Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

In pictures: From residential school to resort

B.C.’s only native-run casino is a testament to turning the page to a brighter future

1 of 9

The St. Eugene Resort and Casino in Cranbrook is the only native-owned casino in British Columbia. The building operated as a residential school between 1912 and 1970.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

2 of 9

Gordon Sebastian is a tour guide and security guard at the St. Eugene Resort. When he was five years old, Mr. Sebastian’s grandmother dropped him off at the residential school, where he stayed until he was 15. He is seen here at the cemetery on the property, February 20, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

3 of 9

The golf course on the site opened in 2000, followed by a casino in 2002 and a hotel in 2003. Blackjack dealer Rebecca Lehman at the St. Eugene Casino, February 20, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

4 of 9

These days, at 60, Mr. Sebastian still treads the hallways of St. Eugene. The one-time student is now a guardian, tending to the physical structure of the place as well as to the memories of about 5, 000 children who came and went through its doors.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Story continues below advertisement

5 of 9

Some former students would have preferred the school be burned or bulldozed. Mr. Sebastian believes that would have been a mistake. “What good would that do? The memories would still be there,” he said. Here, Chief Frank Whitehead is shown in a 1936 photograph.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

6 of 9

A customer at a slot machine at the St. Eugene Resort and Casino in Cranbrook, February 20, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

7 of 9

Gloria Bourassa tries her luck at a slot machine, February 20, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

8 of 9

The resort has a mission statement: “taking back what was taken away.”

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

9 of 9

Mr. Sebastian’s tours are informal affairs, lasting an indeterminate length of time and featuring an ever-changing roster of stories. He improvises. Once, showing two distracted young boys and their parents around the building, he got the boys’ attention by wrapping up his tour at the front door, where he laid his hands on the boys’ shoulders, annouced that the priest would be coming for them shortly and that their parents could come back in June. Lengthy separations were routine at the school, which was run by the Oblate Order and, like other schools of the time, forbade students from speaking their own language.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Report an error Editorial code of conduct