No Time to Say Goodbye

Written by Sylvia Olsen with Rita Morris and Ann Sam

Published October 2001 by Sono Nis Press (Links to an external site.)

No Time to Say Goodbye tells the stories of five children who are removed from their families and taken to the Kuper Island Residential School. The experiences of Thomas, Wilson, Joey, Monica, and Nelson are based on true accounts from former Kuper Island students. The book is divided into five distinct sections, each one focusing on one of the children, and reveals the hardships of life at the school through the perspectives of the children’s narratives.

Thomas’ story focuses on the children’s arrival at the residential school. They are taken from class at Tsartlip Day School directly to Kuper island with no warning and little explanation. In a devastating turn of events, Thomas’ five-year-old brother Joey has followed his older brothers to school that day and is taken also. As the boys wait in the car, they witness their father trying to stop Agent MacDonald from taking the boys, only to be threatened with jail time for resisting.

Wilson is one of Thomas’ younger brothers and is heartbroken when he and Joey are separated from Thomas.  Unable to stomach the food at the school, Wilson loses consciousness in class and is transferred to the hospital where he is diagnosed with an advanced case of malnutrition. The doctor suggests an investigation into Kuper Island and is told that if he proceeds, he will be barred from practicing at the hospital. Eventually Wilson is sent home and his parents receive a letter from Father Maynard presenting a very different version of Wilson’s condition.

After several years at the school, Joey decides he will run away. He recognizes the risks after two other students are caught trying to escape and are brutally strapped. Joey and his classmate, Stumpy, develop an elaborate plan and eventually make it to Joey’s Aunt and Uncle. They help Joey reach his parents’ home, but his mother is too afraid of the repercussions of allowing him to stay and sends him back to school.

Monica is bullied by other girls at the school because Father Maynard has given her the name “Little Princess.” When Vivian, one of the other girls, tries to warn Monica about Father Maynard, she reveals that it is already too late. She is often taken to his room at night by Sister Mary Louise. Vivian stands up for Monica and is sent away from the school. When she he alerts some women in town to the abuse Father Maynard is inflicting on the girls, an investigation results and Father Maynard is transferred to another school.

Nelson establishes himself as a fighter as soon as he arrives at Kuper Island. He fights with Brother Jerry and defends himself against Murray, the school tough guy. A new teacher at the school, Brother Feldstar, recognizes Nelson’s athletic skill and encourages Nelson to train. He believes Nelson might be the best runner for his age in the province. Running and Feldstar’s support become positive forces in Nelson’s life, helping him cope with the hardship and abuse he faces daily.

No Time to Say Goodbye presents the heartbreaking truths faced by children forced to attend residential schools through the voices of these five children. As Sylvia Olsen explains in the preface, this book was written with “hope that young people for many generations will learn about this neglected but important part of history through reading this book.”

Introducing the Author:

Read Sylvia Olsen’s author bio (Links to an external site.).

Developing Background Knowledge:

Educators who would like to know more about residential schools in Canada can start with these sources:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Links to an external site.)

Residential Schools in Canada Education Guide (Links to an external site.)

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (University of Manitoba) (Links to an external site.)

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