Rideau Regional Centre, Smiths Falls, ON 1951-2009
The largest institution in the Commonwealth
Our aim is to improve your understanding of the implications of past societal attitudes, suffering and abuses of individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. Failure to understand the past makes it difficult for the community to fully grasp the importance of ensuring that we never repeat that history.
It is essential that future generations have clear and memorable stories about the experiences of institutionalization and the impact this had on the lives of people who now live in the community. We must remember that people with disabilities did not always have the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship.
Everyone has the right to live in a community and have the same liberties and opportunities as everyone else. People should never be congregated in a setting away from what’s important to them. Going forward, we need to advocate for people and we cannot do it adequately without knowing where we've been.
The power of storytelling has been known throughout the ages as an effective way of sharing first hand experiences and creating change in our world. Stories transcend generations and bring us to the core of the experience to help us make sense of the human condition. We are engaged through our emotions, allowing us to better understand ourselves and to find our commonality with others. We become participants in the narrative, stepping out of our own shoes to see things differently and increase our empathy for others. Stories allow us to make our own inferences and come to our own conclusions. First hand accounts are, by far, the most powerful form of storytelling, giving a real life essence to the experience. The stories presented in The Reclamation Project will allow the reader to gain insight into what life was like inside institutions for people with intellectual disabilities. These are the real life stories of individuals who lived there, their families, their staff, and the people who helped them reclaim their rightful place in the community. For comparison, stories of individuals whose families chose to keep them at home are also included. Although some stories may be disturbing, they will all hopefully guide the reader to learn the true value of living life at the helm.
Although there were many smaller facilities in Ontario, housing thousands of people with physical and intellectual disabilities, there were three that were much larger than the rest. The first institution above, bearing the final name of Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ontario was opened in 1876. Overcrowding necessitated the need for the creation of Rideau Regional Centre in 1951 and Southwestern Regional Centre in 1960. These were the last of the institutions in Ontario, closing their doors on March 31, 2009.
In 2013 a class action lawsuit against the government of Ontario, alleging systemic abuse in the three facilities above, was settled out of court. Individuals were given a public apology and monetary amounts depending on the level of abuse they endured while there. The prosecuting law firm, Koskie Minsky, and the Ministry of Community and Social Services put the remaining $7.4 million into a fund called Strategic Program Investments. The purpose of the fund was to enhance the ability of individuals with a developmental disability to guide and influence decisions affecting them from a systems and personal point of view. Community Living Kingston and District was granted funds to create a presentation that would provide individuals who lived in Ontario’s institutions with an opportunity to tell their stories. The entire presentation, including this website, a documentary video and a power point presentation also chronicles the history, attitudes, factors and cultural dynamics that existed during the time of institutions and compares institutional living to life in the community. This project is available from Community Living Kingston and District, for use by colleges and universities to educate students in the social services, for agencies to educate staff who provide support to individuals with disabilities, for ministry planners who make decisions regarding people with disabilities, and for anyone with an interest in advocating for the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities. For more information on utilizing The Reclamation Project: The Value of Living Life at the Helm, Contact Us.