Nearly 10 years ago, Huronia, Rideau, and Southwestern Regional Centres, the last large government-run institutions for people labeled with an intellectual disability, closed forever.

We know that creating and maintaining such institutions was one of the most harmful things we have done as a society. Despite the doors of the institutions having been closed for nearly a decade, institutionalization remains.

People continue to struggle. Harmful and controlling approaches still occur, and people are sometimes required to give up their rights and liberties—not all people are respected and welcomed citizens.

Organizations within the disability community, including institutional survivors, People First of Ontario, and the Council of Community Living Ontario, have organized Flying to Freedom to commemorate the closures, examine how we change attitudes and prevent people from being institutionalized, and commit ourselves to creating a fully inclusive society.

Taking place on Tuesday, March 19th at the Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Avenue) in Downtown Toronto, there are two opportunities to join others from across the province to commemorate the 2009 closures and to discuss the steps being taken to move past institutional practices in the community:


1:00 pm – Welcome | Opening Remarks

1:15 pmJoe Clayton, Legal Assistance of Windsor, and Respecting Rights at ARCH Disability Law Centre | Q&A with panel

Joe Clayton is a successful artist who runs an art gallery in his home with his wife, Christina, in South River, not far from Algonquin Park. The Nature Natives Art Gallery features their original art and photography.

He is also a survivor. When Joe was twelve, the now 66-year-old man was sent to Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls back in 1966. Over the five years that Joe was at Rideau, he was subjected to repeated physical and sexual abuse.

He left the institution for good on May 16, 1971, and went to live at Silver Spring Farm in Ottawa. For many years, Joe shared his experiences with college and university students with the goal of ensuring that what took place at Rideau Regional Centre didn’t “happen again to any human being.”

He also demonstrated courage by telling his story to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and he was awarded $35,000 in 2009 for the injuries he sustained. He received another $42,000 in 2016 as part of the class-action settlement involving survivors.

Joe felt it was essential to learn to love himself and to forgive the many people who had hurt him. Like other survivors, art, faith, and his community have played a role in the healing process

Presenter: Joe Clayton

The purpose of the I Decide Project at Legal Assistance of Windsor is to deliver rights-based education and services to community members with intellectual disabilities, in order to promote self-directed decisions and planning. Legal Assistance of Windsor is offering new services in the areas of consent, capacity and substitute decision-making issues, powers of attorney, guardianship, neglect/abuse, consumer protection, and human trafficking/exploitation. Alongside direct service delivery, we have created a documentary video that helps inform those with intellectual disabilities and their allies of their rights regarding decision-making for their persons and property.

Presenter: Stephanie Dickson

Respecting Rights is a project at ARCH that is led by self-advocates labelled with intellectual disabilities. Respecting Rights was founded by Peter Park, institutional survivor, lawyers at ARCH and advocacy-minded social workers.

Since 2011, Respecting Rights has offered accessible rights education across Ontario for people with disabilities, their families and staff. We use videos, art, music in our workshops. Respecting Rights also works on making the laws better for people with disabilities. (We call this accessible law reform). Using what we call a “triple scoop” approach, our work is done with a team of three voices: experienced self-advocates, rights lawyers and social workers who know developmental services well.

ARCH is grateful to have been awarded funding from the Special Projects Initiative which is critical in expanding our program. We are excited to be working with Eviance (formerly Canadian Centre for Disability Studies) to evaluate our work and help people develop strong self-advocacy skills.

Sign up for our new monthly updates called My Voice, My Choice. Please contact Sue Hutton, Respecting Rights Coordinator at huttons@lao.on.ca.

Presenters: Emanuel Chasi, Paul Cochrane, Sue Hutton, Kerri Joffe, Shineeca McLeod, Krystal Nausbaum, and Peter Park

1:55 pm – Performance of Eternal Dreamer by Peter Park with Indarra

2:00 pm – Break

2:10 pmFamily Alliance Ontario, Community Living Kingston and District, and People First of Ontario | Q&A with panel

Our project is designed to foster an understanding around Canada’s history of institutionalization for people who were labelled as having a ‘developmental disability’. The project strives to deepen the broader public’s understanding of the impact of the institutional care model, on people, their families, their loved ones and their community.

Family Alliance Ontario believes very strongly that there is a moral imperative to help our fellow citizens share this critical piece of our collective history. It is our intent through this sharing, that people will learn the harm that results from an institutional model of care with the hope that it will never happen again!

We will present a brief history of our project, the intended outcomes and our unique approach of engaging local family networks to support survivors, their families and other participants in our uncovering of the People’s History.

This unique approach is proving to be a catalyst for bringing unknown or hidden stories to light.

We will discuss how the foundations of this project are shaping the work in this discovery of the experiences, and how this journey of learning will impact society now and in the future.

Presenters: Bill Hiltz, Cindy Mitchell, Joyce Balaz, and Vici Clarke

The Reclamation Project: The Value of Living Life at the Helm is a multi-media presentation created by Community Living Kingston and District. The content presents the history of institutions in Ontario and the experiences of people who lived within. The message speaks of inclusion, the rights of citizenship, and maintaining choice and autonomy into the future.

A video produced in collaboration with Seneca College, and a website, present accounts from people who lived in institutions, family, staff, planners, and individuals who were not institutionalized. Stories illustrate the benefits of living in community. The website, a living document, will continue to accept stories from those interested in sharing their experiences.

A PowerPoint addresses the history of institutions, the changing societal, cultural and medical attitudes, and a description of life within. It discusses the improvements in qualities of life after the closures, and looks towards the future with an emphasis on staying the course to community living and the rights of citizenship. Each page ends with a relevant quote from a historical figure or a project participant. The PowerPoint includes speaker notes, recommendations for further study, and an accompanying curriculum tool with outcomes and questions/topics of discussion.

The Reclamation Project: The Value of Living Life at the Helm would make a valuable addition to the educational curricula of relevant social services programs, to agencies as a tool for training staff who support individuals, and for government agencies that write policy and make decisions on behalf of specific sectors of Ontarians.

Presenter: Susan Jikeli

People First of Ontario received funding from the Strategic Program Investment Fund and has invested $2 million with the WindsorEssex Community Foundation. This investment will ensure People First of Ontario’s sustainability in the coming years.

People First of Ontario is an advocacy organization and has:

  • Hired a Project Coordinator and Administrative Assistant;
  • Carried out considerable Board training and development regarding governance, role, and responsibilities;
  • Organized and held Annual General Meetings and Conferences;
  • Held several Board meetings in person and by conference call;
  • Provided training, development to members across the province;
  • Increased number of members, local chapters, and advisors provincially and locally; and
  • Attended government meetings to brought issues forward


  • Ensuring a strong Board of Directors to guide the work to ensure that people are being heard and supported;
  • Sharing more information with membership and Board;
  • Builds capacity of the Board to understand and respond to issues;
  • Having more young people involved;
  • Meeting with local presidents to provide leadership training and how to involve their communities;
  • Advocating for inclusive education and ending segregated classrooms;
  • Changing employers and job seekers’ attitudes about what’s possible for work, as well as inspire people to pursue work and employers to hire them;
  • Reduce the number of young people going into long-term care and nursing homes and increase people living in the community with supports as needed;
  • Building expertise in the movement to increase others’ attitudes toward people with disabilities; and
  • Increasing the meaningful participation of people in everyday community life.

Presenters: Kory Earle, Michael Madden, and Stephanie Paul

3:00 pm – Performance of Lord, Carry Me Away by David McKillop

3:05 pm – Break

3:15 pmVita Community Living Services and Community Living Dundas County | Q&A with panel

From Trauma To Trust operates a free clinic that provides service to people with intellectual disabilities who have experienced trauma. The service includes art therapy, counselling psychotherapy, and expressive arts therapy. People may choose from a menu of services that includes individual counselling or participation in group work. The clinic sponsors an expressive arts therapy drop in, “The Studio,” an ongoing ‘Aerobics and Affirmations’ group, as well as more formal groups. Though the service operates out of Vita Community Living Services, our therapists have been able to provide group therapy for individual agencies at their locations as well as through e-therapy.

The people we serve primarily come from the Greater Toronto area but with the advent of e-therapy our reach has extended province-wide. We have placed no restrictions on referrals and therefore we provide service to people with a broad range of intellectual disabilities. We do not require that an individual have speech or other forms of traditional communication in order to participate in the therapeutic process. Some of our greatest gains have been seen in those traditionally thought unable to benefit from any form of healing therapy.

The clinic aims to be data-based and data is collected on every session and people with disabilities are fully able to comment on the services they get on an ongoing basis. This allows our therapists to ensure that the needs of the individual are being met and that their voice is guiding the process. It also allows us to evaluate our services on a daily basis.

Presenters: Jessica Capra, Amanda Gee, and Virginia Jahyu

Broadening the Healing Journey is Community Living Dundas County’s contribution to the Journey from Institutionalization. Our vision has been to broaden and enrich the ‘healing journey’ for individuals we support who have survived institution-based trauma. We were determined to find an approach that was trauma-informed, evidence-based, innovative, and above and beyond traditional ‘talk therapy’. It needed to be adaptable to participants with a wide range of cognitive and communication skills, and to provide participants and the staff who support them with concrete and doable interventions and activities.

We identified Positive Psychology and Character Strengths-Based Interventions as key models to guide the project. These models focus on what makes people happier, what gives their lives a sense of satisfaction and meaning and what helps them function better. We are best when we engage our highest strengths in activities that draw on what is best in us. An individual can deliberately use their character strengths to engage more fully in their work, to find more meaning in life, to experience positive emotions, to improve relationships and to accomplish goals.

Our project has developed tools to identify participants’ Signature Character Strengths. Those findings will inform the development of individualized Character Strengths Profiles for each participant, and those profiles will in turn inform the development of concrete activities and tools that can be used with all participants, across all environments, from day to day discussions to larger life planning. We are in the process of training staff and implementing the steps involved, and we have had very positive results so far!

Presenters: Gerry Casey and Daniel Levere

3:55 pm – Performance of Labels by Zack Fitzsimmons

4:00 pm – Break

4:10 pmRemember Every Name and Participation House | Q&A with panel

Remember Every Name, led by survivors, and L’Arche Toronto are working together to organize Lost But Not Forgotten, a memorial gathering and procession to honour and to remember those who died at the Huronia Regional Centre between 1876 and 2009. We are hoping this will become an annual opportunity for people to gather together and reflect and to build on the success of the first Lost But Not Forgotten event, which was held in May 2016 at the Huronia Regional Centre Cemetery were many who were laid to rest there were buried with a death number and not a name. It provides a powerful platform to listen to survivors and better understand the significance of the cemetery. The memorial gathering is a positive step in the continued journey to healing for those survivors and families who have experienced great pain and loss. It also creates an opportunity for the wider community to bear witness, show support, and come together with survivors to pay respect who did not survive.

Presenters: Betty Ann Bond, Bev Link, Harold Dougall, Cindy Scott, and Debbie Vernon

Healing Through the Arts is a partnership project between Participation House Support Services, Hutton House, L’Arche London, and the London Arts Council, funded as a result of the settlement of the Huronia, Rideau, and Southwestern Regional class actions. Healing through the Arts aims to celebrate the resiliency and spirit of people returning home to their communities after years of living in provincial institutions. Through six-week ‘open studios,’ the project encourages participants from diverse backgrounds to build meaningful relationships and to celebrate each other’s gifts through arts activities that draw on their stories, experiences, and ideas. Sessions are facilitated by professional artists, held in accessible community spaces, and are offered in dance, visual arts, and songwriting. Since its inception in April of 2018, 25 of 33 people named on the class action suit who are served by the partner organizations in London, Ontario have attended Healing through the Arts sessions. Many have attended several sessions and a few attend on an ongoing basis. The presentation will include a brief outline of the program development, and feature highlights of the project impact to date, including recordings of songs and images of visual art pieces created collaboratively over the past year. Presenters will include a project artist, a core participant from Participation House Support Service, and project partner staff.

Presenters: Melanie Schambach and Peter Bourns

We are members of Remember Every Name focused on honouring those who died and are buried at the Huronia Regional Centre Cemetery who come together for mutual support to share our life stories along with celebrating the successes and accomplishments we have had since leaving the institution.

Commemorating Lives Lived at Huronia Regional Centre Art Memorial is a project that involves creating an outdoor memorial art piece that’s directly influenced and designed by survivors as a testament that came from the heart which no one else can create for us without us. Survivors in Simcoe County, Muskoka, and Parry Sound were involved and were the guiding force in the design and delivery of this project. The art piece will be a permanent and lasting memorial which will be installed at the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia. The unveiling and dedication will take place in the spring or early summer of 2019. The design and reports have been submitted to the government and we are waiting for their approval for the installation at the Huronia Regional Centre Cemetery on Memorial Drive in Orillia.

This is an important project conveying to society how we as survivors overcame the injustices and harm that was done while showing our resilience and triumph once we were freed from the clutches of the institution.

Presenters: Betty Ann Bond, Bev Link, Harold Dougall, Cindy Scott, and Debbie Vernon

6 PM – Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

Created by L’Arche Toronto’s Sol Express, in collaboration with Victoria Freeman and Jumblies Theatre, Birds Make Me Think About Freedom reflects on our humanity inspired by the stories of people institutionalized for being labeled with developmental disabilities, their families, and friends. The play goes to dark places by touching on sensitive material regarding institutional mistreatment. However, it doesn’t end there as it delves into thoughts and discussion on freedom, hope, choice and living on our own.

A reception will take place in the Jacobs Lounge immediately following the performance.

Please note: While both events are part of Flying to Freedom, separate registration is required to attend each event.

Flying to Freedom is presented by survivors, People First of Ontario, Council of Community Living Ontario, members and friends of Community Living Ontario, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and L’Arche Toronto.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I purchase tickets?

Registration for both events is listed above. The events are pay-what-you-can to provide access to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend. Donations will be accepted at the door.

Is the theatre wheelchair accessible?

Yes. Wheelchair seating is located at the back of the auditorium. Please locate the front of house supervisor when you arrive, and they will be happy to escort you. If you wish to notify us in advance regarding the use of accessible seating, please contact the theatre’s Bookings Coordinator at 416-924-6211 x269 or by email at agtbookings@mnjcc.org.

When can I go into the theatre to get a seat?

Doors to the theatre will open 30 minutes before the presentation AND the performance.

How do I get to the theatre?

The Al Green Theatre is located in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (750 Spadina Avenue, Toronto) at the southwest corner of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue. To access the theatre by the TTC exit at the Spadina Station on the Bloor or University subway lines. There is ample parking on Spadina Avenue, Bloor Street, and various side streets in the area.

Where can I have dinner after the presentations and before the performance?

There are a number of restaurants within walking distance of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. Here’s a short list: Pizza Pizza, Second Cup, Pizzaiolo, Tim Hortons, Crepes a Go Go, Pita Q, St. Louis Bar and Grill, Fresh on Bloor, and Sushi Maido.

What hotels are nearby?

The following hotels are all within walking distance of the subway line:

Madison Manor Boutique Hotel – 20 Madison Ave.
Kimpton St George – 280 Bloor St. W.
Intercontinental – 220 Bloor St. W.
Toronto Marriott – 90 Bloor St. E.