Staff Picks: Chris Benjamin Chooses Out of the Depths by Isabelle Knockwood
Isabelle Knockwood’s seminal work on the Maritimes’ only Indian residential school is one of the books that most influenced me and affected my life. I grew up 40 minutes from the site of that school, and never knew it had existed. No one told me. No one taught me. Until first-year university when I read a poem that made brief mention of the school and its harsh legacy.
The poem drove me to Isabelle Knockwood’s heart-wrenching book, which is both a personal account of her experiences there as a little girl in the 30s and 40s, and a sharing of other survivors’ memories. She published her work at significant personal risk; survivors were still ashamed of their experiences, afraid to speak them publicly.
Out of the Depths opened my eyes. Not that I was completely naive about racism in my home province before; I knew it existed, and I knew some of our colonial history already. I didn’t know enough to use the term genocide. From Knockwood, I learned how our government had worked with churches to try to snuff out Indigenous languages and cultures.
It was a powerful lesson. Once you see that racism and know it’s there, you better understand the ongoing injustices of our country. And you commit yourself to making amends somehow. Teaching people these lessons could not have been easy for Isabelle Knockwood. But she did it anyway. For that, I am eternally grateful.
This week, many more Canadians are having their eyes opened with the news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school. For them, for all of us, I highly recommend Isabelle’s book, for a better understanding of what these children were put through. It’s a hard read, but an essential task if we are to have any hope for reconciliation.