Basil Johnston

Memoir



“This is an excellent look at the way assimilationist education really worked. Beautifully written, it manages to capture the subculture of student life that existed below the surface of institutional affairs; the world of the school boys—their wants, desires, and fears that school authorities never knew about or understood—is effectively recreated.”
Robert Trennert, 
Arizona State University

“The author’s style is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Johnston is a superb writer. His use of the language is excellent, but beyond this, he has a powerful story that brings forth the full range of human emotions. In event after event he weaves together a tale that holds within it much of the drama of the history of Indian-white relations.”
Margaret Connell Szasz, 
University of New Mexico

U of Oklahoma Press 1989
Key Porter Canada 1988

Indian School Days

This book is the humorous, bittersweet autobiography of a Canadian Ojibwa who was taken from his family at age ten and placed in a Jesuit boarding school in northern Ontario. It was 1939 when the feared Indian agent visited Basil Johnston’s family and removed him and his four-year-old sister to St. Peter Claver’s School, run by the priests in a community known as Spanish, 75 miles from Sudbury.

“Spanish! It was a word synonymous with residential school, penitentiary, reformatory, exile, dungeon, whippings, kicks, slaps, all rolled into one,” Johnston recalls. But despite the aching loneliness, the deprivation, the culture shock and the numbing routine, his story is engaging and compassionate. Johnston creates marvelous portraits of the young Indian boys who struggled to adapt to strange ways and unthinking, unfeeling discipline.  Even the Jesuit teachers, whose flashes of humor occasionally broke through their stern demeanor, are portrayed with an understanding born of hindsight.

Basil Johnston is the author of eight books, the recipient of the Order of Ontario, an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto. He lives at the Cape Croker Reserve.