The Orillia institution first opened in 1876 as the provincial “Asylum for Idiots.” At that time, the study of mental illness was in its infancy and “idiot” was the accepted way of defining “lunatics” who could not be treated or cured.
As Heather Robertson wrote in the article “Heartbreak in Huronia” for Canada’s History magazine (October-November 2013) “idiots included slow learners, epileptics, the deaf, mute and deformed, incorrigible troublemakers, the elderly, and the homeless.”
In the early years, the institution’s population ballooned and overcrowding was a chronic problem. Renamed the Ontario Hospital in 1907, it became a self-sufficient village with several hundred patients and staff. Later it became the Ontario Hospital School, but overcrowding and squalid conditions continued to plague the institution and it was the focus of a number of investigations.
In 1973, the institution was again renamed, this time as the Huronia Regional Centre. Its closure in 2009 came as former residents launched legal action against the institution.
Read the settlement agreement that was reached in September 2013. To see an academic paper about the social history of the institution, click here.
To view the inside of the Orillia institution after it was closed, see this Urban Explorer video: