The Province of Ontario has released a summary of consultations (click here to read it) with various groups about what should become of 175 acres of currently-unused land at the site of the former Huronia Regional Centre. Lura Consulting, an independent facilitator and consultation specialist, was hired to conduct the consultations and to prepare the report.
In operation since 1876, Huronia Regional Centre was closed in 2009. The other 85 acres on the 260-acre site now house an Ontario Provincial Police training facility, a courthouse, a public health lab, and formerly an office for the Ontario Disability Support Program.
The consultations were conducted over an eight-month period from August 2016 until April 2017, and included input from Community Living Ontario. Survivors of Huronia and their families, the Ontario Provincial Police, and proponents for the creation of an arts and culture hub called the Huronia Cultural Campus were among the respondents.
Concerned members of the public gave their recommendations during two public meetings hosted by Lura Consulting on March 30th. There were 120 attendees between the two sessions and 29 speakers. A total of 690 stakeholder groups and members of the public also submitted their ideas via an online survey, while three people provided feedback during one-on-one interviews. Another 25 people chose to email their suggestions.
Broadly speaking, all groups agreed that the land should be inclusive and accessible, open year-round, and recognize the history of institutionalization in Ontario and the accomplishments of people who have an intellectual disability. Many also agreed that the surplus land should have a positive economic impact, be self-sustaining and serve as an area for reflection and education.
With regard to preserving what took place at Huronia Regional Centre, all agreed that new developments should respect those who suffered abuse and neglect there and at the other now closed provincially-run institutions, and that any profits should go directly to survivors.
Survivors and their allies have requested that all remaining buildings from the Huronia Regional Centre be demolished, and that a memorial should be erected there instead.
“The presence of the buildings acts as a reminder to former residents of the suffering they endured,” reads the consultation. Others suggested the buildings should be used to house educational art exhibits.
Part of the site, stakeholders say, could be used for public parks, playgrounds, art installations, dog parks, accessible cottages, performance centres, affordable housing, or a summer camp for children who have a disability, among other suggestions.
The Huronia Cultural Campus Foundation submitted a proposal for the site to be turned into a cultural hub, which many participants and organizations supported. The proposal would include a partnership with post-secondary schools to develop a creative computer and information technology learning and development hub. The foundation also suggested dedicating a portion of the land to celebrating food culture with festivals, workshops, and farms.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Provincial Police wants to use some of the land, including the in-use portion and part of the waterfront, for a new Orillia detachment. The organization also believes that, since it already uses the land for services, the government should allocate the property to the police force.
As for ownership of the land, the consultation found that most want it to remain in the public domain—that the Province should retain ownership or transfer it to the City of Orillia or Huronia Cultural Campus Foundation. In their view, it should not be sold to private interests.
When it comes to the final decision-making process, Huronia survivors believe they should have the final word, and it was suggested that a panel of former residents make recommendations based on the consultations to ensure their voices are heard.
The Government of Ontario will now consider all feedback received as a result of the consultations as it decides what to do with the surplus land. Updates are to be posted on the Ontario.ca and Infrastructureontario.ca websites.
Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario