Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I got the email and started crying.

I'm still crying. I can't seem to stop.

After 133 years of captivity, the institutions of Ontario are closed. The last person moved home yesterday. The hallways echo empty.

I worked briefly in institutional care. I know the smell of captivity. I have heard footsteps resound down long corridors. I have tasted food cooked without spice. And I knew it was wrong.

The first day I worked in a facility, I wondered, aloud - to others present, why wards were necessary. My questioning shocked even me. There was no such concept of 'community living'. There was no such imagining. We looked outside institution windows and did not understand what we saw.

Walking down a hallway with keys in your pocket was an experience vastly different from those who lived behind the doors that the keys fit into. Everything was structured to keep 'them' them and 'us' us. Everything was manufactured to keep the keepers from discovering the humanity of the kept. Everything was done to ensure that heirarchies made connection impossible.

But something happened.

I guess the call of 'home' is a strong one.

I guess the desire for 'freedom' is a powerful one.

I guess the longing for 'justice' is an overwhelming one.

And they started coming home. Slowly at first. They moved into neighbourhoods. They moved into communities. They moved into real life. And they succeeded brilliantly. Beyond expectation. Beyond possibility.

This victory.

This moment in history.

I am part of it.

But it does not belong to me.

It belongs to those who came home. It belongs to those who claimed home. It belongs to those who made home.

To those self advocates who first braved the streets of freedom. We salute you. To those self advocates who laid claim on justice. We honour you. To those who died waiting. We mourn you.

Oh, my, oh, my ... I can't stop crying.


rickismom said...

Tredendous! Oh, I wish we were there over here! We are just starting the battle......

Heike said...

Let's just hope that Canada doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, as Australia did. When the institutions closed, the funding ended too. And now the parents in their 60s, 70s 80s are struggling to care for their adult disabled kids. Care in the community which is not supported by investment in accomodation has meant that young people end up in nursing homes when their ageing parents can't cope any more. Keep an eye on it Dave.

Carrie said...

It is a truly historic event. Our agency is having a huge private celebration this afternoon. By invitation only to those who lived, breathed and escaped institutions. A time to celebrate and get together. We decided to keep this part of the day private as we want this to be an intimate event for those who lived there. This evening we are having a big dance held at a hotel. All are welcome to join!

I feel proud to live in Ontario...in a place within Canada that appreciates the value of all people.

Let's get this party started!!!!

Belinda said...

It is indeed a day to celebrate the end of an era.

There is still much work to be done. The institution hides in heads too and Heike's caution is a reality here too.

But today we celebrate the coming down of the wall and it is an important and monumental milestone, won through the blood, sweat and tears of real heroes who now walk among us and many people who went against a strong flow!

I loved Carrie's agency's private celebration--what a classy thing to do--I will imagine them, dancing the night away.

Linda said...

Hats off to you in Canada! I know there are tears today Dave.....and remember....with tears comes healing!
Time for a good cup of strong tea!

Trenna said...

This is a day to celebrate for all people! Another level of freedom has been achieved. I heard a news story on the radio no more than 5 minuted before I opened up your blog Dave, and gave a verbal cheer and clapped my hands. This is a victorious day for everyone, not just those with intellectual disabilities!

Dustin said...

We're doing our best to achieve this down here in the states, with our particular agency supporting some of those that were used as poster-children for why some couldn't be supported in the community... And now those men and women are solid and participating members of their communities.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Anonymous said...

A day to remember for sure.

CJ from California said...

I too worked in one of those institutions 30 years ago..in a children's unit. I had so many that I could hardly care for their physical needs much less their emotional ones. I remember the ground up baloney sandwiches served 3 nights a week for "dinner," along with salty canned veggies and syrupy canned fruit.

I will never forget those children.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I too am crying. Though this is a joyous occaision I feel a huge outpouring of grief for all the pain and suffering endured to get us to this day. May we never go back. The article in the Toronto Star today notes that they are building institutions in Manitoba - what's that about???

We are celebrating here at my college - a big cake for everyone in the cafeteria and a potluck for supper. Welcome home! Welcome home! You should never have been away!

Andrea Shettle said...

I agree with Heike -- we must beware of the risk that, for some people with disabilities, we could end up trading in "institutions" for "nursing homes." Many people with severe mobility impairments are still trapped in nursing homes in the US because they don't have the support they need to live autonomously in the community.

liz said...


theknapper said...

Having worked in an institution I remember what it did to my soul......I can't imagine what it (& I as part of that institution) did to the people I worked with then. Interesting I now sometimes work in a grouphome with one of the women I knew back then. She loves spicey food and wearing makeup and going to concerts! Thank goodness her spirit has survived & thrived! What a day this is.

Uniqueisfab said...

Absolutley brilliant Ontario.

We have nearly acheived the same here in Scotland and like other countries have found some going to other smaller institutions. The Government is keeping an eye on all this but housing is a huge issue. More work to do but at least the goal was set and nearly met.

Many of my friends spent years in hospitals here and are the least bitter people i know. I take my hat of to them and all who have survived the awful conditions i nursed people in way back in the 1970s.


Reformed Anon. Girl in Pain said...

I wrote a poem in honour of today (on my blog)

when the people I support who lived there get home from work I will be waiting to tell them that it is done, everyone got home.

REformed girl

tekeal said...

thank you for sharing this. definitely a day to remember... and connected surely to SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE (R) WORD day, which is today. i've downloaded gutsy ads from the special olympics on my site of you want to look.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful news but as Heike has said the battle is never over. I'm from Scotland and the big issue just now is funding, council tax is not being raised and social services are genuinely struggling to pay for care costs and I've spoken to individual care managers who are struggling with either putting people in nursing homes or only having basic care needs met.

The next step is getting society to value people with disabilities as functioning contributing members of society. Press on...

Nick said...

Wonderful. As a 26 year old who has had the pleasure of working only in non-segregated homes for persons with developmental differences, I cannot imagine the horror of those wards. When you mention atrocities, genocide comes to mind - but we never associate that term with what has happened right in our own country and for so long. And while not all may have died a physical death in that type of "care," many lives were over the moment they were admitted. We are all people, and this is another small step in the walk of forever to get us to realize just that.

abby said...

Hurrah! My Canadian roots are proud. We are trying for the same here in Washington:


Progress rusty key by rusty key...

Anonymous said...

Amazing!!! The amount of abuse that was rendered to people in need was was abhorrent. I applaud those who worked so hard to abolish the institutions in your province. It is way overdue!

Anonymous said...

Such a victory! There are no large institutions left in Ontartio or BC...are other provinces following the path forward?

Smaller institutions do continue to be problematic but this is a time to celebrate for a brief moment before we press on and on and on.