A Birds on the Post Farewell to St. Michael's Indian Residential School

Photo essay by Cliff Emery

We are very happy to introduce guest artist Cliff Emery, of Alert Bay, B.C. who has generously contributed his photographic essay, “A Bird On The Post Farewell to St. Michael’s Residential School,” to CIE’S Galleria.  Emery describes himself as “…an old man who goes for walks and carries a simple camera with him.”

cliff's prologue intro


Alert Bay is a small island community and home to the ‘Namgis Kwakwak’wakw First Nation located on British Columbia’s central northwest coast.

I have visited Alert Bay, on a yearly basis since the early 1970’s and have been in awe of these four iconic features: the graceful but equally gorky cormorants soaring inches above the water or grooming on a piling; beautiful, arrogant eagles perching wherever they want to and tolerating our presence; the priceless totems providing continuity from past to present to future; and, finally, the foreboding and omnipresent St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.

Two years ago my wife and I “moved home.” Soon after, I was fortunate enough to be here to witness one of the more significant events in the history of this amazing community: the demolition of “St. Mike’s” in March, 2015.

I cannot begin to imagine the extent of suffering that residential schools wrought on their victims and their families. And,  this photo – essay is not meant to suggest that I do. I am an old man who goes for walks and carries a simple camera with him.

I visited the demolition site for a few hours every day. As the building gradually came down I felt a corresponding lifting of a sort of haze over the entire area. I have used a modest photo-editor app on some of the early pictures in an attempt to capture that feeling. The following photos are my attempt to share what I saw and what I felt as that building came down. I call it

A Birds on the Post Farewell to St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.”



Slide #1  One of a number of plaques erected at historic sites on the island – a joint project between Namgis First Nation and the Village of Alert Bay.

Slide #2  Cormorant on a post – St. Michael’s in the background.

Slide #3  Official “apology” from the Anglican Church of Canada to ” Native ” People. 

Slide #4  Demolition “ceremony” – February 18, 2015.

Slide #5  Demolition early stages – bricks removed one at a time to prevent possible damage to U’Mista Cultural Center ( lower left corner ).

Slide #6 Totem stands as witness.

Slide #7  Excavator takes down part of the second floor.

Slide #8  The rubble pile grows.

Slide #9  The “apology” revisited.

Slide #10  View from one of the 5 ” rest areas ” commemorating the 5 traditional Namgis clans.

Slide #11  Taken from the U’Mista beach.

Slide #12  Eagle on the post, half of the building down.

Slide #13   Demolition continues…

Slide #14 A pile of rubble.

Slide #15  Cormorant on the post.

Slide #16  The “apology” – fading significance. 

Slide #17 Uncluttered horizon.

Slide #18  Eagle on the post – A new beginning.