Since at least 2013, readers have been asking Snopes about a rumor that to some may have sounded outlandish. Did Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, visit Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada, in 1964 and abduct 10 indigenous children?
The rumor came into focus again in late May 2021 with a horrific discovery made by the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation. Working with a ground penetrating radar specialist, Chief Rosanne Casimir announced the discovery of unmarked burials of 215 children on school grounds.
"We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths," Casimir said in a statement about the discovery.
Kamloops was the largest school in the Canadian government's residential school system for indigenous children. The schools were run by churches and operated between the late 1800s and the 1990s. They were meant to eradicate indigenous cultures in what Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called cultural genocide. Extreme abuse and neglect of children at the schools was the norm, not the exception.
The Commission previously reported that at least 4,100 children died at 130 such schools across the country, with disease and maltreatment being the most prevalent causes. The number of deaths, however, is likely far higher than that count. Many times, families of the children were not informed of their deaths and the bodies were never returned.
We will explore the rumor, including what we know and don't know.
Where Did the Rumor About the Queen Come From?
In February 2010, a man named William Arnold Combes made a statement about an incident he recalled while a student at Kamloops. Combes identified himself as a spirit dancer and member of the Interior Salish, an indigenous community spanning the U.S. Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada.
Combes' statement is extremely traumatic. He states that while a child resident at Kamloops, he witnessed a Catholic priest who worked at the school kill two children, one thrown off a balcony and the other he saw being buried with the help of a second priest. He also states he was tortured by the clergy running the school, having his bones broken for trying to flee.
Here's what Combes said about the Queen and Prince Philip:
In September 1964 when I was 12 years old, I was an inmate at the Kamloops school and we were visited by the Queen of England and Prince Phillip. I remember it was strange because they came by themselves, no big fanfare or nothing. But I recognized them and the school principal told us it was the Queen and we all got given new clothes and good food for the first time in months the day before she arrived.
The day she got to the school, I was part of a group of kids that went on a picnic with the Queen and her husband and school officials, down to a meadow near Dead Man's Creek. After awhile, I saw the Queen leave that picnic with ten children from the school, and those children never returned. We never heard anything more about them and never saw them again even when we were older. They were all from around there but they all vanished.
The group that disappeared was seven boys and three girls, in age from six to fourteen years old. I don't remember their names, just an occasional first name like Cecilia and there was an Edward.
What happened was also witnessed by my friend George Adolph, who was 11 years old at the time and a student there too. But he's dead now.
At the time, Combes' story was promoted by Kevin D. Annett, a controversial figure and former Christian pastor who was removed from his ministry in 1997 for spreading unfounded claims and conspiracy theories that included issuing "convictions" and "warrants," even though he had no legal authority to do so. Combes passed away in 2011.
Did the Queen Visit the Kamloops School?
We found no evidence Elizabeth II ever visited the school, let alone in the manner stated by Combes. The Queen visited the city of Kamloops twice — once in 1959 and once after the school's 1977 closure, in 1983. But we found no evidence that the royals took Kamloops school children on a picnic from which 10 of the children were abducted.
If Combes was a student at the Kamloops school, he doubtlessly underwent extreme trauma and stress as a child under those circumstances. We reached out to Casimir to inquire about whether she had any knowledge or context about Combes and his statement and will update this story if we receive a response.
Without further information, however, it's difficult to say what Combes experienced. Aside from Casimir, we reached out to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Sonny McHalsie, a researcher for the Sto:lo First Nations who is investigating the deaths at the schools. We will update this story if we are able to get further information.
What Were the Indian Residential Schools Like?
Children were forcibly removed from their families to be taken to these schools, where illness, psychological, and physical abuse were rampant, and where death was an ever-present threat.
The existence of the children's graves at the school site, of course, speaks volumes about the conditions of the institution. Accounts from survivors are also horrific. Here's how Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, described what he heard survivors recall:
One aspect of residential schools that really proved to be quite shocking to me personally, was the stories that we began to gather of the children who died in the schools. Of the children who died, sometimes deliberately, it was at the hands of others who were there, and in such large numbers.
Survivors talked about children who suddenly went missing. Some talked about children who went missing into mass burial sites. Some survivors talked about infants who were born to young girls at the residential schools, infants who had been fathered by priests, were taken away from them and deliberately killed - sometimes thrown into furnaces, we were told.
The news of the graves hit Canada hard. Canadians have responded by lowering flags to half-mast and setting up memorials to the children by laying down displays of empty children's shoes.