St. Joseph's Mission Investigation

We are T’exelcemc (Williams Lake Nation people), members of the Secwepemc Nation

Phase II Results

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) would like to acknowledge that the following release could be triggering for some people. A crisis support line at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be reached at 1-866-925-4419 and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

WLFN Chief and Council today announced the results from the second phase of the geophysical investigation at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.

During the Phase 1 geophysical investigation, the St. Joseph’s Mission Investigation Team surveyed approximately 16 hectares of the broader 782-hectare site using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) technology. All reflections in the GPR data were reviewed through a rigorous quality control process. The refined data from the Phase 1 geophysical investigation confirmed 93 reflections that were indicative of potential human remains.

Throughout the Phase 2 geophysical investigation, WLFN used the same method of GPR technology to survey approximately 18 additional hectares of land. To date, 66 reflections in that Phase 2 area have been recorded which display characteristics indicative of potential human remains. WLFN emphasizes that no geophysical investigation can provide absolute certainty as to the presence of human remains, and that excavation of these reflection areas would be required to make a definitive determination.

In response to the results, WLFN Chief Willie Sellars states:

“As we move forward, WLFN will continue to work diligently and collaboratively with survivors and their families, our neighboring First Nation communities and their members, the federal and provincial governments, and the private landowners. This is a very complicated, stressful and emotionally draining process so we want to continue to conduct this investigation in as positive and supportive a way as possible. WLFN remains committed to seeking resolution and truth for those survivors and families who have lost children through the residential school system at St. Joseph’s Mission.”

A Sacred Fire will take place at the Elizabeth Grouse gymnasium from the afternoon of January 25th to the evening of January 28th, ending with a feast, traditional dancing, and a demonstration of Lahal. Everyone is welcome, including the wider non-indigenous public, and health and wellness supports will be on-site throughout the duration of the Sacred Fire.

Download a PDF of this release here (click link)


Brandon Hoffman, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
p. 250. 296.3507 ext. 185


Maggie Berns, Executive Assistant to the CAO & Chief
p. 250.296.3507 ext. 138


Whitney Spearing, Lead Investigator
p. 778-417-0196

Dominique Melanson, SJM Investigation Administrative Coordinator
p. 778.417.0198

Download a printable version of this press release here (click link).

Community Viewing of Phase II Results Presentation

Williams Lake First Nation will be announcing the results of Phase II of the St. Joseph’s Mission Investigation on Wednesday, January 25th, 2023, at 1pm. The announcement will be livestreamed over WLFN’s Facebook page, and a virtual viewing for community members will be held at the Elizabeth Grouse Gymnasium; 2674 Indian Dr, Williams Lake, BC.

Health and Wellness Supports

In anticipation of the January 25ths news release, WLFN has health and wellness supports in place. WLFN wants to ensure that anyone who is triggered, wants to talk, or needs help is supported during this difficult time.

Social Development

WLFN’s local Social Development after hours helpline is available seven days a week, from 8am – 8pm. You can call this number in times of crisis: 778.267.6677.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911

Emergency Emotional & Spiritual Health Resource Guide

WLFN has published a guidebook, compiling available emergency emotional and spiritual health resources. A digital copy of the guide book is available right here (click link). Printed copies are available at WLFN’s offices at 2561 Quigli Drive and 315 Yorston St, as well as at the Cwelcwélt Health Station, 2780 Indian Drive, Sugar Cane, BC.

Sacred Fire & Sqílye Ceremony

There will be a Sacred Fire outside the Elizabeth Grouse Gymnasium (2674 Indian Dr, Williams Lake, BC), from 2pm on Wed. Jan. 25, until 4pm on Sat. Jan. 28. Everyone is welcome. A closing ceremony and pot-luck feast follows, on Sat. Jan. 28, at 5pm.

Sqílye (sweat lodge) ceremonies will be held Tues. Jan. 24 at 5pm, and Thurs. Jan. 26 at 5pm. Everybody is welcome. Contact David Archie at 778-220-7934 for further details.

General Information

The St. Joseph’s Mission (SJM) Residential School is located just kilometers from the Williams Lake First Nation community core (commonly known as “Sugar Cane”). The St. Joseph’s Mission was operated as an Indian Residential School between 1886 and 1981 where thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the school which was administered by the Catholic Oblates and part of the residential school system set up by the Government of Canada. The Onward Ranch was added to the Oblates holdings in 1964 and operated as a ranch and farm to sustain the St Joseph’s Mission.

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) started the investigation into the missing and murdered Indigenous children at the former SJM Residential School in July 2021. The investigation will be conducted in several phases as the overall area is approximately 470-hectares.

The investigation involves three key components:

  1. Geophysical investigation.
  2. Archival and photographic research.
  3. Survivor interviews.

The archival and photographic research is an ongoing component of the investigation. WLFN has been working closely with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), the Royal BC Museum Provincial Archives, Esketemc First Nation Archives, the Archdiocese of Vancouver and Prince George, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, and other institutions to gather all relevant records regarding the SJM.

Survivor interviews are also a key component of the investigation. To date, the SJM team has conducted 21 interviews. Survivor stories go hand-in-hand with the archival and photographic research completed by the SJM team, and are integral in informing the investigative approach. Interviews have been conducted with members from Williams Lake First Nation, Ulkatcho First Nation, Mt. Currie First Nation and other First Nations communities.

The geophysical investigation of the Phase 1 area started in August 2021. WLFN has used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Magnetometry and Terrestrial LiDAR to search the 14-hectare Phase 1 area. On January 25th, 2022, WLFN released the results from Phase 1 of the geophysical investigation. To date, the GPR found 93 reflections that have been recorded at the former St. Joseph’s Mission. All reflections in the GPR data have been marked and reviewed through a rigorous quality control process, and each reflection show characteristics indicative of human burials.

The next phase of the investigation includes:

  • Additional geophysical investigation of those portions of the SJM site not covered by Phase 1;
  • Additional research and survivor interviews; and
  • Engagement with affected communities, the governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the owners of the lands which comprise the site of the former SJM.

WLFN is truly grateful for the communities, members and organizations who have showed their ongoing support following the release of the geophysical results at the former SJM Residential School.

This was a significant step not only for WLFN, but for the people, and nations in this country who have been impacted by Residential Schools. This was one small step in a long journey towards truth, reconciliation and justice.