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Residential school plane crash victim memorial a step closer

May 27, 2024  By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative, Winnipeg Sun

The City of Winnipeg is one step closer to erecting a permanent memorial to commemorate the nine lives that were lost when a plane taking residential school students home for the summer crashed on a Winnipeg street more than five decades ago.

“It was by far the darkest day in our community’s history,” Bunibonibee Cree Nation (BCN) Chief Richard Hart said on Wednesday.

It was June 24, 1972, and the end of another school year for the many Indigenous children who at that time were still forced to attend residential schools and be separated from their home communities for much of the year in Canada.

On that day, Mary Rita Canada, Wilkie Muskego, Roy Sinclair and his sister Deborah Sinclair, Margaret Robinson, Ethel Grieves, Rosalie Belfour, Iona Weenusk, and pilot Scott Coughlin took off in a plane from Winnipeg.


The eight students were travelling back to their home community of BCN, which was then known as Oxford House, for their summer break from residential schools they attended in Portage la Prairie and Stonewall.

The plane lifted off in Winnipeg, but crashed soon after takeoff into a vacant lot on Linwood Street in St James. Everyone on board perished.

Hart said many family members and parents of the children in the community that day were eagerly awaiting their return, only to find out instead that they were dead.

“It was horrible, and we can never forget the impact,” Hart said. “And we only had about 1,000 people in the community at the time, so to lose that many youth at one time was devastating.”

A monument to the victims currently stands near the former Portage la Prairie Residential School and Hart said his community commemorates the anniversary of the tragedy every year. Recently, plans have been in the works for BCN, the city, and the Royal Canadian Aviation Museum (RCAM) partner to erect a permanent memorial near the crash site in Winnipeg.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg’s executive policy committee (EPC) voted unanimously to approve funding of up to $5,000 towards the installation while RCAM has said previously they plan to leverage access to the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee funds to pay for the memorial.

Hart said for family members of the victims, including siblings and a mother of one of the children who is still alive and is now in her late 90s, it would be an important opportunity to see the monument when it is unveiled.

“I’m not saying they are looking forward to it, but they want to be a part of it when they open it up, and, we are waiting for that moment when we can have family members come down and be a part of this,” he said.

Hart added the monument would also be a place where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people could reflect on the legacy of the crash, but also about the systems that were in place at that time like residential schools that led to the children being on the plane that day.

“The residential school experience and what happened to Indigenous people over the years often gets overlooked,” Hart said.

“I hope this can be a place where we can all find some mutual understanding because when there is an understanding of different cultures and experiences, there is a better chance that people can live without stereotypes of prejudices, and live in harmony.”

At Wednesday’s EPC meeting, St. James area advocate Kelly Ryback spoke about the monument’s importance.

“This is important to Bunibonibee Cree Nation, this is important to all Indigenous communities and Indigenous persons, it’s also important for the residents of St. James and Winnipeg,” Ryback said.

Plans for the site include a monument to commemorate each of the victims and a gravel parkway area with benches.

“It overlooks the Assiniboine Golf Course, it overlooks the airport, it’s a beautiful site and I encourage you to support this motion and provide the funding,” Ryback said.

“It’s a beautiful location, but more importantly it may help people to reflect.”

The motion will now go to Winnipeg city council for final approval.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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