Apple trees planted at former residential school in Brantford, Ont.

A fruit once forbidden to children at the former Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, Ont. will grow on the grounds once again.

Ten apple trees were planted Tuesday morning at a ceremony filled with symbolism, hosted by the Survivor's Secretariat.

“You could walk around, you could smell those apples, but you were never allowed to go outside of those boundaries,” said Roberta Hill, one of several Mohawk Institute survivors who spoke at Tuesday’s event.

The Mohawk Institute was Canada's longest operating residential school. It opened in 1828 and closed in 1970.

An apple orchard used to grow on the grounds, survivors recounted.

The fruit was off limits, but children were so hungry they’d risk and endure the punishment that would come if they ate one.

“You look back on it, how could that be – such a cruel thing to do to children who were hungry,” said Hill.

“There was a lot of hunger here. Kids had to basically fend for themselves, [even] if meant going to the dump to get food or whatever.”

The boys at the school had to work in the orchard to harvest the fruit.

“Children were used to tend to an orchard, but were never allowed to eat the fruits of their labour," said Six Nations of the Grand River Chief Mark Hill.

The apple is also a symbol of language theft, as it was one of the first English words children at the institution were taught, said Hill.

Another survivor who spoke on Tuesday recounted how they were always told there was a child buried under each apple tree.

Eventually the orchard was removed.

Survivor Sherlene Bomberry said Tuesday’s planting event meant “a regrowth, remembering, understanding” for her.

A ceremony was held to bless the seeds and plant new life at the site, which is now home to the Woodland Cultural Centre.

"I want my great grandchildren, my grandchildren to know why some of our lives are like this, in disarray, disconnection, everything I want them to know," Bomberry said.

"When they come there, they're going to have the understanding why. 'Yeah you can have an apple. you're not going to get in trouble for it.'"

A documentary was also released Tuesday detailing the history and significance of the apple trees at the Mohawk Institute and the stories of survivors.

The Woodland Cultural Centre has now reached its $23 million fundraising goal in the ongoing effort to convert the former residential school into an interpretive centre.

RESOURCES

Support is available to anyone affected by the ongoing effects of residential schools.

  • The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 1-866-925-4419.
  • The Hope for Wellness Help Line provides 24/7 counselling and crisis intervention and can help you find wellness supports in your area. It can be reached at 1-855-242-331.
  • Six Nations also operates a 24/7 crisis line, which can reached at 519-445-2204 or 1-866-445-2204
  • Six Nations Mental Health and Addictions can be reached Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 519-445-2143