Youth killed in 1972 plane crash a reminder of Manitoba’s residential school history

 By Dave Baxter

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Fifty years after a plane crash took the lives of eight First Nations youth on their way home from residential schools, one organization is looking back at the aftermath of the tragedy and honouring the memory of those who were lost that day.

“June 24, 1972, was one of the darkest days for Bunibonibee Cree Nation,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a media release, reacting to the 50th anniversary of a 1972 crash in Winnipeg that killed eight students and a pilot.

On the day of the crash, a plane lifted off from Winnipeg, set to take those eight students home to the northern Manitoba community of Bunibonibee Cree Nation for their summer break, but the plane crashed soon after takeoff into a vacant lot on Linwood Street in Winnipeg, killing everyone on board.

The crash took the lives of 18-year-old Mary Rita Canada, 16-year-old Wilkie Muskego, 16-year-old Roy Sinclair and his sister 14-year-old Deborah Sinclair, 16-year-old Margaret Robinson, 17-year-old Ethel Grieves, 16-year-old Rosalie Belfour, as well as pilot Wilbur S. Coughlin.

The students were on their way home for their summer break, after attending residential schools in Portage la Prairie and in Stonewall, leaving some to still wonder what would have become of them, had they not perished that day 50 years ago.

“We will never stop wondering what those young people could have achieved had they not been victims of that plane crash,” Settee said.

According to Settee, news of the crash is relevant today, as it shows more of the damage caused by Canada’s former residential school system and systems he said can still force First Nations people in remote communities to leave home and travel long distances to pursue educational opportunities.

“The loss of these young people connects strongly with Canada’s dark past,” Settee said. “These young people from Bunibonibee were required to leave their home community to pursue their education.

“It is important we continue to talk about and share our knowledge of the legacy of residential schools. This plane crash and the loss of these young people is one impact of the residential school system in Manitoba.”

A memorial for those who died in the crash now stands near the former Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School, on the Long Plain First Nation urban reserve, near Portage la Prairie.

There are also plans for a memorial to be erected at the site of the crash in Winnipeg, as recently the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada announced it will build a monument to those lost in the crash on Linwood Street in St. James, where the plane went down in 1972.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Bunibonibee Cree Nation and all those who have been impacted by the plane crash that altered so many lives 50 years ago,” Settee said.

“MKO continues to stand in solidarity with all First Nations that are impacted by the loss of innocent children and youth.”

– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.



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