The Manitoba government has completed its independent review of abusive practices at the Cathedral Valley Group Home (1971-83) near Grandview. Barry Tuckett’s report is an impressive work of historical inquiry, but it is, perhaps inherently, somewhat unsatisfying. The government, clearly eager to quell the entreaties of former residents at the work farm for troubled and delinquent children, immediately endorsed the report; its family services minister also issued an apology “to those harmed by their residency.”

This is perfectly in tune with the infinite-apologies Zeitgeist, but what, specifically, has been accomplished—and what, exactly, is being apologized for? Tuckett’s interviews with ex-residents and CVGH workers establish fairly firmly that proprietor Henry “Red” Blake used corporal punishment on the children in his care. There is general agreement that power belts from farm equipment were used to beat misbehaving kids on the hands and buttocks. But then, the same thing was happening in public schools across the country at the same time.

There is also general agreement on the incidence of occasional sexual abuse of younger kids at the farm by older ones—a problem attributable, perhaps, to understaffing and sometimes slightly crowded conditions at the CVGH. (The farm seems to have received fairly steady oversight from the social workers of the day, but it also seems to have become a public child-welfare facility gradually and inadvertently, almost by accident, without much attention to standards.) The Manitoba government is not admitting any financial liability as part of its “apology”, and the wilder accusations of sexual abuse by Blake himself, and of children being used as “slave labourers”, are not substantiated by the report. Indeed, some readers might regard the report as a near-refutation of those accusations, even as it serves as the occasion for a rehashing of them in the newspapers.

One of the greatest difficulties in trying to estimate the harm caused by the CVGH is that Blake’s wife was shot and killed by one of the children in 1977. All of the youths who were assigned to the farm were troubled when they arrived, and the murder of Phyllis Blake must have been nearly the worst thing that could have happened, under the circumstances. Some of the difficulties that residents have experienced in later life are attributable to post-traumatic effects of that incident, rather than to abuse. The boys called Mrs. Blake “Mom”, suggesting that she provided an emotional refuge from her husband, a tough, whistle-blowing taskmaster given to favouritism and inconsistency. (Some interviewees spoke warmly to Tuckett about Blake’s cash gifts and generous gestures, however, and one named a son after him.)

It is a strange and heartbreaking story that emerges from Tuckett’s presentation, which is founded on an incomplete and inconsistent record much marred by time. CVGH wasn’t an Indian residential school, but it was an environment where aboriginal children were segregated from their families, were encouraged to follow white cultural models, and were denied the use of their first language—a disciplinary expedient that would allegedly have deranging effects on their identity later. The report thus provides indirect insight, based on an unusually broad and serious factual foundation, into the ways that earlier residential schools must have warped and injured the spirits of vulnerable aboriginal youths.

I fear it also provides a serious implicit condemnation of the Boy Scouts, that strange paramilitary relic of imperialism. Henry Blake was involved in Scouting from the time of his own boyhood onward. The CVGH, at first merely a private home in the boonies, was built with the help of Scouts from his Winnipeg troop. (This passing detail is really one of the more jaw-dropping facts in the report. I trust that there are ethical rules in place today to prevent Scoutmasters from having their charges build a house for them?) Basically, Blake seems to have been a Scoutmaster who took the whole thing too seriously, believing that it could be a profession rather than just a hobby and that the ethos of the Scouts could literally save wayward boys.

By any estimate, he got in over his head. It led to the murder of his wife, several broken lives, and millions of dollars in costs to today’s Manitoba taxpayer. And that’s just a tentative subtotal; the final reckoning in the courts still remains.



  1. When you can't empathize, you apologize… And don't be too hard on the Boy Scouts, Monty Python sketches would be poorer without them.

  2. MONEY LOVERS, reinvent, YOURSELF ~ Because of, what happened to children in care, we are disassociated, disengaged by those trusted to protect us & now, Those opposing us, by our claims. Knowing, how COST, devistates & cripples tax payers. The real cost & impact to children is, some how OVERLOOKED. The ONLY cost recognized is, The Money & Money only, It’s so sad, I feel, ashamed for those, in total disrespect & denile. This would be, unfortunately, the reaction of many, inspite of children in care, GOOD GOD… walk in the shoes of a child, that comes from a poorly represented community, in a country, that’s know to be, The Land of Plenty or The Country, that’s Known for it’s STANCE on Human Right’s Violations, it just didn’t, igsist, “in those days” it was harder than you may, know of, judge or asume….Coming from a family, that is dealing with changes of their lives & Living conditions of the past, as ALL can recognizes, the contributing factors, leading to, a host of events, That has NEVER changed in MOST, communities, as of this day. The CVGH consisted of MOSTLY, native children at ANY given time, thrusted into a overcrowded environment, at birth & to be taken away by strangers, as we were not (Included) in a society of discriminating ways, “in those days” WE did not have any supports in pllace, in those days. IT was hard on us(Native Boys) to be welcomed into White society, “in those days”, TO be Labled ” Delinquent ” at best, it was racist, hateful & Descriminating, as I have FULL & COMPLETE Knowledge of NOW…Trying to understand at a early age, came with mistakes, that can be better delt with, “in these days”. Life for me, like, most “in those days”, were challenging, which in some cases, CHILDREN”S AID SOCIETY, agents, came to take children from, unsuspecting families, IN my heart, that is shocking. I, for “one” of 100 + boys, felt something, no – one will ever feel, JUST those,(children) in the cross hairs, of a system designed to disengage & control families, for a system of, its own status quo, “in those days”….The Message is…IF you LOVE MONEY, so much, fallow the story, so you can see, beyond your own JUDGEMENTS & VALUES, to wittness, first hand, the truth & nothing, but The Truth. Come join us, on this Special Day of reconing & sit beside, ALL 100 + Boys & Listen to OUR story & How Government allowed, this to take place ~ Farming Child by Abuse ~ I invite you & I, DARE YOU “NOT” TO COME ~ I want everyone to understand ~ CHILD JUSTICE DENIED ~ for ALL to bare wittness & what this did to us, as CHILDREN in care….  

  3. I support Mr. Samuel and this group. 

  4. MY NAME IS JESSE LARABEE. I support Mr. Samuel and this group.    

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