What really happened in May of 2021 when the world’s media lost their minds and disseminated false headlines claiming mass graves of murdered children were uncovered in Kamloops, BC?
To get a clear picture of what is likely to be the case, we must begin with what led indigenous community members to believe clandestine burials had taken place in the apple orchard of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS).
It is important to note that it was the so-called indigenous Knowledge Keepers at Kamloops who claimed to have known that the Kamloops apple orchard was a clandestine burial site. The reason ground penetrating radar (GPR) searches were conducted was due to the Knowledge Keepers “knowings” – which derive from indigenous oral traditions (also known as “traditional knowledge”).
But what is the difference between an urban legend and a “knowing” disseminated through oral traditions?
Former KIRS student, Emma Baker admitted in an interview with CTV that when she attended the Kamloops residential school from 1952 to 1956, she and her friends made up stories about graves in the apple orchard.
“There was a big orchard there and we used to make up stories of the graveyard being in the orchard,” Baker told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “There was rumours of a graveyard, but nobody seemed to know where it was and we didn’t even know if it was true.”
Those lurid stories, or more likely, highly implausible urban legends, were for decades circulated by defrocked former United Church minister and debunked conspiracy theorist Kevin Annett. It appears that Annett had heard the tales of unmarked graves and murdered children, most likely remnants of the gruesome yarns exaggerated by former IRS students like Emma Baker.
Perhaps the strangest chapter in Annett’s saga, which includes the morbid quest to find “unmarked graves,” is the bizarre 2011 ruse he perpetrated involving the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario.
In Billy Remembers, Frances Widdowson asks “about the extent to which the ‘oral tellings’ of the Knowledge Keepers, which have been provided as evidence for the existence of ‘secret burials’ at KIRS, have been influenced by the lurid stories circulating over the past 25 years.”
The hoax involved Annett and “excavations” on the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute and was largely ignored by Canadian media, which was (and is) more interested in the dissemination of emotionally charged theatrics in line with a progressive narrative. It ended with Annett’s ex-communication from the Six Nations after he was filmed waving a chicken bone around the streets of Toronto, claiming it belonged to an Indigenous child recovered from a clandestine grave located at the site of the former Mohawk Institute.
Canadians might have expected Annett’s 2011 farce to be the water putting out the fire on the misleading Kamloops claims, for, in addition to his antics in Brantford, Annett was also the source of many of the outrageous assertions at Kamloops. On the contrary, the Kamloops story sparked renewed interest in unmarked grave searches at former residential schools, including the Brantford site, and began a cascade of similarly framed “discoveries” at locations across the country.
But new information from a somewhat mysterious but legitimate and verified source has arrived just in time. An anonymous architectural consultant who specializes in site inspections and goes by the moniker KamRes (short for Kamloops residential school), has built a website called Graves in the Apple Orchard featuring details of his analysis concerning survey data of the infamous Kamloops apple orchard.
In July, Terry Glavin wrote in the National Post, “…a report anonymously prepared by an architectural consultant who specializes in site inspections, which suggests that the anomalies picked up by the T’Kemlups GPR survey are likely the result of decades of ground disturbances — irrigation ditches, utility lines, backhoe trenches, archeological digs, waterlines and so on.”
One of these historical excavations is of particular interest. In 1924, excavation work began for a septic field with 2000 linear feet of trenches in what later became the apple orchard. These trenches had ground tiling installed, roughly at the depth of the supposed shallow graves said to contain murdered residential school students. It’s worth noting that the septic tank and septic field were installed along with the construction of the brick building which still stands there; an indication that the school was modernizing.
KamRes uncovered a 1937 document called the Warren report which shows the placement of the 1924 septic field. He was able to pinpoint the location of a section referred to as the “east sewage disposal bed” directly under the apple orchard and was also able to determine that the east-west orientation of the trenches and the drainage tiles within them matched the east-west burial pattern Dr. Beaulieu told the media was reflected in her GPR readings. It is likely that the soil disturbances caused by this 1924 septic field were picked up by ground penetrating radar and have been mistakenly interpreted as clandestine graves.
Because the Kamloops Indian Band has not released Dr. Beaulieu’s GPR report, researchers cannot verify if she knew about the 1924 septic field and drainage trenches. However, comments she has made to the media, like the one that follows, give the impression of a person not very open to alternative explanations of what she believes to be unmarked graves.
“All residential school landscapes are likely to contain burials of missing children. Remote sensing such as GPR merely provides some spatial specificity to this truth.” – Dr Beaulieu
Researcher Nina Green had this to say about the developments offered by KamRes:
“KIRS had a very large septic field in 1924, and according to Kam Res, it’s under the apple orchard where Dr. Beaulieu did her GPR work. There’s no way GPR can distinguish between a filled-in septic field trench and a filled-in grave. The GPR profiles will look the same.”
If a filled-in septic field trench and a filled-in grave are not the same, or at least do not produce the same GPR reading, and if there is some way to demonstrate the exact soil disturbance signature matching a clandestine burial, then let Dr. Beaulieu prove it.
Until she does, or better yet, until the Kamloops Band conducts an excavation and uncovers what is actually under the soil, the most plausible explanation is that it’s the school’s former septic system of filled-in shallow trenches containing old drainage tiles.
This article was originally published by True North News. It has been republished with the author’s permission.