One of the first things our group did together was pay a final visit to the Huronia Regional Centre itself. As part of the court settlement, HRC was open for survivors, family members, caregivers and community members to visit several times in 2014.
The last of these “open houses” occurred in October 2014. While many of our group members had been back to see HRC, this time we went altogether and spent the whole weekend taking pictures, making videos and recording the survivor’s memories of living at Huronia.
This was a hard weekend for all of us. The survivors were incredibly brave as they revisited old memories housed within the dank, crumbling walls of Huronia, but it was still overwhelming to see the rooms where they once lived.
For those of us who did not live at Huronia, it was very painful to hear stories of abuse and neglect from our friends who lived at the Centre. Together, we visited the “playroom” — a mis-named space where residents were routinely beaten and humiliated.
We stood inside “pipe rooms” — small, unlit areas off the ward in which children were locked when they were deemed by staff to have been naughty. Hauntingly, the doors to these pipe rooms still bear their original heavy locks and scratch marks on the inside made by tiny, desperate hands clawing to get out so many years ago.
We toured medical offices where residents were placed in chemical constraints and the morgue — a space both for the final treatment of residents who had died, but also a terrifying space of punishment for living residents.
However, as became a daily ritual, it was our collective visit to Huronia’s cemetery where we were able to bring a small moment of transcendence and integrity to the site. At the end of each day we honored those who died at Huronia, many of whom were subjected to the post-mortem indecency of being buried in an unnamed grave.
Led by the survivors, we sang in the cemetery, expressing our pain, remembering those who did not make it out, and vowing to celebrate their lives by refusing the silence offered to institutional survivors for so many years.
With these vows in mind, and fueled in equal measures by rage and courage, the survivors returned from that weekend ready to express the horror of life at the Huronia Regional Centre.
- Dr. Kate Rossiter, Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford Campus