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A Special Bible

A moment from the past connects to the present.


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In September the current Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Harvey Self, paid a visit to the Kenora Fellowship Centre. I met him there and showed him a Bible I had received 56 years ago which bore three signatures I thought he might find interesting.

In 1953 I was 19 years old, just out of high school and offered the challenge of my first job. I was a member of St. John’s, Toronto, in the choir there and the young people’s group. The Women’s Missionary Society asked me to teach Industrial Arts at the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ont.
Of course the service I provided the church at the school, along with that of my sister who was there for a while as a nurse and many friends who also worked there, has been tarnished. We find ourselves in a very unenviable position. Less than honorable, to be sure. For many of us there is a festering hurt as a result of being lumped into what at times sounds like a cesspool of abuse and cruelty.

The Bible I showed the moderator has this inscription on the opening page:

To George McMillan
Cecilia Jeffrey School
Kenora, Ontario
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” II Timothy 2:15
1953
With Christian Love:
Grace A. Self
Christine G. Self
Stanley D. Self

I asked Harvey if he recognized the signatures. He said, “I do, they are my parents and my aunt Grace!” He quickly made a copy of the page and could hardly wait to get home so he could show it to his mother. One could say that it was people like these and their message to me that set my course for Kenora. After 33 years of successfully teaching Industrial Arts I am now retired.

I have to say that Bible has kept my spirits and my faith strong in spite of the bad press around the Indian residential schools that continues. It is to be hoped that others may find their peace and solace in the word of God, as they try to cope with their inner feelings regarding the uneasiness and bitterness that is part of their lives.

6 Comments

  1. avatar
    Valerie Canfield says:

    I’d like to hear more of George’s story, it’s important to hear what he has to say. It would be interesting to have some of his experiences in the form of memoirs in the record.
    My uncle (he was native) Albert Henton was a janitor at Cecilia Jeffrey and he had some “good” stories from there as well. As well my aunt taught some sewing and cooking, and other people I knew were teachers (like George McMillan) and they were all good people. It’s a shame that they have been brandished as bad etc. as they did their best to do a good job.
    There were some good things that happened and some good stories to tell, I’d like to read them.
    Valerie.

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  2. avatar
    Andrew Faiz says:

    For the sake of space in the magazine we had to regretfully edit George’s full submission. Find below the original text he sent.
    Andrew Faiz
    Managing Editor
    The Presbyterian Record

    I Have a Bible
    a
    Very Special Bible!

    I had the opportunity recently to meet with The Rev. Harvey Self, Moderator of the 135th General Assembly in the Kenora Fellowship Centre. Prior to the meeting I got to wondering if this person was in any way related to three people who had presented me with the gift of a bible as a going away present back in 1953. Yes, 56 years ago.
    For a moment let’s go back in time to 1953 when I was 19 years old, just out of high school and enjoying the rewards of my first job. I was a member of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto where I was an active member of the choir and the Young People’s group. It was here at this time that I was presented with the challenge to take up the work of the Presbyterian Church in Canada under the direction of the W.M.S. I was asked to use my schooling and trade skills to teach (Manual Training) Industrial Arts at a school many, many miles away from my family and friends. The school was the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora , Ontario.
    I had never been further away from home than the cottage on Georgian Bay just outside Collingwood and that was always with family and friends.
    The train ride west on the “Dominion” seemed to last forever, and the sight of Sudbury the next morning out of Toronto was shocking . I raised my window blind to view what looked like a moonscape. Not a green tree or bush to be seen anywhere!Questions raced through my mind. Why was I doing this? Where was I going? And why was I leaving every person I had ever loved, and known behind me for this new adventure? The bible I had received explained it all and I was ready to face whatever was ahead of me.
    I also have a sister who served as a registered nurse at C.J. School for a time and there are still a few living friends with whom I share this common thread, of serving others on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Recently our dedication and service has come under some severe criticism in the press. I suppose I would not be far off base to use the word tarnished to describe the results of our labor. The entire situation has been painted with a very large brush to include everything and everyone involved in the residential school program and how they were operated. The result has been that many, like myself find ourselves in a very unenviable position. Less than honorable, to be sure, but why?
    At this very same meeting in Kenora recently I heard the story told that described recent relationships with aboriginal peoples were not based on the services rendered, whether it be food at a catered luncheon or some other service, rather it was people showing their concern for their fellow man that made the difference. That is what cements the bond between individuals . .Somehow this connection with people who tried to make a difference and cared about what they were doing in the residential school system was lost along the way. What words best describe the feelings and the hurt of those of us who remain? Abandoned? Betrayed? Neglected? For some there is a festering hurt as a result of being lumped into what at times sounds like a cesspool of abuse and cruelty. With no apparent healing process being mentioned or directed towards their plight some remain bitter over the events of recent times.
    There was a time when we could look back through photographs and see all the smiling faces enjoying the hockey teams , the trips , the fun and games to name but a few of the activities that kept staff and students at C. J. School for the most part healthy and well looked after. Those days are gone forever and the good times and lasting life skills that were experienced by so many have been very effectively erased .
    Getting back to my bible the opening page has written in it:
    To George McMillan
    Cecilia Jeffrey School
    Kenora Ontario
    “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman
    that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the
    word of truth”
    II Timothy 2:15

    1953
    With Christian Love:
    Grace A. Self
    Christine G. Self
    Stanley D. Self
    On Friday September 11th 2009 I was able to ask Harvey if he recognized the signatures on the front of my bible..His response was “ I do, they are my parents and my aunt Grace!” He quickly made a copy of the page and could hardly wait until he would get home so he could show it to his mother. One could say that it was people like these and the message to me on the front page of my bible that set my course for Kenora and here I shall stay. After 33 years of successfully teaching Industrial Arts I am now retired as my story winds down.
    In closing I have to say that it is what is written in the pages beyond the “presentation script” that keeps my spirits and my faith strong in spite of the bad press we have to contend with as the saga of the Indian Residential Schools continues. It is to be hoped that others may find their peace and solace in the Word Of God , as they try to cope with their inner feelings regarding the uneasiness and bitterness that is part of their lives.

    George S. McMillan
    First Presbyterian Church
    Kenora , Ontario

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  3. avatar
    Gladys Ellis says:

    I am Georges sister who worked at C.J. as a nurse. It also saddens my heart to hear the angry words spoken against the dedicated Loving people who GAVE large parts of there lives to minister at the school. The children were LOVED and well cared for. I too have a Bible given to me as I entered Nurses training with the sole purpose of working st C.J. We have an awsome God who someday will show the true worth of our service. As Mother used to say. someday it will all come out in the wash.

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  4. avatar
    Amelia Fox says:

    Hi All, I’ve had relatives who’ve attended the said ‘Indian residential school’ and I am a full blooded First Nations woman.

    I would just like to say, that the people who taught at such residential schools were no better than the ones running it; barely any education who most likely came from an oppressed state of their homeland only to work to oppress others in our native land – First Nations (or Native) or not.

    I feel sorry for their spirits, and the spirits of those who were to do ‘God’s work’ – resulting in hundreds of children buried in the hills not far from the school, within the walls and murdered by fire in the furnice.

    Most of all, I feel sorry for their relatives left with their burdens who choose to chase after ‘Good’ stories from residential school whilst trying to forget the horrors their ‘employment’ brought to their eyes.

    Nearly a hundred years later and FIRST NATIONS are STILL waiting for that awesome God to show the truth and worth of your ‘service’

    Oh wait, sorry. Our communities are so blindly affected by this systemic genocide that we are much to busy trying to reclaim our culture, traditions and language.

    Please tell me Gladys Ellis; were you also taught to ‘Kill the Indian, but keep the man?’ as well? or is this something you’ve chosen to forget in your many years since retiring?

    SHAME ON ALL OF YOU! May the creator have mercy on your souls.

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    Andrew Faiz Reply:

    At the 137th General Assembly the Presbyterian Church did affirm that there were some very good people who taught at the schools. The affirmation was made within the context of the Church’s 1994 Apology.
    May the Creator have mercy on all of our souls. We are all broken!

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  5. avatar
    Larry Mandamin says:

    I served six years in the Cecilia Jeffrey Penitentary, The official name of it was the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School,but it was a penitentary for children, where our only supposed crime was being aboriginal.The settlement I received works out to almost $14.00 per day.This pales in comparison to what another person received as compensation.He received 10 million dollars for his twenty-three years of wrongful imprisonment.That works out to almost $1200.00 per day. I do not begrudge his payment,but this should have been the benchmark for compensation since the court itself set the standard,a legal precedence,you might say.I just felt so cheated when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said there was no colonialism in Canada.His “heart-felt apology” sounds so empty now after he made that statement.The truth about this truth and reconciliation is;can there ever be a reconciliation if compensation is based on race?

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