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Survivors Memorial Monument to be unveiled Saturday at HRC

Sculpture at HRC cemetery honours those who died at now-shuttered Orillia institution
2019-05-07 HRC cemetery 1
Huronia Regional Centre Cemetery. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters


People who once lived at Huronia Regional Centre (HRC) chose these words both to honour those who died there and to celebrate their own survival and freedom from “Injustice,” “We were abused,” “Slave labour,” “Locked away and forgotten,” through “We will be heard,” “Never give up,” “Believe our stories,” “I have a name, not a number,” to “Never again,” “Trust,” “Power,” “Forget me not” and “I have a life now.”

Those words are engraved on the Survivors Memorial Monument at the HRC Cemetery, which will be unveiled and dedicated Saturday, Aug. 24, from 2 to 3 p.m.

The cemetery is located at 777 Memorial Ave., Orillia.

It has taken years of advocacy to create and install this monument. Please join us and help us to raise public awareness.

This beautiful sculpture was designed in collaboration with survivors and created by noted metal sculptor Hilary Clark Cole, in conjunction with Signature Memorials.

Funding was obtained from the HRC class-action settlement. Other settlement-funded “investing in justice” projects will take place.

Clark Cole has created a large body of one-of-a-kind welded metal sculptures in her Gravenhurst studio.

In her hands, hard, cold steel comes alive — whether portraying the fragile beauty of a flower or the fierce power of massive forest animals. She has listened to the life stories of survivors with heartfelt respect and has created a breathtaking work of art for the ages — mystically representing their struggles, growth and freedom.

The HRC Cemetery 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 through the burial area.

Recently, a cemetery “facelift” furthered the government cover-up at this institution. The arch they installed is without ornamentation. 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.

In 2013, the premier of Ontario apologized for the harm done by HRC and other similar institutions. Both opposition party leaders apologized as well. 

We are pleased that this historic event will be documented.

Barri Cohen is an award-winning Toronto documentary filmmaker and sister to two former HRC residents, who lived — and died — at the HRC. She has been working on a documentary about the HRC since 2014, when she first met with survivors and their supporters, and sought to tell their stories.

This summer, Cohen got the support of the Documentary Channel to fund the film. Remember Every Name’s work to obtain proper recognition and memorialization of the lives lived and lost at the HRC has been a key story element to the documentary.