Provincial Profile: Ontario

An aerial view of the grounds surrounding the Huronia Regional Centre in 2020.

Claudette Colvin was a black teenager in the 1950s. She refused to move when she was told to give up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks famously did the same. She is now known as a pioneer of the civil rights movement. “I knew then, and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it,” she said.1

Survivors of Ontario’s institutions have been fighting for justice for decades. It has been a long and disappointing journey for them too. In September 2004, the government of Ontario announced that it would close its institutions for people who have an intellectual disability by March 2009. At that time, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador were the only provinces in Canada who had done the same. By March 31, 2009, Ontario’s Huronia, Rideau and Southwestern Regional Centres had been closed. Between 2004 and 2009, Patricia (Pat) Seth and Marie Slark began proceedings to represent survivors in Ontario in a class action lawsuit. While survivors won their case, and the government of Ontario was held responsible, many survivors have felt that justice was not served. In particular, the class action gave survivors very little compensation for many years of suffering. Not one survivor had their day in court because the province accepted a settlement. To learn more about this case, we encourage you to review Remember Every Name Group’s timeline.

The road to justice has been a tiresome journey for survivors in Ontario. The eagerness of governments and private developers to recreate institutional facilities, since the shutdowns in 2009, is devastating. There are many examples of segregated communities, large apartment complexes and long-term care settings that exist in Ontario. These places continue to isolate and institutionalize people who have an intellectual disability. These places reflect the same patterns seen in the large institutions of the past. Research shows us that institutions create spaces where vulnerable people are harmed and abused.

Facilities will breed violence when:

  • They are used to manage the care of ‘difficult’ people
  • Buildings exist in isolated areas far away from where other people live, or when residents are socially isolated from the community
  • They are run for profit or with very strict rules
  • Their goal is to rehabilitate people
  • They provide housing for people who experience marginalization
  • Staff have too much control over the bodily needs and functions of residents2

“There are some people that do not fit into any kind of integration homes, so what are we going to do with them?”

— Councillor Paul Raymond, speaking to his support in the development of Apple Blossom Village


It may be hard to recognize institutional mindsets and models when we see them. They may be new, bright and shiny. They will also look great in photos and during opening ceremonies. Everyone will feel good about what they have created for the residents who will be kept there. But who will protect the people who are left there when everyone goes home?

The danger is that decision-makers in Ontario, and society in general, have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from the horrific experiences of the survivors of Ontario’s institutions. Institutions continue to exist in Ontario and people continue to be hidden away. Because of this, survivors, families and allies are outraged by the inexcusable ways their cries for justice have been ignored and forgotten.

Government-Operated Institutions For People With An Intellectual Disability In Ontario


Facility Location Year Opened Year Closed
Huronia Regional Centre Orillia 1876 2009
Oxford Regional Centre Woodstock 1905 1997
D’Arcy Place Coburg 1920 1996
Durham Centre Whitby 1950s 1987
Pine Ridge Centre Aurora 1950 1984/85
Rideau Regional Centre Smiths Falls 1951 2009
Southwestern Regional Centre Chatham-Kent 1961 2008
Muskoka Centre Gravenhurst 1963 1994
Midwestern Regional Centre Palmerston 1965 1998
Adult Occupational Centre Edgar 1966 1999
Prince Edward Heights Picton 1970 1999
Northwestern Regional Centre Thunder Bay 1974 1994
Bluewater Centre Goderich 1976 1984/85
Nipissing Regional Centre North Bay 1975 1977/78
St. Thomas Adult Rehabilitation and Training Centre (S.T.A.R.T. Centre) St. Thomas 1975 1984/85
St. Lawrence Regional Centre Brockville 1975 1984/85


Very few adults with developmental disabilities receive much needed support in the areas of everyday activities such as transportation, household chores, meal prep, etc. These are things many of us take for granted.

Rideau Regional Centre was the largest institution in the Commonwealth. One of its hallways was half a mile long. Why do you think the government built such an enormous facility?


Huronia Regional Centre

In 1895 the province of Ontario bought 150 acres of land on Lake Simcoe.

“In the first 100 years of the Huronia Regional Centre’s operation, more than 4000 people died within the institution’s walls. At least 1,379 of those who died at the HRC are confirmed to have been buried in the institution cemetery, however due to poor record keeping and the removal of many grave markers, the exact number is unknown and could be more than 2,000.”

— Remember Every Name, Accessed 2021

The Huronia Regional Centre (HRC) in Orillia, Ontario was closed in 2009. However, survivors will still live with the scars left by memories of what happened to them there. They still grieve for those who died there. As Canada’s largest institution by population, the history of HRC is an important piece of Canada’s history to know. Unlike Woodlands in British Colombia, the buildings of HRC still stand. Survivors have called on the government to tear them down or repurpose them into an education museum where the history of institutionalization in Canada could be learned. To survivors, the building is a symbol of the unthinkable atrocities they endured and that the fight for full inclusion and justice is not over.

Visiting The Grounds of the Huronia Regional Center M3.V3

In this video, Nicole visits the Huronia Regional Center with local historian and advocate Mitchell Wilson.

More than 19 institutions were opened by the government to provide care to Ontario citizens who have an intellectual disability. Three of the largest institutions in Ontario were the Huronia Regional Centre, Rideau Regional Centre and Southwestern Regional Centre. Below we have included links to a documentary, online stories and books that you can explore to learn more about institutions in Ontario. You can also visit our resource page for further exploration of institutionalization in Ontario, both past and present.


To learn more about the Huronia Regional Centre in Ontario please explore the following sources:

Three Questions to Ponder

  1. What has shocked you the most from what you’ve learned about Ontario’s institutions?
  2. What questions do you still have?
  3. What is still happening today in Ontario that suggests history is repeating itself?