David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Nurturing of Memory, Learning and Contemplation

Brandon Sun, April 4, 2022 – David McConkey

The news about unmarked graves at former sites of Indian residential schools has prompted thoughts and conversations. How do we as a society remember the past? For how we citizens remember the past shapes how we see the present and how we will act in the future.

Helping us remember are public installations recognizing our history. These plaques, monuments and other markers foster understanding, including about discomforting aspects of our past.

Last summer and through the fall and winter, my wife and I visited – or re-visited – historical reminders in the Westman area. Here are some highlights of what we saw that illustrate what is here and that might encourage you to take a look as well. (Some, like the plaques about the Brandon First World War internment camp, were detailed in earlier columns.)  


You likely have noticed around town the colourful tipis of the Tipi Tour Legacy Project. The tipis are dedicated to the memory of the missing and murdered Indigneous women and girls.

We visited tipis located at Assiniboine Community College, Brandon Regional Health Centre, Brandon University, City Hall, Brandon School Division administration office, Green Acres and Riverview schools, Errol Black and Stanley parks, Knox United Church, the police station and the Riverbank Discovery Centre.

Each tipi is flanked by an informative plaque. As well, the tipis have an opening, usually facing east, inviting the visitor to step in. Inside the tipi are often more images or texts. The depictions are of various aspects of Indigenous cultures, history and contemporary concerns. The overall tone is uplifting.

At the police station, for instance, the tipi relates the Dakota teaching of the Akicita. The Akicita was an older man who took on the role of mentor and protector – like today’s police officer.

The tipis enliven the urban landscape. For those who stop to take a closer look, the tipis are gems of information and reflection.


The Assiniboine Community College north hill campus is at the former Brandon Mental Health Centre. BMHC was first established in the 1890s. There were two cemeteries where about 1700 individuals are buried.

The older BMHC cemetery was in use from 1898 to 1925. It is in the north east part of the campus; there could be better signage to direct a visitor.

Nestled in trees, the space evokes a lovely natural meadow, quiet and peaceful. The graves are not identified or marked. A monument lists the names of 391 individuals believed to be buried there. Strolling around or sitting on a bench, a visitor is invited to recall those who lived with a mental illness and died in an institution when there was provision for only a meagre place of rest.


In May 1899, a group of Ukrainian immigrants were camped near present day Oakburn. During an outbreak of scarlet fever, 42 children and three adults died. Digging individual graves in the frozen ground was not possible, so the dead were buried in a mass grave.

Over the years, more plaques and monuments have been erected there, commemorating those who died as well as celebrating Ukrainian settlement in Canada.

The location is well marked and is just north of Oakburn on Highway 577. It is 120 km northwest of Brandon.

The Ukrainian mass grave site is hauntingly beautiful. Remembering the hardships endured a century ago by Ukrainians seeking a better life in Canada is especially poignant with today's war and refugee crisis.


We also visited the monument in the Brandon Cemetery remembering the racism and hardship imposed by the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Acts. It is located south of the cemetery office, near the columbaria. This attractive piece of public art is not only informative, but also a great tribute to what can be accomplished by a dedicated group of volunteers .


We look forward to visiting new places, such as the sculpture at Brandon University. We also plan to visit any future installation open to the public at the former Brandon Indian Residential School site on Grand Valley Road.

And we applaud the suggestion of our friend Jane Neil that Mayor Rick Chrest cement his legacy by resolving the issue of ownership and recognition of the original residential school cemetery. This cemetery is located at the site of the former city-owned Curran Park. Fifty years ago, the Girl Guides erected a monument there honouring the Indian Children Burial Ground. A new, informative marker should be created with contemporary messaging and participation.

My wife and I will return to these Westman sites. We will remember, learn and contemplate. We also will reflect with gratitude on the lives and community we enjoy today.

* * * *
See also: 

Looking Past the Label of the "Wrong Side of the Tracks"

Why do Good People Fall for Bad Ideas?

What's in a Name?

Discovering Rewritten History

Can We Say No to More Racism?

What Should We Remember of Our History?



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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