Survivors Rowe: Powerful documentary captures sexual abuse of First Nation men

John Fox as a child, originally from Big Trout Lake First Nation, Ontario.

Survivors Rowe, a documentary about three First Nation men disclosing the sexual abuse they endured from convicted pedophile Ralph Rowe, hits this year’s international film festival ‘Hot Docs.’

For almost two decades, Rowe sexually abused First Nation boys in the north during his days as an Anglican minister. Though the true number will never be known, the documentary reports that Rowe molested as many as 500 children throughout northwestern Ontario.

Among those victims are Joshua Frogg, John Fox, and Ralph Winter, all from northwestern Ontario. The documentary shares their earliest memories of Rowe, the abuse, and the personal struggle they would later go through because of it.

According to director Daniel Roher, the documentary project almost never happened.

When first approached by producer Peter O’Brian to direct the film, Roher says he had doubts because the topic was so sensitive: “I didn’t know if I could do it in the way it needed to be told,” says Roher.

Filming took place in Wunnumin Lake, Wapekeka, and on the Big Trout Lake First Nation. These are northern, close-knit communities, a fact that added to the challenges of telling this story. “It was very tough in finding the individuals who were willing to speak,” notes Roher. “Sexual abuse is such a taboo subject, especially when the sexual abuse victims are men.”

John Fox today. Fox details the sexual abuse he suffered as a child in “Survivors Rowe” which screens at Hot Docs this weekend.

The film captures the men’s deepest and darkest secrets. They often cried in front of the camera, talking about the confusion they felt when first being molested.

“All the stories were remarkably similar, the way Ralph Rowe seduced these kids, the way he cultivated their admiration, and the way he betrayed them,” says Roher.

Taking turns, the men share their pain and turmoil they went through in their adulthood years, lives eventually consumed by rage, alcohol, drugs, dysfunction, and in one case, a questioning of his own sexuality.

To earn their trust, Roher spent time in the men’s homes and with their family members. “These guys were willing to share their story and that’s why the interviews were so successful,” says Roher. “They trusted me and they were ready to tell their story.”

Roher explains that before stepping into any of the First Nation communities, he seeked permission from the Chief and Council. The project was also supported by Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Chief of Ontario leaders.

The men also share their healing paths, journeys that continue for each of them today.

Since 1994, Ralph Rowe was convicted of more than 50 sex crimes against boys aged 8 to 14. He served under five years in jail. Despite 21 more First Nation men coming forward, Rowe’s 1994 plea deal prevented Rowe from facing further convictions.

Rowe, now 75, lives in Surrey, British Columbia.

Survivors Rowe screens twice at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: Sunday, April, 26 at 7:30pm, and Monday, April 27 at 1:15pm.

10 thoughts on “Survivors Rowe: Powerful documentary captures sexual abuse of First Nation men

  1. People like Rowe should have received sentences tons more severe. He detroyed so many Indigenous people’s lives, multiple generations. And he got away with something so light? Where is justice?

  2. shame on the Anglican church for not coming to the aid of the children 🙁 when their cries where first sounded in 1994, which is a greater evil. Seems only when they have no other choice do the “churches” final admit of such atrocities. In the name of God shut down your churches if this is how you represent Jesus. I don’t have words anymore for these corporations of religion.

  3. Just to let you this monster Ralph Rowe lives in Lake Cowichan BC and still does as of Oct 28,2017. He has been here since 2015 or so? The people of the community were not informed of his presence. Another travesty!!!! I believe that they should hand him over to the Native Police and let them handle this monster, as a majority of his victims were helpless native children!!! Our police/court system has totally failed these children! Lock him up now so he cannot harm another precious child!

  4. I’m still in shock when I found out by accident, that the man sitting next to me in church was Ralph Rowe. We finally had words, his was “everyone is entitled to be forgiven.” I said, “that’s not for me to forgive you. Go back and ask all those who you raped.”

  5. As a survivor of sexual abuse from Ralph Rowe, Anne. I would agree with your comments. What makes Ralph’s action even more evil, was Ralph was one of my Dad’s close friends in Seminary. How do you sexually abuse your best friend son? And look your friend in the eye and pray and discuss theology together?

  6. Hi!
    I thought my hatred for this man would never subside. I thought my never ever endless suffering would never cease to end. I thought, I could avenge my family and friends, who took their lives, died of drug & alcohol additions, related to this mans abuse. I thought wrong!
    Begetting darkness with darkness only drags us into it. It is only light of love, kindness, caring, and yes, even forgiveness. And yes, we want to protect our children but we also dont want to teach them to hate to hurt especially if the justice system fails.
    Justice unseen will soon serve itself (but now, I know its not by my own hands).

  7. The unfortunate part about this very important documentary is that is inaccessible to the general public. I went to go buy it online and it’s $295. I wish it was more affordable as I would have purchased a copy.

  8. Echoing the above comments. I believe this needs to be shared with a wider audience. I do not have $295 to watch it.

  9. John Fox

    Dear Sir,
    I only today learned of this powerfully evil life experience you and hundreds were subjected to. The irony: When organized religion operates in the absence of God, Evil crawls in.

    God is not organized religion or books written by broken humans (all of us). No, God is the only true love. It is the love which created his children you and me as well as all the vital beautiful creatures which make this world work.
    God is not present in the diatribe perpetuated in internet commentary we see here, hence diatribe is Evil. Satan is not what we have been led to believe, Satan is mankind operating in the absence of God.

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