Researchers are attempting to uncover a dark chapter of Canada’s history, using ground-penetrating radar to determine how many students may have been buried in unmarked graves near Saskatchewan’s last remaining residential school.

The Muscowequan Indian Residential School, located on the Muskowekwan First Nation near Lestock, Sask., has been left in its original condition. Survivors and community members voted against demolishing the sprawling three-storey brick building, electing to leave it intact as a reminder to future generations.

“Our elders said, ‘If you tear it down people are going to forget. They are going to forget. Our children are going to forget, and we don’t want that,’” band councillor Cynthia Desjarlais told CTV Regina on Wednesday.

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta are examining three sites around the school believed to be the final resting place for several Indigenous children who attended the school.

“We’ve heard from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation that there are between 30 and 35 unaccounted-for children. Although, talking to the community, there may be quite a bit more,” said Kisha Supernant, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s department of anthropology.

According to an Indian Affairs document included in research about the school compiled by the University of Regina, construction workers accidentally disturbed rows of unmarked graves near the school in 1992. The university’s research references an elder who attended the school in the 1940s, who recalled a priest removing all traces of the cemetery.

According to the National Trust of Canada, Muscowequan Residential School operated from 1889 until it was abandoned in 1997. The charity added the site to its 2018 top ten list of endangered places

The Muskowekwan First Nation hopes to see the building turned into a museum. Desjarlais said the goal for now is to put up a memorial for the unidentified children believed to have been buried on the property.

“To say this is where the graves were, and to put something there in remembrance,” she said of the motivation behind the project. “We don’t know who they are right now, because it happened probably a good 100 years ago.”

With a report from CTV Regina’s Creeson Agecoutay