The Challenge

Efforts are currently underway to foster education about and commemoration of Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system through vehicles such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. However, very few residential schools remain standing to serve as venues of knowledge transmission. With few sites of conscience available, and a dwindling number of Survivors able to give testimony, what can we do to make Aboriginal peoples and settler Canadians more aware of the history of residential schools and their continuing impact upon our shared world? Do new forms of digital media and memory offer opportunities for better connecting all Canadians to their history? How might computer-generated virtual realities serve to facilitate the representation of residential schools, and thereby produce historical memory and empathetic connections capable of provoking in audiences a commitment to addressing Canada’s unsavory past?


Embodying Empathy will use leading-edge technologies to create a prototype virtual Indian Residential School in partnership with Survivors, Indigenous commemorative and educational agencies, archivists, scholars, and technology experts. Through this partnership we will:

  • Explore and construct an immersive virtual IRS representation that can be accessed on-line and installed within commemorative spaces.
  • Rework our prototype in order to best meet the needs of our Indigenous community partners and make our platform widely available and accessible, using feedback gathered through our ongoing “participatory design” process.
  • Conduct research to assess the virtual IRS in terms of its ability to increase historical knowledge of Canada’s history, foster empathy toward IRS experiences and Survivors, and increase participants’ willingness to engage in commemorative and reconciliatory activities.