The Province of Ontario will be hosting a public meeting in Orillia on March 8th to hear ideas on what to do with surplus land at the former Huronia Regional Centre. Two sessions will take place from 2 to 4 pm and 6 to 8 pm in the Council Chamber of Orillia City Hall at 50 Andrew Street South.
The 260-acre, government-owned land at the end of Lake Simcoe currently houses the Ontario Court of Justice, Ontario Provincial Police Academy, public health lab, and an office for the Ontario Disability Support Program. This leaves roughly 175 acres of land ready to be sold or developed.
Huronia Regional Centre, closed in 2009, was among 16 such Ontario facilities to be closed in recent years. Huronia is the only facility where people who used to live there have a say in the site’s direction. People involved with the other facilities are also encouraged to make their voices heard.
Aside from the fact that it’s public property, Community Living Ontario Chief Executive Officer Chris Beesley believes that, at least for his organization, “…it’s more important to have feedback from the people who lived there and the people who are their allies—their friends and family. We think that the lived perspective is the most important one.”
Attendees will be given three minutes to speak, with a maximum of two people representing an organization or group.
Beesley expects suggestions for how to proceed with the land to run the gamut from emotional to educational. “Some of them might say ‘demolish the whole thing,’” he muses, while “Others might want to have it set aside for some memorial and museum-type purposes, cultural, recreational. It’s hard to say.”
The government wants feedback from everyone in this situation, regardless of if they can attend the meetings or not. It is encouraging kitchen table discussions, where facilitators gather family and friends to discuss what to do with the centre’s land. Some locations could include a local coffee shop, picnic table, or book club meeting place.
A full facilitator’s guide to these kitchen table talks, including recommended questions to ask the group, will soon be available on a section of the Ministry of Infrastructure’s website. Feedback can also be sent by email at HuroniaCampusUpdates@infrastructureontario.ca and must be received by March 17th, 2017.
Beesley is concerned that there may not be enough time between now and then to get adequate feedback, so it’s important for people to get their thoughts in as soon as possible.
“Getting our local member associations to put the word out, to bring people together, to help support their input,” he says, “I think that’s pretty ambitious to expect in that kind of timeframe.”
Those interested in attending the public meeting should register in advance by emailing HuroniaCampusUpdates@infrastructureontario.ca, making sure to say whether they plan to speak on behalf of themselves or a group.
The government will report back on feedback received in early April.
“Whatever happens,” Beesley concludes, “I would hope that it is respectful of the people who lived there, and of their feelings and opinions, and that it doesn’t serve to further marginalize or segregate people, but provides opportunities for people going forward. I hope something good comes of it.”
Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario