I was here in 1957, age 6 yrs old; my family and I came as orphans. Life in a residential school was cruel and traumatizing.
Where everyone is sitting today, this is the girl’s play area; we were confined to the border of trees. On the other side of those trees was the orchard.
As much as we played every year, you know you could walk around and play and smell those apples, but you were never allowed to go outside of those boundaries. There was no fence that I can remember. Still, I knew enough that if I were to step into that orchard and take one apple, even if it was an apple, a windfall on the ground, you were punished.
I knew that, but there was just this one really tempting time. It was probably in the fall, which I think because when I walked around, I could just smell the apples. It was so sweet, and I love apples, and it was a temptation.
I was by myself and what I did was, there was this big tree over here. I laid down next to this big tree, and I laid down because I didn’t want to get caught. So I peeked around the tree, looking up onto the veranda up here because that’s where the staff would sit to make sure we would behave ourselves and not cross the line and go into the orchard.
And if you did take an apple, you were a thief and a thief; you were punished, even though it was on the ground. When you look back on it, how that can be such a cruel thing to do to children. When they were hungry, there was a lot of hunger here. Kids had to fend for themselves here, and if that meant going to the dump to get food, then whatever. I’ve heard many stories from these guys, especially from the men, about how they went off and got food and How they supplemented their diet.
Still, there was just this overwhelming sense that it was the sweetness that was just so tempting, and so as I was laying behind this big tree over here, I peaked up here. I didn’t see any staff, so what I did was just belly crawl right across. I knew that I could be seen if there was somebody, so I just crawled through the grass and grabbed an apple, crawled back, and ate it behind that tree, and it was the most delicious apple that you could ever eat.
I was coming out and walked up towards the girl’s side, where I would go into the playroom area. Wouldn’t you know that two staff members came down off the veranda, they confronted me, I mean they saw me, I didn’t think they did, I thought I was doing pretty good crawling through grass actually.
You get a few whacks, BIG DEAL. I did not care how much they punished me; to me, the apple was worth it.
I still don’t understand why they would deprive children of apples or any food lying there; it was what is given to us in nature. What is the Harm? What is the harm in feeding children? But I guess what they were doing was supplementing their budget or whatever. Selling the produce that was here from the gardens and apples.
It was just a cruel time; I just remember how bad the food was, being hungry and just being a little kid, I was strong enough to rebel, and that’s what I did; it was well worth the punishment.
Roberta Hill: Thriver post-Canadian Residential labour camp attendance.
Told on the lawn of The Mohawk Institute where the girl’s playground was on May 24th, 2022