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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hudson

Wenjack – A Profound Loss that Continues to Affect

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

There are a few books I’ve read that have affected me days or even weeks after finishing the last page. They are usually unsuspecting books, unwittingly creating an emotional attachment, that spurs a sense of loss and mourning at its completion. Joseph Boyden’s novella, Wenjack is that book.

As an educator and mother, I have the pleasure of experiencing other educators’ curriculum through my children. This year, I was introduced to Wenjack, written by Joseph Boyden, through my son’s Humanities 8 course. I read it this summer and was profoundly moved by Boyden’s depiction of this sad true story. Wenjack is a literary masterpiece.

Wenjack is based on the true story of Chanie Wenjack, who at 12 years old, ran away from Cecelia Jeffreys Industrial Indian School, in Northern Ontario. He ran away October 16, 1966, and was found dead days later, along the railway tracks on October 22. The story is written from the perspectives of both Chanie and of the Manitous, the forest spirits who follow Chanie on his escape. In a delicate fashion, readers are drawn in by this endearing little boy while gaining a deeper understanding of his tragic tale.

With the long overdue push to finally acknowledge and document the thousands of deaths that occurred in and as a direct result of the residential schools, this novella is an excellent addition, personifying the real tragedy these “numbers” represent. If all Canadian students read this one book alone, their understanding of this devastating Canadian policy would help propel all Canadians along the path of Reconciliation.

Boyden’s novella was the basis of Gord Downie’s project, the Secret Path. After reading the book, I now understand the movie, Secret Path (songs by Downie and animation based on the graphic novel by Jeff Lemire) where I was unable to fully appreciate it before. As well, the secret Path, lets Wenjack readers experience the novel in an alternate form.

I am very grateful to my son’s teacher for introducing him (and myself) to Wenjack. After reading it, I was compelled to create a unit supporting the book. The goal of which is to inspire other teachers to incorporate this masterpiece into their delivery of the curriculum.

Despite the controversy that surrounds Boyden, do yourself a favour and read this profoundly moving book.


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