This week national leaders and Anglican Church representatives joined residential school survivors, First Nations leaders and community members in a special ceremony to mark the demolition of St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Alert Bay.
I was born in Alert Bay and listening to some of the coverage of the event and the painful memories made me appreciate that birthplaces can impact us in different ways.
When I tell people I was born in Alert Bay it usually makes for a good conversation.
As a kid I would have to correct people and explain that I was not born in Alert way up in the north.
“Alert Bay is a little native village on the coast,” I’d explain, probably repeating something my parents had told me.
In high school in Nelson my principal told me he got his first job in Alert Bay because of me.
My mom had been hired to teach French and gym at the public junior/senior high school there, but when I was born the following year, she gave up her position.
A few years ago, I was on a jury adjudicating grant applications and learned that a fellow juror was from Alert Bay.
“What are the odds?” he said of the fact there were five of us on the panel and two of us were born in the same place.
Smiling I asked if he was delivered by Dr. Pickup. He nodded yes.
Last September I was in for a routine test at Cariboo Memorial Hospital when a male nurse on duty introduced himself.
When he told me he was from a coastal community near Alert Bay, I told him I was born there.
It turned out he was delivered by Dr. Pickup too, although I would guess almost 30 years after me.
And in November while I was waiting to pick up my truck from the mechanic, a woman came in who was from Alert Bay.
I smiled and told her I was born there but because my family moved to Ocean Falls shortly afterwards, I didn’t have any memories, but that one of these years I hope to get to Alert Bay and Ocean Falls.
My brother Michael is buried in Ocean Falls. He was born prematurely while my parents were lighthouse keeping near there.
When I moved to Prince Rupert from Nelson I became curious about Michael’s grave so I randomly picked a name from the phone book and called.
I told the man who answered my story and asked if he would mind looking for Michael’s grave the next time he was at the cemetery.
I also told him my parents had planted a large Juniper tree beside the grave and always wondered if it had thrived.
The next day a photograph arrived by e-mail depicting a grave marker. He said there was a stump beside it so the tree had probably grown large.
I did not have the heart to ask him to go back and take more photographs, however, 20 years later, a friend in Williams Lake went to Ocean Falls for work and snapped some photographs of the cemetery for me showing the view leading down to the inlet.
It is a little piece of my history, but one that brings a brother I never knew a little closer.
Monica Lamb-Yorski is a staff writer with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.