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Oral histories recall children as young as six years old woken in the night to dig holes for burials in the apple orchard.”

– Dr. Sarah Beaulieu
Kamloops Indian Residential School, 1937

The following is a brief history of the apple orchard where Dr. Beaulieu’s 2021 GPR survey identified 200 “probable burials”. Using historical photographs and archival documents, several phases in the orchard’s past are illustrated and discussed. This work is intended to contextualize Dr. Beaulieu’s findings and to provide a reasoned basis for questioning her claims.

The apple orchard is located about 500 feet southeast of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. It sits near a prehistoric housepit village, atop an extensive shell midden and ancient refuse pits. The area is considered archaeologically significant and has been the subject of assessments, test holes and excavations from 1983 to 2004.

Much of how the site appears today is due to 130 years of intense agricultural activity and infrastructure projects.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Kamloops Residential School produced much of its own food in surrounding fields and orchards. Vegetables and other crops were grown in the school garden – 7 acres of fenced land along the South Thompson River.

In 1917 it was necessary to install extensive irrigation works to ensure the viability of crops. To transport water from a new pump house to the fields, students were made to dig hundreds of feet of ditches and, where the ground was not favourable, wooden flumes and stave pipes were installed. On reaching the top of the school school garden, water was diverted to irrigation ditches as required.

With construction of a new school building in the mid-to-late 1920s, came installation of a sewage disposal plant. The plant consisted of a septic tank and two underground disposal beds. The east bed was 0.35 acres in size and distributed waste water through 2,000 lineal feet of land tile buried 3.5 feet below grade (Tredcroft 1926). Following the site contours, the east bed extended under much of what would become the upper garden and orchard.

By 1928, after nearly 40 years of cultivation and irrigation, the school garden had become deeply furrowed in contrast to surrounding farmland. Countless irrigation ditches were dug and filled in, their locations lost to time.

By 1935, the original septic tank and sewage disposal beds were chronically clogged. As a temporary solution, the beds were bi-passed and raw sewage was dumped, via open ditch, into a low-lying marshy area south of the school garden. This created very unsanitary conditions as large amounts of effluent collected, breeding flies and causing stench (Warren 1937).

A more permeant sewage solution was found in 1938-39 with the installation of a larger septic tank and bi-pass pipe that sent waste water to the garden and orchard for irrigation. Septic sludge was diverted via pipe and flume to a 40 x 60 x 3 feet deep sludge drying basin located in the northwest corner of the orchard (Webb 1938 & 1939). It appears that this method of sewage disposal remained in operation for the next two decades.

Between 1930 and 1948, an apple orchard of at least 77 trees was planted over much of the school garden. The garden and orchard were also expanded northward up a slight incline and overtop part of the old 1920s septic field.

By 1954, much of the site was in a state of decline. While the upper orchard and a garden plot to the southeast remained in use, most of the lower orchard was derelict scrub land, nearly void of trees.

During this time, rumours of a graveyard circulated amongst students:

… “there was rumours of a graveyard but nobody seemed to know where it was – we didn’t even know if it was true. And there was a big orchard there and we used to make up stories about the graveyard being in the orchard.”

– Emma Baker, attended KIRS from grade 9 to 12 (approx. 1950 to 1955)

… “Dig a hole, somebody’s missing, dig a hole, somebody’s missing…”

– Chief Michael LeBourdais recounting a story told by his uncle, a KIRS student in the 1950s

By 1957, sewage waste water had been flowing to the orchard and garden for nearly twenty years. It was time for a safer and higher capacity solution to waste management.

From 1957 to 1958, more than 30% (100,000 square feet) of the orchard was excavated for a sewage lagoon – a pond for the settlement and breakdown of septic waste. A large sewer main was trenched through the orchard from the northwest, bi-passing the 1920s and 30s sewage systems (Ulrich 1958).

It is worth noting that this work took place after the orchard was allegedly being used to conceal burials. No graves were discovered.

From 1957 to 1959, a new Indian Day School (classroom block) was constructed south of the old residential school, just above the orchard and garden (NAR 2004). Foundations were dug deep into the site. No graves were discovered.

During the 1960s, as in the preceding decade, rumours of a graveyard circulated amongst students:

“We’re going to go steal apples, and then one night, one of the guys says no, we shouldn’t. That’s where they’re burying people.”

Chief Harvey McLeod, attended KIRS from 1966 to 1968

By 1974, the orchard and garden were largely disused. With few trees remaining, the area was highly visible to nearby school buildings.

It is unclear when the alleged burials are supposed to have ceased. In 1970, land surrounding the school was reverted back to the Kamloops Band and the school finally closed in 1978 (NAR 2004).

By 1998, the former apple orchard and garden had become part of the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park. Archaeologists from Simon Fraser University were on hand to monitor construction of park facilities, including a concession, washrooms, and various underground utilities. A back-hoe trench 4 feet wide x 5 feet deep and 260 feet long was dug through the orchard for a water line. At least one ancient pit feature, containing animal bones, shells and other artifacts was located about 2 feet below grade (Nicholas 1999). No graves were discovered.

In 2002, the Simon Fraser University Archaeology Field School undertook a significant excavation in the orchard. 15 shovel test pits were dug, followed by an excavation of about 20 feet wide x 50 feet long and 6 feet deep. An additional area of approximately 7 feet square by 5 feet deep was excavated to the southwest. Amongst other features, a very large shell midden was found throughout the dig area (Nicholas 2004). No graves were discovered.

Macabre stories of a juvenile tooth found in the apple orchard originate from this 2002 dig. A possible human tooth was indeed discovered amongst assorted animal remains in the southwest excavation (Nicholas 2004).  However, the SFU archaeology department has since stated that the tooth is not human (Widdowson 2022).

Again in 2004, the Simon Fraser University Archaeology Field School conducted a dig in the orchard. Seven pits, 7 feet square and up to 10 feet deep were dug near the 2002 excavation. No graves were discovered.

From 2005 to 2021, relatively little changed in the orchard. Aerial images reveal assorted park furniture and historical reconstructions coming and going, but no significant alterations to the land.

Since the rumours of a graveyard began, more than 30% of the orchard has been excavated. Archaeologists have been active on site since the 1980s, conducting excavations and monitoring construction work. Deep trenches have been cut straight across the orchard and a sewage lagoon was excavated from the entire southwestern quadrant. No graves have ever been discovered.

When Dr. Beaulieu used GPR to scan the orchard in May of 2021, she was scanning a site heavily disturbed by centuries of human activity. Nevertheless, Beaulieu confidently claimed that 215 “probable burials” had been discovered.

In July of 2021, Dr. Beaulieu admitted that 15 “probable burials” were actually “archaeological impact assessments, as well as construction.” Evidently, well documented site work was not accounted for in her initial survey.

Several of the remaining 200 “probable burials” overlap with a utilities trench dug in 1998, as can be seen in drone photography captured after the GPR survey. Still other “probable burials” follow the rout of old roads or correlate suggestively with the pattern of previous plantings, furrows and underground sewage disposal beds.

As of July 2022, Dr. Beaulieu has not released a detailed report of her findings and no “probable burials” have been confirmed through excavation.

200 anomalies remain as targets of interest. These targets of interest are “probable burials” as they demonstrate multiple GPR characteristics of burials. Only forensic investigation (excavation) will be able to conclusively determine this.”

– Dr. Sarah Beaulieu

Given that the apple orchard is deeply textured by centuries of human activity, how can it be said that Dr. Beaulieu’s targets are more “probably” graves than probably other features of human activity?

With more than 30% of the orchard already excavated, is it probable that a staggering 200 burials were missed?

GPR is not necessary to know that children went missing in the Indian residential school contexts.  The fact – the knowing – has been recognized by Indigenous communities for generations. Remote sensing, such as GPR, merely provides some spacial specificity to this truth.”

– Dr. Sarah Beaulieu


Reports & Articles

Nicholas, G.P. 1999 Archaeological Investigations at Eerb–77: A Deep Floodplain Site on the South Thompson River, Kamloops BC. Archaeological Research Reports 3.  Department of Archaeology, Secwepemc Cultural Education Society-Simon Fraser University Program, Kamloops, BC.

Nicholas, G.P. 2004 Archaeological Investigations at Eerb–77: Summary of The 2002 Field Season. Archaeological Research Reports 7.  Department of Archaeology, Secwepemc Cultural Education Society-Simon Fraser University Program, Kamloops, BC.

Nicholas, G.P. 2004 SFU-SCES Kamloops Archaeology Field School. Biennial Report 2003/2004.  Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Tredcroft E.H. 1926 Report Re Construction of Sewage Disposal Plant at The Kamloops Industrial School. Department of the Interior, Dominion Water Power and Reclamation Service, Canada.

Ulrich V.G.  1958 Completion Report re Kamloops Indian Residential School Sewage Lagoon, Kamloops Agency.  Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Indian Affairs Branch, Vancouver, BC.

Warren W.C.  1937 Report on Suggested Reparis and Improvements to Sewage Disposal System, Kamloops Industrial School, Kamloops Agency.  Dominion Water & Power Bureau, Vancouver, BC.

Warren W.C.  1939 Completion of Sludge Drying Basin.  Dominion Water and Power Bureau, Vancouver, BC.

Webb C.E.  1939 Memorandum re Operation of Sewage System at Kamloops Indian School.  Dominion Water and Power Bureau, Department of Mines and Resources, Vancouver, BC.

Widdowson, F. “Billy Remembers”. The American Conservative. 2022.

2004 Kamloops IRS School Narrative (point form).  Government of Canada.


1890s School Photographs: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives.

1917 & 1918 Site Survey & Irrigation As-Built Drawing: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives.

1918 Irrigation Photographs: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives.

1928, 1948, 1974, 1999 and 2004 Aerial Images: Kamloops Through the Years.

1954 Aerial Image: National Air Photo Library. Natural Resources Canada. 

1966 Aerial Image: Digital Air Photos of BC. Government of British Columbia. 

Image Showing Targets of Interest #1: The Globe and Mail.

Image Showing Targets of Interest #2: The Fifth Estate.

Image Showing Targets of Interest #3: The Canadian Mass Grave Hoax.


Chief Harvey McLeod: CBC News.

Chief Michael LeBourdais: The Fifth Estate.

Dr. Sarah Beaulieu: APTN News.

Emma Baker: CTV News.