t the first time Laurine has shared her story. In the 1990’s she took to the podium outside the Supreme Court in Vancouver. She talked about residential schools as part of an attempt to gain funds from the federal government for the damages done to First Nations people.


  1. I am so sorry this happened to you and all of the other children…so hard to comprehend adults in a position of authority doing these things to little children. This breaks my heartšŸ˜„

  2. The pure cruelty of clerical and governmental agencies that ran these operations is proportional to their intellectual and moral poverty. I once made a community-driven exhibition with first hand accounts of residential schools at my local museum trying to dismantle the harmful stereotype that these schools were somehow “good” for Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately my board of directors reprimanded me for it because it was too “one sided in favour of the ‘Indians'” to the point where I had no alternative but to leave that organization. Christian-colonialism is strong in this country, stronger than most people realize. I only hope that more people on the sidelines will realize what’s going on and will defy racists with concrete actions.

  3. Laurine it is so good to hear more of your story. When we worked together at Canim and met in 100 Mile, it was always good to spend time with you. Hope you and the fami.y are all well. Cheers Barrie Bolton

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