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UBC Theses and Dissertations

'House of no spirit' : an architectural history of the Indian Residential School in British Columbia Carr, Geoffrey Paul


This dissertation investigates an often disregarded aspect of the history of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system in British Columbia (BC): namely, the designs, aims, and uses of its architecture. Central to the dissertation is the contention that the IRS should not be considered a ―school‖ per se, as this label suggests not only kinship with a broad spectrum of institutions, but also intimates a place of salubrity and self-improvement. On the contrary, the study evinces the particular nature of the IRS: to disrupt the formation of genealogies between these structures and other modern institutions. This emphasis on distinctions—between the IRS and other modern buildings—is explored through a comparative architectural topology, meant to reveal the precise function of the IRS: to target certain colonized Indigenous subjects, to effect particular rationalities of colonial rule, and to produce distinct spaces within which to enforce new behavioural norms. Moreover, I argue that the IRS comprised places without place, non-places where Indigenous children, by design, were meant to no longer feel at home in their own societies, cultures, communities, and families. In addition to rethinking IRS architecture in BC, the study also surveys several conflicting opinions on how—or if at all—to commemorate the institutional remnants of this complex and, often, painful history. Variously repurposed, neglected, or demolished, the former IRS pose several problems, in terms of determining their historical value and their place among existing national, provincial, and regional sites of memory. I analyse the official processes by which material and intangible traces of the past become bearers of heritage value. Following this, I investigate in depth the cluster of issues that trouble attempts to recognize and preserve the ―difficult heritage‖ of the IRS.

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