Google Earth’s Voyager Articles Canadian Residential Schools

Google is helping Canadians learn about one of the most important yet painful chapters in the country’s history.

The massive technology giant has launched new Google Earth Voyager content designed to help Canadians learn about the residential school system, a period in Canada’s history where the government forcibly assimilated Indigenous peoples into the non-Indigenous population via a network of schools and camps.

Canadian Geographic Education worked with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) of the University of Manitoba to create an educational tool aimed at students. Can Geo Education is the first Canadian organization to produce Voyager content.

Voyager stories take a user on a trip through Google’s view of Earth, incorporating historic photos, first-hand accounts, street view trips and more. Immersion is the name of the game as Google Earth Voyager aims to enrich history with real content and locations through a recognizable and intuitive platform.

The residential school story shows students where every single school is located on a map, and often times a direct overhead view of the school is available as well. The attached content describes why the schools were built, what life was like for the Indigenous students, the effects of the system and how survivors are working to move forward.

“This is a harrowing tale but required learning on our journey towards reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples,” says Ellen Curtis, director of Can Geo Education. “Our Google Earth Voyager residential school story provides a much-needed primer for elementary and secondary school students.”

The stories from residential school students themselves leave the most impact on a reader, as the ability to read what happened to the children first hand while seeing where it happened on a high-definition map makes the experience a bit more real than simply reading it from a textbook. There is 21 pages worth of content and seemingly hundreds of residential school locations to click through, as shown in the header image.

“The Google Earth’s Voyageur residential school story is an extremely important tool that encourages discussion in a way that compliments the learning styles of today’s students,” says Ry Moran, director of the NCTR. “This is exactly what we need for a tough topic like the residential school story, if reconciliation is to begin.”

This method of educational delivery is designed to keep students engaged with and interested in their learning: leveraging tools they already use to tell stories in a new and refreshing way. Google Earth Voyager has produced stories in Canada before, but not to this educational extent. Users can also explore Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver through the series, or check out a Canada 150 feature that highlights unique locations around the country.