“You go somewhere when you’re on the ice,”
Virgil said to me after one practice.
“It’s like watching you walk into a secret place
that no one else knows how to get to.”
Hockey is the saving grace of young Saul Indian Horse’s life. Lost to his family and orphaned in his grandmother’s arms, eight-year-old Saul is discovered at an icy railroad stop in northern Ontario and stolen away to spend the next six years at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School.
“St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world,” Saul remembers. He saw children die of abuse or suicide, with whatever they had to take themselves away from hell on earth: a pitchfork; rocks to weigh down a dress in water; rope to swing from the rafters of a barn. Anything, even death, was better than the despair of suffering the school’s daily humiliations.
It is a hockey ice rink, built at St. Jerome’s during Saul’s second winter, that saves him. In the years that follow, the crack of light opened by hockey will widen to include friendships, community, and a home life for Saul. Short and skinny—“a bag of antlers”—he earns his place on a reserve team with his honed skill and speed.
Shunned by the mill and mining town teams, the reserve players create their own bush league circuit. Through tough play they make each other better, but they cannot overcome the racism that rages through the game. Eventually, it unleashes a fury in Saul that he cannot control.
Looking back on his life, Saul must tell his story to save himself. But to do that, he must remember. And to remember is to see clearly the darkest truth of his time at St. Jerome’s. Richard Wagamese gives Saul Indian Horse all the vision he needs, and what he sees is both devastating and beautiful.