The Doc Project

The gristle in the stew: revisiting the horrors of Huronia

It was a place — and a past — that Patricia Seth and Marie Slark could have tried to forget. But they chose the harder route: to remember, and force those in power to face an ugly truth. We revisit the story of Huronia Regional Centre, a government-run institution for children with developmental disabilities.
Marie Slark and Patricia Seth in 2011 on the grounds of a now-shuttered Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ontario. (David Gutnick/CBC)
Listen to the full episode28:55

It was a place — and a past — that Patricia Seth and Marie Slark could have tried to forget. But they chose the harder route: to remember, and force those in power to face an ugly truth.

Opened in 1876, and closed in 2009, Huronia Regional Centre was Ontario's oldest institution for people with a developmental disability. It was originally called the Orillia Asylum for Idiots. (Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services)

What happened at Huronia Regional Centre was the stuff of nightmares. Huronia was a government-run institution for children with developmental disabilities, located in Orillia, Ontario. It was shut down in 2009, after more than a century of operation.

Parents were told their children would be well taken care of, their special needs attended to. They were told that leaving their children in the institution's care was the right thing to do. But instead, children were neglected and abused.

Marie and Patricia in 2016 at McGill University where they were speaking to the law school about their experiences with the class action lawsuit. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Marie and Pat lived at Huronia from childhood into their young adult lives. In 2011, CBC's David Gutnick produced a documentary about the atrocities that took place at Huronia and reported on a class action lawsuit that Marie and Pat were filing against the province of Ontario.

A lot has happened since then and it's safe to say, that for Pat, Marie and their representatives, this story is still far from over. So, we wanted to do something a little different on this program, something that is rarely done: get an in-depth update on a doc.

Listen to the original full-length documentary

David Gutnick's award-winning documentary, The Gristle in the Stew. 34:22

About the producers

David Gutnick (Andrew Budziak)
David Gutnick grew up on the prairies and the Northwest Territories and has been living in Québec for thirty years. His first story for CBC Radio was about a group of Inuit teenagers who were billeted with families in Québec City so that they could go to a French-language school.

Since then, David has told thousands of stories from people he has met all over the world. He is featured in The Doc Project's video, On the Chase with David Gutnick: How to Find a Local Story.

David's documentary, The Gristle in the Stew, was honoured in 2012 by the United Nations, won a silver medal at the New York Festivals, and received the media award given out by Community Living Ontario.

Julia Pagel
Julia Pagel is a radio producer based in Toronto and she is currently the associate producer of The Doc Project. Julia has also worked at other CBC Radio programs such as As It Happensq and Metro Morning, and previously, she worked at Banff Centre Radio in Alberta. 

Correction

A previous version of this show gave an incorrect number of potential class members involved in the Huronia class action suit. The correct number is 3,700.