Tag Archives: Huronia Regional Centre

The last visit to Huronia Regional Centre

This post was written by current student Kim Collins.

The sky was threatening and overcast as we drove to the Huronia Regional Centre. Behind us ominous dark clouds rolled in, made even darker by the brilliant reds and oranges of the trees along the highway. It was the quintessential fall day.

We had applied as ‘researchers and scholars’ to view artifacts that were bring stored at Huronia. I had naively thought I would know what to expect as I had been on a tour with survivors in July. I would walk in and a bubbly headset wearing purple shirted staff would greet me and offer muffins. This did not happen. There was an air of authoritarianism to the visit. We were promptly checked in and were about to be escorted to the artifacts room, when a survivor asked they could join our group. A brisk young woman with a purple shirt flatly refused as the survivor had not submitted the proper forms in the proper manner at the proper time. There was no budging. Later I learned how truly revolting that refusal was. During her period of incarceration, the survivor had been forced to sew straight jackets and had wanted to see the remnants of the paper patterns.

A metal shelf hold paper patterns for straight jackets.
Patterns for making all sizes of straight jackets.

Even the idea of having ‘researchers’ or ‘scholars’ access material instead of, or including, survivors is repugnant. Nothing has changed. Survivor knowledge and rights are still being denied. Why shouldn’t everyone who was forcibly incarcerated at Huronia be able to access artifacts? What is most disgusting, is the number of artifacts that belong to survivors; pieces of clothing with names on them, awards, artwork and photographs. These were surrounded by the items survivors would never have had access to during the imprisonment; beautiful silver cutlery, educational materials featuring happy families, ornate furniture and ceramic dishes. Interspersed were items that survivors would have been all to familiar with; hard, wooden examination tables, pill bottles, needles, sewing machines, child sized straight jackets, cage cribs, and farm implements for forced labour.

A child sized straight jacket with a Ministry of Community and Social Services stamp on the bottom.
A child sized straight jacket with a Ministry of Community and Social Services stamp on the bottom.
The image shows two booklets. One has the title "moods and emotions" on the cover. The second features a smiling, white, non-disabled boy putting on a seatbelt while his mother smiles at him from outside of the car window.
Educational material for teaching about moods and emotions featuring happy, non-disabled families.
A metal cage crib with a doll in the back corner.
A cage crib.

Our group struck up a conversation with the purple shirted man supervising our visit. He had worked at Huronia. Someone asked what he thought of the closure. He told us a story about meeting some survivors in a store in Orillia. The survivors all came to him and asked when Huronia would be open again so they could go home. It is understandable how during years of incarceration a person could begin to equate their prison with a home. What else would anyone expect children to do? To use that story, however, to justify years of employment at, what literally was a unlawful prison for people who were disabled, indicates a sadly common mindset that despite the closing of Huronia has not changed: people labelled with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities need care and control, their opinions are not valuable, their rights are subordinate to those of non disabled people.

During the visit, a survivor said that Huronia stole her past. Until she came to pride, there was no way to answer ‘where do you come from’ or ‘what’s your family history’? It was through telling her story that this transformation occurred. This weekend visit marks the last of the visitations stipulated under the class action law suit. The doors once again close on Huronia, but we need to support survivors to keep the history alive by continuing to tell their stories.

Huronia is closed, but we must not forget.

An Introduction from Eliza Chandler

Eliza, wrapped in a large scarf,  is pictured against the backdrop of trees changing to fall colours

My name is Eliza Chandler and I am the new Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-Doctoral Fellow in the School of Disability Studies. A post-doctoral fellowship (post-doc) can mean many things, but at the School it is this wonderful position created for a disabled woman who has recently completed her PhD to research an area related to disability studies and mad studies that is of interest to her.  Dr. Kirsty Lidddiard, who many of you know, was the previous post-doc (and she has very large shoes to fill!). I am occupying her old office, the office beside Kathryn’s. Feel free to drop in to introduce yourself or have a chat at anytime.

I wanted to introduce myself to you, as well as the topic I have chosen to study over the next two years. I will be researching disability and mad art in Canada. And I will be doing this in a number of ways, outlined in this letter.

Disability and Mad Arts Seminar Series

This year we will have monthly seminars with disability and mad artists and curators that are targeted at you, DST students. This schedule currently has a few holes in it, so if you would like to hear about a topic related to disability and mad art, please let me know and I will see what I can do! Here is the schedule and I will send out reminder emails as we go. Some of the dates are set and others are flexible.

Amanda Cachia, Curating Disability and Access: Ethics, Pragmatics, Effects

October 23, 7:00-8:30PM

Ryerson University, room TBA

This talk will explore the challenges of curating exhibitions that explore disability as its central theme by focusing on a number of recent exhibits curated by Cachia.

For more on Cachia, please visit: http://www.amandacachia.com and for details of a recent exhibit she curated: http://exhibits.haverford.edu/whatcanabodydo/

Curating Huronia: Members from the upcoming Surviving Huronia exhibit talk about the practices and politics of curating disability and mad art.

December 2, 7:00-8:30PM

401 Richmond Arts Centre, Urban Space Gallery

 This event will feature members of the Surviving Huronia curatorial committee discussing experiences of growing up in the Huronia Regional Centre, the Huronia class action suit, survivors art practices and their upcoming exhibitions, and how the collectivity of the curatorial committee seeks to disrupt the ‘top down’ approach through which disability and mad art has historically been curated.  This talk is a ‘teaser’ for upcoming art exhibitions.

For more on the Huronia Regional Centre and activism around it, please visit:

Huronia Institutional Survivors Website

Information about the successful class action suit brought to the government by survivors of Huronia

Premier Wynne’s apology (part of the class action settlement)

CBC Radio Documentary on Huronia and the Rideau Regional Centre, The Gristle in the Stew (one of the only bits of national coverage)

The “Remember Every Name” Huronia cemetery restoration project

Project Creative Users: Accessing the City through Arts Inquiry with Lindsay Fisher and Eliza Chandler

February (date to be confirmed)

Ryerson University (room number to be confirmed)

Project Creative Users is a community disability arts initiative. This group of 6 artists and non-artists are spending the fall together in workshops dedicated to creating artwork which address the theme, ‘accessibility in the city.’ We hope that the art we produce serves as an ‘open letter’ to the government addressing the AODA. This artwork will be displayed on our Project Creative Users website, coming soon.

This event will feature a presentation the Project Creative Users collective discussing our experience making art collective and our thoughts on arts inquiry as a tool for disability justice based political action. We will also display and discuss our art!

Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement screening and discussion with filmmaker Regan Brashear

Mid-March (date to be confirmed)

Ryerson University (room number to be confirmed)

 Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement is a documentary film that interrogates the drive to be ‘better than human’ and the radical technological innovations that may take us there. This event will feature a screening of the film with and introduction with the filmmaker Regan Brashear. There will be a panel discussion following the screening. Please look for the Call for Participation or talk to me if you’d like to participate in this panel discussion! 

Fixed website, including the trailer: http://www.fixedthemovie.com

These are a few of the events on the horizon for the 2014-15 school year. I will circulate updates when details get filled in and new events are planned. Stay tuned!

Other things that I am involved with that may be of interest:

Canadian Disability Studies Association Conference

June 4, 5, and 6 2015

University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

As the president-elect of the Canadian Disability Studies Association (CDSA-ACEI), I am working to create a Call for Presentations for our upcoming conference that is open to undergraduate students and welcoming of mad studies and Deaf studies as well as disability studies. This call for participations will be circulated in October and the conference will take place at the University of Ottawa June 4, 5, and 6 2015.

If you are at all interested in participating in this conference and would like to talk to someone about this, please get in touch with me. I would be more than happy to talk you through the application process and review your abstract. It would be great to have a critical mass of DST students at this conference! Also please note that there is a Student Paper Award that you can, and should, submit to.

For more information on CDSA-ACEI, please visit: http://www.cdsa-acei.ca/home.html

Tangled Arts + Disability

401 Richmond Building, Suite S-30

401 Richmond Ave., Toronto ON

Along with this post-doc position, I am the Artistic Director of Tangled Arts + Disability. Tangled is a disability arts organization located in the 401 Richmond Arts Building dedicated to supporting and cultivating disability arts. We have an annual festival and Kids Fest in March and April as well as additional programming throughout the year. Our Tangled on Tour programs disability and mad art throughout the province. This year we will be in London, Windsor, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay; if you live in one of these cities, please get in touch! We also have an artist-in-residency program for disability and/or mad-identified artists. If you want to be support by, or volunteer for Tangled, please get in touch. I will pass on lots of Tangled events throughout the year.

For more on Tangled, please visit: http://abilitiesartsfestival.org/whats-new/

Please drop in for a chat or email me at anytime (eliza.chandler@ryerson.ca). I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful school year and I will be sure to keep you up-to-date on all things disability and mad arts on my end of things.

All the very best,

Eliza Chandler


Huronia Regional Centre – A Tour Behind the Doors of A Closed Institution

This post was written by student engagement facilitator, Kim Collins.


“To start your experience, please help yourself to coffee, tea and muffins,” bubbles the animated woman in the bright purple t-shirt as she points to the breakfast spread laid out before us. She adjusts her headset and I half expect her ask for another size as if she is a retail assistant at the Gap.

It’s hard to reconcile this cheery greeting with building I am standing in. Even harder to reconcile the idyllic setting in which this building is placed. I am at Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia. From the outside, the building could be an ivy league school. The red brick, white details, the wind blowing through the pines and deciduous trees that fill the acres of lush greenery, down to the sparkling blue of Lake Simcoe. It’s beautiful, or at least it should be.

Huronia Regional Centre in the background, surrounded by lush greenery with Lake Simcoe in the foreground
The idyllic setting of Huronia Regional Centre on Lake Simcoe.

I have come to Huronia on one of the six visitations weekends which were stipulated in the class action settlement by survivors of this institution. My fellow visitors and I are provided with a government tour guide (the bubbly woman in purple) and a security guard. We are lucky enough to have on our tour, two survivors Pat and Marie and Marilyn a litigation guardian who worked at Huronia and whose brother died here.

As we walk into the bowels of the institution we are told the stories of what it was like to be imprisoned here. The horrifying details cling to me like the stench of the place.

If you read the Government of Ontario’s website about Huronia you will read that, ‘residents’ ‘participated’ in ‘vocational’ training programs. That’s part of what feels so wrong in this idyllic setting; the language. We are taken through ‘cottages’ which are not cottages, but prisons. We are shown the ‘play room’ in which punishment, not play took place. The ‘vocational’ training areas are houses of forced, unpaid labour. The list and the grounds are endless. We walk for hours through dilapidated and crumbling buildings, through tunnels, long corridors, and wards, the ever present locked door a feature of every room in every building. It is overwhelming.

Paint and a stencilled vine motif peel off the walls at Huronia Regional Centre,
The stencilled vine motif and paint peels of the walls of Huronia Regional Centre.
In the cracks of peeling paint are crayon drawings.
Crayon drawings in the midst of peeling paint.
Layers of paint and plaster flake off the wall to reveal the brick walls.
The paint and plaster peel away to reveal the brick beneath.
A close up shot of a door knob and lock.
All of the doors at Huronia had locks.

We come to the former gym which is now used as a training area for the Ontario Provincal Police. The far end of the gym is littered with mannequins, posters and equipment all to train officers how to tase and subdue offenders. As a group we cannot help but think how many times those ‘offenders’ are disabled people. The irony and the offense of this is clearly lost on the OPP.

Exhausted and overwrought we emerge at the end of the visitation near the admissions centre. Marilyn comes over to answer a question I had asked earlier in the day. I had wanted to know if there was a morgue on the property and there was; it was housed under the admission centre. Survivors have stated that they were told they would die there, that there was no way to escape Huronia. You came and you left through the same building.

A large parking lot in front of the admissions building at Huronia Regional Centre.
The admissions building at Huronia Regional Centre.

Across the road from the institution is the Huronia Regional Centre Cemetery. There are over 2,000 people buried there. Only 571 of those graves are marked, many only with their patient number. The markers that remain are crowded next to one another. Even in death, there was no space. Many markers were moved, stolen, to be used as paving stones for nearby houses. Those that have been returned are cemented together. Our last moments here are communal. We sing together around the collected grave markers. Our voices combined and raised I feel a sense of hope, of purpose.

A sunflower lays on the collected grave markers at Huronia Regional Centre.
A sunflower sits on the collected grave markers at Huronia Regional Cemetery. Photo by A. Zbitnew.

Gonna keep on moving forward

Keep on moving forward,

Keep on moving forward

Never turning back
, Never turning back

Gonna keep on moving proudly…
Gonna keep on singing loudly…
Gonna keep on loving boldly…
Gonna keep on moving forward…
(Pat Humphries, 1984)

How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful?

How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice, that your loving is a miracle?

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.
(Libby Roderick, http://www.libbyroderick.com)

Before the trip to Huronia, I met Pat, Marie and Marilyn at Ryerson University. At the end of their talk Pat asked us to be their union; to take up their story. During those moments of song I felt how closely we are all connected and how important it is for us to support people to tell their stories.

It’s easy to think that these stories aren’t needed, that Huronia is closed, this horrible chapter in Ontario’s history has ended. Sadly, this is far from the truth. Disabled people are still housed in group homes, they are still denied access to education, to services, to employment, like the buildings of Huronia, the list is endless. Public figures like Doug Ford still question if disabled people should be allowed out from behind closed doors. Huronia may be closed, but attitudes have not changed. So together we need to keep on moving forward, keep on moving proudly, keep on signing loudly, keep on loving boldly, never turning back.