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Search for unmarked graves starts at 2 former dormitories in Whitehorse

April 23, 2024

Yukon Hall and Courdert Hall operated in the 1960s and 70s

APTN News: A ground search for potential unmarked graves has begun at the sites of two former dormitories in Whitehorse used to house Indigenous students.

The search is taking place at the former sites of Yukon Hall and Coudert Hall in Whitehorse’s Riverdale neighborhood.

The sites are just a few hundred yards from each other on the settlement lands of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nation.

Both First Nations are lending their support to the search.

“It’s been really heavy,” said Ta’an Chief Amanda Leas. “In order to move forward in a good way and to put the past where it belongs, we really do need to find these answers.”

The former Yukon Hall (top) and Coudert Hall. Photo: Yukon Archives, Edward Bullen Fonds, 82/354 #25 & #26.

The Yukon Residential School Missing Children Project is overseeing the search. The project is mandated to investigate children who either went missing or died while attending residential school in the territory.

Last year, the project led a search of the former Chooutla school site which located 15 potential unmarked graves.

Both church affiliated dormitories were used to house students while they attended school in Whitehorse. The dormitories operated between the 1960s and ’70s and have since been demolished.

A press release states in 1971 a child-care worker at Coudert Hall was fired following complaints that he sexually assaulted students, but wasn’t convicted of the crimes until 1990.

Kwanlin Dün Chief Sean Uyenets’echᶖa Smith said the former dormitories, as well as the legacy of residential schools in the territory, have left painful memories for many.

“What happened in those schools has direct impacts to our people,” he said. “This marks an opportunity for us to grow as a community and to acknowledge and understand what happened.”

Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Chief Amanda Leas and Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Sean Uyenets’echᶖa Smith. Both chiefs are lending their support to a ground search of the former dormitory sites. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN News

A small technical team is using ground penetrating radar to search both former dormitory sites over the next two weeks.

Leas said there’s no plan in place yet if potential graves are found, though she’s hopeful the search will come up empty-handed.

“We’re really hoping nothing is found,” she said.

The results from the search will be released in the coming months. Leas said she’d like to see a monument built at the former dormitory sites to honor the students who stayed there.

“It’s so important to ensure that that they’re not forgotten.”

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