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Group launches fundraising campaign to make HRC monument accessible (4 photos)

Move comes after city council turned down funding request; 'It will be a huge lift for (survivors) to know that people are contributing to this'

A fundraising campaign is underway to enhance accessibility around the survivors’ monument at the Huronia Regional Centre (HRC) Cemetery.

Remember Every Name, a group that works to share the stories of former residents of the shuttered institution on Memorial Avenue, has launched a GoFundMe campaign after Orillia city council turned down its request for $25,000.

That’s the fundraising goal for the campaign. It would allow for the addition of a walkway from the cemetery to the monument, as well as two granite benches similar in style to the monument. Etched on the back of one bench would be a description of the meaning behind the monument. That description would appear in Braille on the back of the other bench.

Many of the HRC survivors are seniors, or are approaching their senior years, and have mobility issues that prevent them from seeing the monument up close, said Debbie Vernon, of Remember Every Name.

“There are words and etchings on the monument that have a lot of meaning,” she said. “It helps them with their healing.”

When the monument was unveiled in August 2019, “it became very clear that day that we needed to do more to make it accessible,” she added.

Council members initially approved the funding request during operating budget discussions.

“We were celebrating. We were so happy that the city was willing to come forward,” Vernon said.

However, that decision was reversed a couple of weeks later, when council met to ratify the budget. It took Vernon by surprise.

“We read in OrilliaMatters that council voted against it. It was a letdown,” she said.

So, the GoFundMe campaign was launched, but “it’s been really slow going so far,” she said.

As of Friday afternoon, $1,520 had been raised — most of which came from Stan Oag and Robyn Rennie.

Oag wanted to see the monument for the first time and take photos of it, so he headed there with his granddaughter.

“I was really moved when I was there. It really got to me and made it a bit more real,” he said.

He researched it, and the story behind it, when he got home. That’s when he learned of the fundraising campaign.

When he and Rennie donate to causes, they usually do so anonymously, but when they saw only a few hundred dollars had been raised, they contributed $1,000, with Oag’s name visible.

“We thought if we put a big donation in, maybe it will spur others to do something,” he said. “It’s really important. I just can’t imagine having suffered through that. They suffered and then were not believed. We can’t undo the damage that’s been done, but, surely, we can do something to make it better, even in a small way.”

The fact many of those who suffered at the HRC can’t get close enough to the monument to read what’s on it is “grossly unfair,” Oag added.

Rennie, his wife, knows the importance of accessibility. She began suffering severe vision loss in 2005.

“I get left out a lot, but I can’t imagine what these people have been through,” she said. “They can’t even get to (the monument). It really bothers me a lot.”

Adding a walkway and a couple of benches, she said, “seems like a pretty simple fix.”

“It should be a given.”

Vernon is grateful for the couple’s donation and she hopes others will chip in, too. She encourages people to visit the Remember Every Name website to learn more about the former HRC residents, and to visit the monument.

“It’s a learning and a healing process for people who live in Orillia and surrounding areas. A lot of people don’t know about what went on behind the doors of the Huronia Regional Centre,” she said, adding it would be meaningful for former residents to know the community is supporting the project. “It will be a huge lift for them to know that people are contributing to this.”

More information about Remember Every Name can also be found on its Facebook page.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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