Fort McMurray Catholic School Division Renames Downtown School

(Fort McMurray, AB, April 5, 2022)-  At the Fort McMurray Catholic School Board of Education meeting on April 4, 2022 the Board officially approved a recommendation to rename Father Turcotte School. 

The name will come off the front of the building shortly. We pray this is a step to assist in the healing for many in our Indigenous community. 

Moving forward the school will be called Our Lady of the Rivers. Our Lady of the Rivers represents a combination of the acknowledgment of the important role the rivers play in providing life to our region as well as the protection that Mary, mother of Jesus, provides for our school community. 

The name change was initiated following allegations of sexual abuse by Father Turcotte. In the summer of 2021, as the Athabasca Tribal Council supported the Blinding Light healing walk in the downtown core of Fort McMurray, serious allegations were brought forward to the community. 

The Fort McMurray Catholic School Division immediately reached out to local Indigenous leaders in the region to seek to understand and learn more about the truth behind these allegations. 

It was through listening to Indian Residential School survivors and First Nation leaders that we now take these next steps in reconciliation and support action to bring healing on behalf of the School Division. 

Fort McMurray Catholic School Division acknowledges the great injustice done to Indigenous families and we recognize the ongoing harm the residential school legacy has created. 

“I am very happy with the suggestion, and now decided upon name, of Our Lady of the Rivers. I think our Lord’s mother always promotes health and healing but also associating her with the life of a moving river reminds us of the life of faith that comes to us in baptism. Therefore may Our Lady of the Rivers continue through her gentle presence promoting healing and Christian sharing among all of us here in Fort McMurray,” says Bishop Paul Terrio, Bishop of the St Paul Diocese.

“Last week, Pope Francis apologized for abuses by Catholic Church members in residential schools and we must listen and work with the Indigenous communities to support healing through meaningful change,” explains Fort McMurray Catholic School Board Chair Cathie Langmead.

“Fort McMurray Catholic Schools enjoys an exceptional relationship with the First Nations, Indigenous and Métis peoples of this region,” continues Langmead. “It is important that we continue to listen to our Indigenous brothers and sisters as they share their stories and the stories of their ancestors. We wholeheartedly acknowledge the sins of our forebears and will continue moving forward on the path to healing and reconciliation. By renaming the school we pray that this action shows our continual commitment to work in consultation and cooperation with the original peoples of Treaty 8. Through listening, love, and faith, together we will be the change that unites us.”  

“The Indigenous people of this region play a huge role in the success of our School Division,” said George McGuigan, Superintendent of Schools. “While the name change may be perceived to be small in nature, it is important to take action where we can be part of the change to address the painful past. Through this name change, we hope this paves a new path forward to a start in reconciliation.”

“Indigenous communities have been telling their stories for many years without action. Today’s announcement is a positive step in changing that pattern, but much more is needed,” said Chief Allan Adam, President of the Athabasca Tribal Council. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the school board’s commitment to advancing reconciliation and healing with the First Nations communities of Northern Alberta and we are willing to remain on this path together, and welcome deeper discussions on the changes we can make to recognize the work still to be done.”

Education is the future as well as the present. Every day we work to listen, to learn, and to share within the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools family. 

The 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line was created to provide support to residential school survivors. Individuals can call 1-866-925-4419 to access emotional and crisis referral services.