Mark Clairmont |

ORILLIA — A small cemetery marking the resting place of a number of Huronia Regional Centre deceased — including many who died at it’s Muskoka Centre in Gravenhurst — is getting overdue recognition.

A meeting Friday afternoon with provincial Infrastructure Ontario officials should clear up timing of the project for a memorial dedication.

After many months of meeting with MPPs Norm Miller and Jill Dunlop, who have been supportive, Debbie Vernon who is one of those behind it said late Thursday that she got word earlier in the day that written confirmation could come today.

The cemetery with a tiny sign marking a driveway into it, is located next to the OPP headquarters in Orillia.

This comes just two days before supporters will gather on Sunday for a day of remembrance, says a release from Marilyn Dolmage, who is spearheaded a multi-million settlement for survivors of the mental health facility that closed over a decade ago.

The Survivors’ Memorial Procession will take place Mother’s Day at 1 p.m. (See details below.)

The process has been slow, involving four government ministries. The delays have been very trying, especially because many survivors are quite frail and very frustrated with such treatment all of their lives, says Dolmage.

The monument itself involves a lot of Muskoka connections.

The $103,000 cost of the memorial, which has been designed by Gravenhurst artist Hilary Cole, is left over money from the 2017 settlement and is being administered by the Bracebridge United Church.

Survivors of the former Huronia Regional Centre will gather at the cemetery next door for a day of recognition. They hope to get word on a proposed memorial honouring the deceased. Right now there is just a tiny sign marking a driveway into cemetery located next to the OPP headquarters in Orillia.

The survivors group (see the Facebook page to Remember Every Name) could not directly receive the leftover class action funds; so Bracebridge United Church stepped up to support them by flowing the money.

As well, in another project, YWCA Muskoka is leading the writing of a book of HRC survivor stories)

There were meetings among survivors in Simcoe County, Muskoka and Parry Sound to design the monument.

Survivors interviewed several artists and chose Cole, having been very impressed not just with her artistic gifts, but her apparent respect for them.

Bagpipers from the Bracebridge legion will lead the procession on Sunday — a traditional lament and sign of respect for the dead, at a place where children and adults were dumped in the ground, says Dolmage.

The release says the monument will be gratifying for survivors, after a monument the government installed last year had a number of omissions.

Organizers also dispute claims that no graves were disturbed by the sewage system they installed at the cemetery.


Survivors’ Memorial Procession at the Cemetery

of the former Huronia Regional Centre, Orillia

Sunday May 12, 2019, from 1 – 4 pm.

The procession gathers at the Leon’s Parking lot (555 Memorial Avenue, Orillia) at 1 p.m.

The ceremony continues at the adjacent cemetery, across from “HRC”, next to OPP headquarters, says a news release.

“We gather to honour the people who died and are buried at this institution. People who are the long-lost relatives of thousands of Canadians –  OUR family; people who were treated like numbers, but who had names that must not be forgotten.”

That is why a group of institutional survivors and their allies formed “Remember Every Name” — to show respect, find the truth, build understanding and work towards healing.

“We have commissioned a beautiful cemetery monument to honour those who died and to promote the healing and contributions of those who survive.”

Created by renowned Muskoka metal sculptor Hilary Clark Cole, with Signature Memorials, there is no cost; it was paid for by our survivors’ class action fund.

We had hoped to unveil the memorial on Sunday, to celebrate freedom. Instead, we invite others to support us and challenge ongoing injustice of the delay.

This is a place of historic injustice – where the government buried people without proper funerals. Hundreds of burials have only numbers, no names. Hundreds more have no markers at all.

Many markers were removed and repurposed on the grounds, and were never put back properly. A sewage system was installed with sewer pipes dug through the burial area.

Recently, a cemetery “facelift” furthered the government cover-up at this institution. New markers carry misleading and inaccurate information. The government backed down on its promise to replace hundreds of numbered stones with individual markers showing people’s names and their dates of birth and death.

This event is on Mother’s Day because so many people lost contact with their families.

Survivors will take flowers to these graves, just as families do in other cemeteries this Sunday.

Our search for respect — and truth — continues.

Please share this information, extend the invitation and join us. Thank you.

For more information, please contact Debbie Vernon: 705-645-0298 or