Former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre return to the facility
Former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre took a difficult trip back in time on Friday – returning to the facility for the first time in years.
Patricia Seth and Marie Slark have been friends for more than 50 years. They met as young children, both sent to live at the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia.
On Friday, the two women returned to HRC – allowed inside for the first time since the place was closed in 2011.
Pat and Marie were the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed by former HRC residents against the province. The case was settled last fall and as part of the settlement, former residents have been allowed to return, to revisit a place they call a prison.
“I remember the bedrooms being crowded,” said Marie.
The buildings are empty now but full of memories. It has been nearly 40 years since Vince Knibbecke lived here but no one called him Vince.
“Back then it was just a number, never by name, by number…I hate that number.”
Not all the care or all the caregivers were bad but there is still a lot of bad memories and in every room on Friday…a different memory.
“We’d clean it at least once a week with a toothbrush,” added Knibbecke
And most of the memories involved some sort of punishment.
One of the rooms at HRC was called the pipe room. They were sent there as punishment. It’s very narrow and very hot.
“Thrown in there, left in there for three of four hours, “added Vince.
Pat says no one believed her when she complained about the pipe room.
“There was a step there, I sat on it. I was nine years old at the time.”
There was also a room called the hopper. Pat says two workers would hang her upside down in the room while water streamed down into her mouth and nose.
“And it felt like I was drowning.”
Pat, Marie, and Vince are here not relive the past but to try to put the past behind them.
“I just want to let it lay and do what I have to do and get away from it all,” says Knibbecke.
The Huronia Regional Centre will also be open for tours on Saturday and there will be five more opportunities to visit the site over the next few months. The hope is that class members will return, some of those memories will come back which will help them fill out their claim forms so they can get the compensation they deserve.