The first time Jeff Cook saw the artwork he did as a child at the Alberni Indian Residential School was just over a year ago.
It was in the late 1950s that he and his classmates were instructed by art teacher, the late Robert Aller, but Cook has no recollection of those days.
“I was about 10 or 11 years old and don’t remember the class, but when I saw [the artwork] I recognized my printed signature,” Cook said.
The artwork, along with 46 other pieces from AIRS students created from 1958 to 1960, was unveiled in Victoria last April for the Truth and Reconciliation exhibit at the Empress Hotel.
Now the pieces are on display at the Alberni Valley Museum for the temporary exhibit, We Are All One: Residential School Children’s Art.
Cook said the unveiling was an emotional experience.
“I didn’t realize something from 50 years ago still existed, so it was emotional for me,” he said.
Cook attended the school from 1956 to 1969 and his piece is the only keepsake he has.
“When we were in residential school, we didn’t take stuff home with us so we don’t have physical mementos,” Cook said. “Kids nowadays bring their drawings home to put them on the fridge.”
The paintings and illustrations were compiled by Dr. Andrea Walsh, a profession of Anthropology at UVic. They act to serve as insight into life as a child in residential school.
Cook believes it is important for them to be on display.
“I think they should be on display to show what life was like and let people know that there was another past for aboriginal children,” he said. “People, especially in the Alberni Valley, knew it was there but didn’t know the lifestyle of the residential school system.”
The museum held an official opening of the exhibit on Thursday, Oct. 23.