Tag Archives: institutionalization

Advocacy or how it started …

This post was written by student Sharon Clegg-Lintner and Micki McIntrye.

“Well, Micki. What do you think??”

“That would be all right with me I guess. If it means a couple of extra dollars a month for me to spend, that would be okay.”

And that’s how it all started; the second half of taking a stand and pursuing a closure for all the lost opportunities in life and one that makes her feel more credible and dignified as a human being. Not that she ever discussed those twenty years of pain, abuse and hardship while living in four of Ontario’s Provincial Institutions.

Micki, whose birth name is Marlene McIntyre, had to re-live all those painful memories three years ago as we spent nearly seven hours with me and her Adult Protective Service Worker completing the most intimate details of her years of mental, physical and emotional abuse. She spoke of other horrors that had occurred to people she knew and lived with, surprised at herself for even remembering some of their names.

“You didn’t speak of those things when staff were around and you couldn’t help even if you wanted to. I did a couple of times and got smacked and locked in a room for it. Some people died, Sharon, and we didn’t know where their bodies went.”

I’m sitting here with Micki right now so she can be part of this submission, because that’s how it’s always been between her and I since we met. We share. I was redneck nineteen year old who got a summer job at the Ontario Hospital for Women in Cobourg. (Later known as D’Arcy Place) That was 1972. And we’ve been friends ever since. There are too many stories to elaborate on since then, but the most important aspect of our relationship was how hers, and others, humbled me into choosing my career path. She became family and the both of us struggled through many obstacles so she could obtain her freedom. I took on Community and Social Services in the late 70’s to get her released into the community of Barrie and she has lived a life to establish herself as a citizen there, not without consequences by any means, but as someone who always had a heart of gold, of which she gave while others took. But I was always there as her “protector”, providing choices and alternatives.

She eventually met and decided to live with her partner, Bob, and that was nearly over thirty-five years ago. She is quite emphatic to this day that she won’t share Bob with me! “You’re my sister, and he can’t come to our house to stay when I come home!” Even when Micki got really ill two years ago and I learned that her one leg had gotten so badly infected, she was hospitalized, she told me she didn’t want to worry me and that she had tried her best to do things on her own. That cost her the amputation of her leg, a decision she made by herself after we had tried for four months to save it. South Lake Regional Hospital in Newmarket sure got to know the both of us during those months, after they originally wanted to discharge her back to her apartment that was consumed with bed bugs! It wasn’t long before the medical professionals discovered that we were a team not to be pushed around because of policies!! We’ve come even a longer way since then. I was able to secure a place at a retirement home the next year for both of them and took on officials in Barrie. It hasn’t been a smooth road since then making sure she was getting the correct medical attention and prevention for her other leg. We learned of the first collective Class Action Lawsuit against the Province of Ontario and I made sure her name was on the list. The law firm of Koskie Minsky in Toronto were absolutely wonderful! Micki and I had to originally travel to Toronto for depositions, affidavits, motions and intimidating consultations with Ministry people. But Micki charmed them all! Her wit, humour and sincerity won them over. Plus, she absolutely looked forward to staying in the big hotels!

photograh of woman with santa hat on
Micki enjoying her stay at a hotel.

Micki received a substantial financial gift as a result of the first lawsuit. We were able to obtain a brand new electric wheelchair for her and as of last October, she and Bob have relocated to a geared-to-rent disabled unit apartment in Barrie. They had the most wonderful Christmas last year, with a proper Christmas tree, decorations and gifts. Although there have been some serious medical concerns with the both of them this last year, they are much happier.

Our final chapter enlisted by Koskie Minsky this past year, was Micki taking on the responsibility of being named as applicant for a second class action lawsuit, again against the Province of Ontario, for any and all survivors of the smaller provincial institutions before they were closed. We spearheaded this motion because Micki wanted to ensure that EVERYONE who was still alive and had gone through horrific experiences were also entitled to a better life. The day she had to appear in court this past April, she manoeuvred her wheelchair up next to the lawyer’s benches and got to speak to the Judge and let him know how grateful she felt and other survivors in the courtroom clapped when she did so.

photo of Micki and Sharon with a horse
Micki and Sharon at Sharon’s farm.

Micki’s life long wishes were to see Alice Cooper, which we have done twice now at Casino Rama and she wants to go to Santa’s Village this summer, which we are planning. Micki comes home here to my farm more often now, and it is our hope that with continuing medical assistance, we can get her one leg stable enough to warrant a prosthesis, because that’s Micki — she never wants to give up on any possibilities in her life and don’t anyone tell her she can’t do something!

Photograph of woman using a wheelchair in a crowd
Micki at an Alice Cooper concert.

To read more about the settlement read Survivors of 12 Huronia-style institutions will split $36M class-action settlement in the Toronto Star.

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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.