On December 9, 2013, my brother and I travelled to Queen’s Park to attend the Apology from the Province of Ontario to former residents of Huronia Regional Centre (formerly known as Orillia Hospital School) and their families.
We were moved by the apparent sincerity shown by you, Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak. We noted that you went into the visitors’ gallery to meet people individually. It was a day that represented much of what is good and kind in our Provincial Parliament. We felt somewhat validated that there was a level of understanding of the horror that Tim and thousands of others lived through at the hands of government at that site. Our family suffered deeply as well, wounds that have dulled to some degree over time, but which still cut deeply into our core when we recall those horrible years. The apology and the subsequent compensation will not and cannot erase the recollection of that time and of the subsequent knowledge of the emotional, physical and psychological trauma that Tim was subjected to while in the “care” of the province.
Tim and I recently visited the site of the Orillia Hospital School. It was chilling to drive amidst those buildings and to walk in the field where the remains of residents were interred and are still treated with continuing cruelty and utter disrespect. Tim particularly noted a couple of buildings that obviously triggered some deep-rooted recollections for him. And we noticed that some of the buildings are now being used for other purposes. We were shocked to discover that one of them is actually an office where people with intellectual disabilities, who were at one time persecuted on this very property, need to go to claim their paltry Ontario Disability benefits. Does anyone other than us not see the vicious irony in this situation?
Now the future of the grounds on which the blood of some of the most vulnerable citizens of Ontario was spilled has been thrown open for debate. Why have the people who existed (I can’t use the word “lived”) there not been the major component of this consultation?
I looked with hope at the Consultation on the Future of the Huronia Regional Campus Surplus Land Kitchen Table Conversation – Facilitator’s Guide. I was deeply disappointed. “The Basics” section actually includes such comments as “Make some tea/coffee and sit with your neighbours at the kitchen table; Get together with friends or colleagues at the coffee shop; sit around a picnic table at a neighbourhood meeting;” discuss the future of this property “At the end of your regular book club night” with “the conversation” taking… “anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes.” “There are no right or wrong answers… be positive, open-minded, and have fun with the experience!” Really? People were maimed, murdered, suffered untold emotional, physical and psychological abuse within these walls and people should now have fun thinking about future uses for these buildings and grounds…??? Neither the Facilitator’s Guide nor the Participant’s Guide is written in plain language that would make it somewhat easier for former residents to respond. And when did the Huronia Regional Centre blithely get renamed as a “Campus”? Renaming something thoughtlessly does not make it so.
Our suggestion for Huronia Regional Centre is to start by consulting with former residents and their allies, then, if they agree, proceed to demolish the buildings as they did in British Columbia with the Woodlands Institution (see http://www.inclusionbc.org/whats-new/woodlands-institution-demolition-ceremony-set-october-18-2011 ).
We thank you for your time and attention to this important matter and look forward to hearing from you or your representative in the near future.
Maureen Roy and Tim O’Sullivan