Written by Ally Paige

A 21-year-old student braved the harsh, bitterly cold Saskatchewan temperatures while travelling nearly 300 kilometres on snowshoes, to raise awareness. 

B’yauling Toni, a student at the University of Saskatchewan, made the strenuous trek to the former Timber Bay Children’s Home to heighten recognition for the victims that were once enrolled as students. 

The school was operated by the provincial government and was left out of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. 

The non-indigenous, engineering student said he first began to take a deeper look at the country we call home over the summer. 

“I think this summer I started to really realize something pretty bad has happened here in Canada,” he said. “Something that maybe I don't understand enough and something that I should hope to learn.” 

Saskatchewan student completes 300km on snowshoes to raise awareness

Toni said that he took it upon himself to educate himself about residential schools in Saskatchewan and throughout Canada, providing him with new knowledge. 

“You know, that realization that I wake up every day in a place where everything around me is a result of colonization,” he said. “And the other things, the things I do every day, the opportunities I have, are a result of colonization, and to understand the damage that has caused a lot of people and the indigenous community in particular.” 

During Toni’s 10-day journey from Saskatoon to Timber Bay, the young man carried with him a sleeping bag and a tarp to shelter himself from the harsh weather conditions. He stated that he would dig himself a trench in the snow, and cover himself with the tarp to block out the wind. 

“To be honest it was quite gruelling,” he said. “It was definitely a challenge. Physically more strenuous than I would have imagined, and the cold was definitely a tough part of the battle. Sleeping out every night and stuff like that, it puts things differently, knowing you don't have a place to go to dry off or warm up. But an experience I’ll remember for a long time and something I learned a lot out of for sure.” 

However, the harsh conditions did little to dampen Toni’s determination and dedication to deliver a forgotten pair of moccasins, a mission that he began in the summer. 

“This summer I set out on my bicycle to visit the federally recognized residential schools and the residential school of Ile a la Crosse,” he said “Delivering small pairs of infant moccasins that were made by youth here in Saskatoon. And on my journey, I didn't visit one location and that was Timber Bay Residential school and this is because I didn't know about it. There's very little to be learned about it. It wasn't investigated by the TRC, it's not federally recognized, and so there's just very little history kept.” 

Toni said that he only heard about the Timber Bay location through word of mouth while on his journey throughout the summer. The more research that he did, the more he learned about the technicalities that allowed the school to go unrecognized. 

“I knew that I had to go back,” he said. “I had to go to this location and deliver that that pair of moccasins that were forgotten and bring it to light how this place has been glossed over and the survivors haven't received compensation. They haven't even had an apology from our provincial or federal government, despite living in an institution that worked in almost the exact same manner as all other residential schools here in our province.” 

Saskatchewan student completes 300km on snowshoes to raise awareness

The children’s home at Timber Bay was funded by both provincial and federal governments under various names. It was run by the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission from 1952 until 1969 when the Brethren in Christ Church, a Mennonite denomination, took over. 

Indigenous children from parts of northern Saskatchewan were sent there as well as to the Montreal Lake First Nation Reserve School until the doors closed in 1994. 

Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) says about 2,000 First Nations and Metis youth attended the school and stayed at the children’s home from 1952 to 1994. 

Former students of the children’s home were there to welcome Toni upon his arrival, as well as Chief Dean Henderson. 

The Saskatoon man was also named an honorary Woodland Cree by an elder. 

Saskatchewan student completes 300km on snowshoes to raise awareness

First Nations have been fighting for the school to receive recognition under Article 12 of the Residential School Act, so far to no avail. 

The first appeal was made to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper by Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson in 2007. 

The Timber Bay Working Group, made up of former students of the Timber Bay Children’s Home, has also filed documents to have the home named as a residential school. 

In 2013, the students lost a class-action lawsuit filed by the Merchant Law group in Saskatchewan Provincial Court. 

Students from Ile a la Crosse School in northeast Saskatchewan were also ineligible for compensation. 

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact these 24/7 supports:

KUU-US Crisis Line.  -   1-800-588-8717 

Indian Residential School Survivors and Family   -   1-866-925-4419 

Watch part of his journey below, or on his TikTok account @moccasinsforremembrance.

@moccasinsforremembrance Snowshoeing to recognize Timber Bay Residential School. Link in bio for more info. #moccasinsforremembrance #everychildmatters ♬ Break My Stride - Chateau Pop
@moccasinsforremembrance The forgotten pair made it To Timber Bay. Thankful for endless support and the @theballantyneproject . i never walked alone. #moccasinsforremembrance ♬ He Can Fancy Dance - Cindy Paul