Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
ORILLIA — Survivors and the dead of the the Huronia Regional Centre may finally be able to rest a little more at peace now.
In a “moving tribute to HRC survivors led by survivors,” a memorial now marks their last resting place, says supporter Debbie Vernon who helped bring it about, next to the OPP headquarters in Orillia.
In a tiny, previously nondescript cemetery, which was barely noticeable from the road when passing the grounds of the former mental health facility, there now stands a large and lasting black monolithic marker — two impressive, imposing columns each stetching more than 10 feet high.
A legacy to the survival and memory of the thousands who were cared for and abused in the provincially-run health-care centre; and the hundreds who died, were buried and all but forgotten.
It reads: “Remember the names,” and towers amid the ground-level markers that now memorialize some of those who were marginalized by bureaucracy and a society ignorant of the level of care many received.
But not by their families and friends.
Until now, when on Saturday Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller and Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke paid their respects at a unveiling and dedication ceremony.
Artist Hilary Clark Cole also spoke about her accompanying, uplifting sculpture.
Miller presented a plaque noting it was “long overdue,” which Vernon said “we plan to display at a human rights museum (they’d like to see) someday, along with the maquette and photos.”
Miller’s plaque read in part: “… While the monument stands to remind us of the tragedy that occurred, it simultaneously celebrates all the the survivors have overcome since leving the centre. …
“May this monument stand the test of time and remind us all to always strive to celebrate a world were everyone is treated with kindness and dignity.”
However, Vernon added: “Our work is not done, as we will need to do some fundraising for a walkway around the monument, making it accessable to all people and install benches and a plaque to go with the monument.”
She said “the government has made many errors with the end row markers at the cemetery, and has been asked to do further investigation with the sewage pipes that run through the cemetery where we believe as many as 150 burials were disturbed when it was installed.”
She says the province has also been asked to decommission the septic system for safety concerns.
The cemetery and new monument are located just down the road from Georgian College, an appropriate reminder for students in the future to remember the crimes of the past.
The Huronia Regional Centre property remains in provincial hands and is being used in part by the OPP as a training centre.