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Prairie History: “A Very Serious Matter”: The Manitoba Government’s Institution for People with Intellectual Disability

by Mary Horodyski

Number 01, Winter 2020

The text of this article is not available online at this time.

Copies are available for purchase

Click the icon at left for the Table of Contents of this issue.


Appreciation is extended to Dr. Zana-Marie Lutfiyya, Dr. Thomas Nesmith, Dr. Greg Bak and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and encouragement. Thanks also to the skilled staff of the Legislature Library. Any errors or omissions are my own.

1. In the mid-1980s, while investigating the Manitoba Developmental Centre, the Provincial Ombudsman described aspects of the operation of the institution as “a very serious matter.” Summary of The Ombudsman’s Report on The Manitoba Developmental Centre, 1987, page 17.

2. In this article, I use a variety of terms to describe those who were institutionalized such as “residents,” “institutional survivors,” “inmates,” “individuals,” and “people.” Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner note that terms used to describe people who have been institutionalized “are fraught with political and social meaning.” In their book, they chose to “employ many of these terms throughout as a way of both complicating and honoring the many experiences of people ‘on the inside.’” Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner, Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007, page 5. The historical literature for the Manitoba institution includes the terms “inmates,” “residents,” and “clients.”

3. Two important review essays on disability history are Catherine J. Kudlick, “Disability History: Why We Need Another ‘Other,’” The American Historical Review, 108, no. 3 (June 2003), pages 735-762 and Geoffrey Reaume, “Disability History in Canada: Present Work in the Field and Future Prospects.” Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 1 (Jan. 2012), pages 35-81. On the perceived invisibility of people with intellectual disability, see for example, photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo who writes, “Like many Canadians, I had become accustomed to not seeing, not hearing about, not being personally aware of many people with intellectual disabilities. They have been a largely invisible part of the population, hidden inside the impenetrable walls of infamous institutions…The more out of sight they were, the less one had to carry the weight of thinking about them, the less need to make adjustments to the routine patterns of living, the less need to reconsider prejudicial and criminal attitudes, the less need to be bothered with human rights or social justice.” Vincenzo Pietropaolo, Invisible No More: A Photographic Chronicle of the Lives of People with Intellectual Disabilities, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2010, page 14.

4. See especially Chapter Three of Josée Boulanger, “Look, listen, learn: Collaborative video storytelling by/with people who have been labelled with an intellectual disability.” Master’s thesis, University of Manitoba (2013).

5. Klassen, Scott. “Living large in the community.” Institution Watch (Spring 2011), pages 2-4. Klassen’s full quotation on this subject is: “Society seems like it doesn’t even know the wrong they are doing with institutions. I don’t believe it. I think they know. Society knows but I think they don’t have a tone of remorse in their voice. Most people are bigots. They don’t want to see what is happening.”

6. In Manitoba, the most important documentation of survivor testimony is found in the film The Freedom Tour. This documentary is the first to be co-produced by people with intellectual disability. The Freedom Tour, DVD. People First of Canada (2008). It can also be viewed online at the People First of Canada website, For discussion on the creation of the film, see Josée Boulanger, “Look, listen, learn” and JoséeBoulanger, Susie Wieszmann and Valerie Wolbert. “The Freedom Tour documentary: An experiment in inclusive filmmaking,” Diane Driedger, editor, Living the edges: A disabled women’s reader, Toronto: INANNA Publications and Education Inc., 2010, pp. 305-322. Additional testimony is found in a few newspaper articles including: Mary Agnes Welch, “More voices calling for end to MDC,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 May 2010 and Elisha Dacey, “Class-action lawsuit alleges rape, abuse of patients; seeks $50 M for Manitoba Developmental Centre clients,” Global News, 19 December 2018, and Laura Glowacki, “$50M lawsuit alleges intellectually disabled residents were sexually abused, starved at Manitoba institution,”, 19 December 2018,

For survivor testimony about the Michener Centre in Red Deer, Alberta see the work of Claudia Malacrida, especially her book A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta's Eugenic Years, Toronto: University of Toronto press, 2015. See also Leilani Muir’s memoir A Whisper Past, Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2014. Survivor testimony about the Huronia institution in Ontario has been documented throughout media coverage of the class action suit. A creative non-fiction book about Huronia based on testimony and archival records is published by Thelma Wheatley, “And Neither Have I Wings to Fly”: Labelled and Locked Up in Canada’s Oldest Institution, Toronto: INANNA Publications and Education Inc., 2013. In BC, the Ombudsman reviewed and reported on the records of the Woodlands School after media reported survivors’ stories. See Dulcie McCallum, The need to know: Woodlands School report: An administrative review, submitted to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Provincial Government of British Columbia, August 2001. Richard McDonald, in conjunction with the Royal City Writers, wrote his memoirs including his experience at Woodlands in My Story, New Westminster: Royal City Writers, 2012.

7. For more information regarding the barriers to accessing restricted archival records, see my thesis, particularly Chapters Four, Five, and Six. Mary Horodyski, “Society seems like it doesn’t even know...”: Archival records regarding people labelled with intellectual disability who have been institutionalized in Manitoba,” Master’s thesis, University of Manitoba (2017),

8. For an example of how archival records containing personal health information can be anonymized, see Geoffrey Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

9. It did not seem to matter which particular political party was in power. For example, when the NDP government in 1986 was under fire for conditions at the institution, Muriel Smith retorted “I repeat my outrage that accusations of poor safety and overcrowding are coming from members of a government that did nothing while they were in power to improve the situation.” Hansard, 13 June 1986, page 880.

10. In 1977, for example, it was estimated that 30,000 people in the province could be labelled with intellectual disability, and 900 lived at MDC.

11. The Manitoba institution had different wards with different living arrangements. These ranged from “barrack”-type dormitories to smaller rooms shared by only a few people. As described in Claudia Malacrida’s A Special Hell, inmates at Michener were “graded” into different levels. These levels affected their living arrangements and degree of privacy;for example, some “grades” had no privacy in the toilets and had to shower together en masse. Malacrida, A Special Hell: 75.

12. The categories of information in the case files can include age, sex, race, religion, address of previous community, diagnosis, comments on health, drugs, physical therapy and patient behaviour, information on payment. Records contained in the case files include admission records, psychological reports, school reports, medication records, seclusion (solitary confinement) and incident reports (reports of harm), consent forms for surgery and correspondence. I reviewed approximately 20 feet of case files and the size of the files varied from 2 to 266 pages. For more information, see Chapter Seven of my thesis.

13. For a description of my experiences making FIPPA requests for restricted archival records to eight government departments, please see Chapter Six of my thesis.

14. Malacrida, A Special Hell.

15. The Ombudsman argued that while government resources should be spent on integration into the community, it is important that this resource allocation also “not detract from the greatly needed upgrading of institutional resources for those residents remaining at The Manitoba Developmental Centre.” Summary of The Ombudsman’s Report on The Manitoba Developmental Centre, 1987, page 17.

16. Sessional papers (No. 13) 1892, page 30.

17. Kurt Refvik, A History of the Brandon Mental Health Centre, Brandon: Brandon Mental Health Centre, 1991, page xi.

18. Public Works Report, 1892, page 20.

19. Mathew Thomson, “Sterilization, segregation and community care: ideology and solutions to the problem of mental deficiency in inter-war Britain,” History of Psychiatry 3, 1992, page 481.

20. Portage la Prairie, City of Portage la Prairie, n.d.,, page 4.

21. “The Home for Incurables” Winnipeg Daily Tribune, Saturday Evening, 14 June 1890, page 4.

22. For other examples, see Ivan Brown and John P. Radford, “The Growth and Decline of Institutions for People with Developmental Disabilities in Ontario: 1876-2009,” Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 21, no. 2 (2015), page 14 and James Trent, Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Intellectual Disability in the United States, Oxford University Press, 2016, especially Chapter 4.

23. For a description of “work probations” to Manitoba farmers, see Manitoba School Journal (hereafter cited as MSJ) 2, no. 1, (March 1970), page 25. For a description of “vocational work training” with “token payment” and “exceedingly small” pay, see Manitoba School Journal, 2, no. 3 (September 1970), page 8. See also Chapter Seven of Malacrida’s A Special Hell.

24. The 1933 “An Act Respecting Mental Deficiency” c. 24 s. 32 specified that parents or guardians could visit the institutionalized inmate “as often as once in every six months.” These visits could be refused by the superintendent if “he considers it would be detrimental to the defective to permit the visit” although the superintendent could also allow more frequent visits. The institution also served as the only location for services available for northern, remote, or other rural communities. Dr. J. C. Clarkson, in his commissioned report on institutions in the province of Manitoba noted, “The Manitoba School for Retardates draws residents from all of Manitoba. This discourages visiting by parents and other relatives and friends. Contact tends to be lost and this becomes perpetuated through the life of the resident.” J. C. Clarkson and M. D. T. Associates, Mental Health and Retardation Services inManitoba, Province of Manitoba: Department of Health and Social Development, 1973, page 87. In 1972, it was reported that 85-90% of the residents came from Winnipeg. Mental Retardation: A Five Year Plan, Winnipeg, Manitoba Dept. of Health and Social Development, Division of Research, Planning and Program Development, 1972, page 4. A 1977 newspaper article reported that “some families visit, many do not.” The article also reported there was little community involvement with the institution. Allan Wilson, “Manitoba School for Retardates,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 December 1977, page 74. The Ombudsman reported in 1986 that the residents were “seldom visited by relatives.” Ombudsman 1986 Annual Report, page 18.

25. David Weremy and Wayne Beever, cited in The Freedom Tour. See also Jane Sims, “Child development worker Greg Simard sentenced to 20 years in prison for beating autistic boy,” The London Free Press December 17, 2013,

26. For example, a train car came from Selkirk “containing the incurable patients sheltered at the asylum but who are now being removed.” The Winnipeg Daily Tribune, Saturday Evening, 28 June 1890, page 8. An article from July said that nine more arrived by train and were disembarked with “considerable difficulty.” Portage la Prairie Weekly, 16 July 1890, page 8.

27. Sessional Papers, No. 34, (1891), page 101.

28. Thirty-seven was the total after eleven patients had been transferred to the Brandon Asylum, nine had died and one had been discharged Sessional Papers, No. 13, (1892), pages 30-31, 37, 41.

29. Sessional Papers (No. 13), 1892, page 45.

30. Sessional Papers (No. 10), 1894: 215. In 1893, the provincial government was operating four institutions, three hospitals, one orphanage and one home each for women and children. The total expenditure in this area was $231,509.19 of which the Home for Incurables received $10,599.52 or just over 4.5%.

31. Anne Collier, in her commemorative book for Portage la Prairie’s centenary, describes the name of “Home for Incurables” as “unattractive” but apt. Anne Collier, A History of Portage la Prairie and Surrounding District, Altona, MB: City of Portage la Prairie, circa 1970, page 163.

32. “An Act Respecting the Home for Incurables,” c. 10, 1890, page 37. At the time of the institution’s opening, the Tribune described it as “A home for idiots[,] obstinate drunkards, consumption and numerous ills that human flesh is liable to.” This description seems more colourful than accurate as the legislation specified that “habitual drunkards and persons afflicted with contagious or infectious disease shall not be admitted.” The physical diseases felt to be “incurable” is related to contemporaneous medical understanding. For example, the 1930-1931 annual report describes a man who had asthma and heart disease as “an incurable.”

33. Sessional Papers, No. 12, 1892, page 37.

34. “An Act Respecting the Home for Incurables,” Cap. 10, 24, 1890, page 40. This clause was slightly altered in the 1933 legislation. See “An Act Respecting Mental Deficiency” c.24, s.39 and s.41. For an example of this clause in another institution, see “St. Boniface Home for the Aged,” (1932) c.41, s.20.

35. Sessional Papers, No. 13, 1892, pages 45, 47-48.

36. Public Works Report, (1892), 20. See also Ruthie-Marie Beckwith, Disability Servitude, Springer Nature, 2016. James W. Conroy writes in the foreward (xi) “Grossly underfunded by our legislatures, there was never enough staff to properly support everyone even in a custodial care sense. Instead, a large number of the people living in these settings were ‘allowed’ to work” in the institution. See also the testimony of institutional survivors in The Freedom Tour and also Leilani Muir, A Whisper Past. It should also be noted that patients, or their families, were required to pay maintenance to the institution.

37. For example, James Walsham was paid for 15½ days of plowing, T. C. Silverthorne for “Work on Bus House” and J. W. Thomson for making a storm porch. Public Works Report, 1892, page 267.

38. Reverend S. A. Walmsley, “History of Mental Retardation in Manitoba, 1890-1976,” A Historical Perspective and Service Report: 1876-1976, Antusa S, Bryant and William A. Funari, eds., Minneapolis, MN: Region VIII, American Association on Mental Deficiency, 1976, page 2. Walmsley was an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. See Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba Historical Society, “Memorable Manitobans: Sidney Arthur ‘Sid’ Walmsley (c1924-2003),” accessed 2 October 2019,

39. Cited in Collier, pages 161-162.

40. Public Works Report, 1899, page 32.

41. Public Works Report, 1900, page 33.

42. Public Works Report, 1901, page 382.

43. Public Works Report, 190?, page 379.

44. Accessed 23 August 2019. The Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH) was formed by Dr. C. K. Clarke, Dr. Clarence M. Hincks and Clifford W. Beers. The aims of the organization were to deal with the “vexed problems of crime, prostitution, pauperism, and unemployment” for which “mental factors are of primary importance.” It also hoped to deal with issues of the recently returned “mentally abnormal soldiers as well as those raised by immigration.” They further wished to raise the publics’ consciousness regarding the “millions of dollars [that] are being uselessly spent and wasted in the custodian but unscientific care of the insane.” The problems of overcrowding and waiting lists were also addressed. CMAJ, (June 1918), 8 no. 6, pages 551-552.

45. They also noted that people with intellectual disability were also housed “in almost every institution examined—gaols, homes, schools, industrial schools, etc.”

46. Clarke, C. K.  and Hincks, C. M., Report of the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene,(Manitoba Public Welfare Commission, 1918), not paginated.

47. They recommended that the removal of children with intellectual disability from schools should be undertaken by the State with “intelligence and courage.” They also noted that the presence of people so labelled in Industrial Schools “simply negatives any attempts made to achieve results worth working for.” Indeed, it would only be after 1965 that children with intellectual disability were allowed in public schools.

48. “The Value of Psychopathic Hospitals,” CMAJ 10/1 (January 1920), page 74.

49. “An Act respecting the Home for the Aged and Infirm,” Chapter 85, page 627. The act brought together the Home for Incurables and the Old Folks’ Home as one institution.

50. “An Act respecting the Home for the Aged and Infirm,” Chapter 85 (6), page 628.

51. The first three categories were deemed to be unable to receive “proper benefit from the instruction in schools” and required “care, supervision and control for the protection of themselves and others.” However, “moral deviates” were deemed to be those who “from an early age display some permanent mental defect coupled with strongly vicious or criminal propensities and who require care, supervision and control for the protection of others.” “An Act to Provide for Mentally Defective Persons,” Chapter 24 (3): 153-154. “Medical practitioners” made these categorizations after examining the individual but it was the provincial psychiatrist who had the authority to place the individual in an institution. (9) and (11), pages 155-156.

52. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 2.

53. See the Asylum Projects wiki “Cottage Planned Institutions,” accessed 22 September 2019,

54. That the institution was renamed “School for Mental Defectives” does not mean that anything resembling a comparable education to Manitoba’s public schools was available to the children or adults confined within. For an analysis of how education, training and labour are “blurred” within an institution, see Malacrida, A Special Hell, especially pages 145, 149, and 155.

55. Previous to this appointment, V. J. O’Brien acted as Bursar and Superintendent from about 1915-1930. After 1930, the positions of Superintendent and Bursar were separate. Annual report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 106. Collier remarks that “many people remember and praise Dr. Harry Atkinson for the forward strides made at the Home.”Collier, page 164.

56. Annual report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, pages 5-6. Atkinson noted that there are two types of economy – “one with little expenditure over a long period with deterioration of the Institution which always means a day of reckoning; and one with the minimum of expenditure but still keeping the buildings in good condition. Undoubtedly we are now dealing with the reckoning of the first type of economy.” Annual report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, (1929-1930),103.

57. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 129 and Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 104-105.

58. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 135.

59. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 133.

60. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, pages 97-98.

61. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 100. He also recommended installing fire escapes that could accommodate residents with mobility issues. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 103.

62. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 120.

63. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 98.

64. Annual report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 99. The following year, it was reported that deaths related to epilepsy dropped to one. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 118.

65. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, pages 96-97. It is likely that the people with epilepsy who were admitted also exhibited signs of intellectual disability as Atkinson argues in the report against admitting people with epilepsy who did not have “psychosis” or “mental deficiency.” He held that “mixing of these types” would “be seriously detrimental to all concerned.” Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 100. The 1930-1931 annual report mentioned that it was difficult to find suitable placement for people with epilepsy who did not have intellectual disability. In many cases, the report noted, the individuals had remained at home until such time as parents or caregivers aged and were unable to continue to provide support. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 30.

66. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 97. Some of the annual reports also described admissions by ethnicity and nationality. References were also made to immigrants who could be deported if deemed to have intellectual disability.

67. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, pages 117 and 121. Although Walmsley says that records were only kept from about 1930 onward, he may have been referring to the quality of the record-keeping as clinical files held at the Archives of Manitoba date from 1890 when the institution was first established. Walmsley, page 2.

68. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 127.

69. Walmsley, page 2. See also Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, pages 98 and 102.

70. The report of the Farm Superintendent says that “instead of paying two or three women for this service, all of it is being done by the patients.” Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 11. In the 1930-1931 report, it was reported that the annual savings were $660 and that the work was performed better by the residents. Annual Report,Department of Health and Public Welfare, (1930-1931), 126. Although Atkinson says “boys,” the residents may also have been grown men as it was commonplace to call male residents, regardless of age, “boys.”

71. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 101.

72. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 145.

73. Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past, especially 133-180 and Malacrida, A Special Hell, especially page 150-172.

74. Annual report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 125.

75. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1929-1930, page 100.

76. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 2.

77. Annual Report, Department of Health and Public Welfare, 1930-1931, page 11.

78. The Manitoba government also used the term “segregation colony” to describe the original intent of the institution. Mental Retardation in Manitoba: A Five Year Plan, Manitoba Department of Health and Social Development, 1972, page 4. However, as shown in Malacrida’s work about the Mitchener Centre, people were not always released after undergoing sterilization. See Malacrida, A Special Hell, page 220. See also J. H. Landman, Human Sterilization, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932, page 38. Landman writes “The practice of sterilizing the feeble-minded does not increase, by and large, the number of patients who are returned to society on parole.”

79. Bernard Starkman, “The control of life: Unexamined law and the life worth living,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 11 no. 1, 1973, 183, ftnt. 42. Opposition to sterilization in Manitoba was led by Antoine D’Eschambault, a priest (later Chancellor and Monsignor), historian, and president of the St. Boniface Historical Society. In the years leading up to the sterilization vote, his arguments were presented “to many and widely different audiences.” Antoine D’Eschambault, Eugenical Sterilization, Winnipeg: Canadian Publishers, 1936, page 13. The blocking of sterilization legislation by Roman Catholics was not unique to Manitoba. Roman Catholic opposition to sterilization is listed as one of three factors influencing policy. See Randall Hansen and Desmond King, Sterilized by the State, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, page 19.

80. Their debate attracted “wide interest because of the prominent place the subject of sterilization of the mentally defective has occupied in public discussion in recent year.” “U.M.D.U. Sterilization Topic Debaters Announced,” The Manitoban October 20, 1933, 1. “Sterilization Is Upheld In Second Regular Tilt of U.M.D.U. Wednesday,” The Manitoban, 27 October 1933, page 1.

81. Walmsley also notes that plans were curtailed because “the expertise in the field was exceedingly limitedm,” Walmsley, page 2.

82. Ibid.

83. Collier, page 164 and Walmsley, page 2.

84. Collier, 164. Dr. Bristow “practiced at the Manitoba School for the Mental at Portage, then at Brandon for thirty-five years, being retired January 31st, 1966.” See Kelwood Centennial Committee, Kelwood Bridges the Years 1890-1967, Altona, MB: The Kelwood Centennial Committee, 1967, page 1889.

85. Walmsley, page 2.

86. Conrad Stoesz, “‘Are you prepared to work in a mental hospital?’: Canadian Conscientious Objectors’ Service during the Second World War,”Journal of Mennonite Studies 29 (2011), page 63.

87. Stoesz, pages 64 and 66.

88. Walmsley, page 2.

89. Walmsley, page 3. See also Christopher Adams, “Advocating for Manitoba Children with Mental Disabilities: Parent Associations in the 1950s and 1960s,” Manitoba History 61 (2009), pages 20-24.

90. Walmsley, page 3.

91. Manitoba Historical Society, “Memorable Manitobans: Harry Lorne “King” Softley (1905-1969).” accessed 8 July 2019

92. Walmsley, page 3.

93. Walmsley, page 3.

94. Adams, 21.

95. Annual Report, Health and Social Development, 1977, page 47.

96. Walmsley, page 3.

97. To view a short video clip of Robert Kennedy’s comments, see the Minnesota Government website, “Robert Kennedy Visiting Institutions in NY,accessed 2 October 2019,

98. The book continues to be freely available as a PDF. Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplan, Christmas in Purgatory, Syracuse: New York, 1974, accessed 2 October 2019,

99. Blat and Kaplan, unpaginated introduction.

100. Blat and Kaplan, page 13.

101. Pierre Berton, “What’s Wrong at Orillia: Out of Sight – Out of Mind,” Toronto Daily Star, 6 December 1960. This column was reprinted in the Toronto Star, 20 September 2013.

102. Cited in Dolmage v. HMQ, 2013. This quote was also reported in The Globe and Mail, 7 January 1960.

103. Archives of Manitoba, Junior League of Winnipeg fonds, “Mentally Retarded Children,” 1966-67, P2303/3.

104. Nicola Schaefer, Does She Know She’s There? Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1999, page 138.

105. “Atkinson Dies Of Injuries,” Winnipeg Free Press, 19 October 1965, page 12 and “Appointed Head Mental Hospital,” Brandon Sun, 24 December 1965, page 1.

106. MSJ 4, no. 1, March 1972, page 14. For the number of residents who were the recipients of these techniques, see MSJ, 4 no. 1, March 1972, page 4.

107. MSJ 3, no. 2, June  1971, page 9-11, 16. For withholding of meals, see MSJ 4, no. 1, March 1972, page 21 and MSJ 4, no. 2, June 1972, page 16. For Smarties, see MSJ 4, no. 1, March 1972, page 8. For Froot Loops and “shocker”, see MSJ 4, no. 1, March 1972, page 31. For another example of electric shock, see MSJ 4, no. 2, June 1972, page 17. For time-out rooms, see MSJ 4, no. 2, June 1972, page 16.

108. Manifred Jager, “MD Foresees Many Retarded Moving Out Of Institutions,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 September 1973, page 3.

109. Alfred S. Kircher, Joseph J. Pear, and Garry L. Martin, “Shock as punishment in a picture-naming task with retarded children,” Applied Behavior Analysis 4 (1971), pages 227-233. In this article, the two children who received electric shocks were six and five-year old boys who lived at St. Amant. This experiment also involved slapping the children’s hands.

110. MSJ 4, no. 2, 1972, page 17.

111. See MSJ 1, no. 4, December 1969, page 8, MSJ 2, no. 1, March 1970, page 37, MSJ Journal 4, no. 1, March 1972, page 17, MSJ 4, no. 4, 1972, page 2.

112. MSJ 4, no. 1, December 1969, page 24.

113. MSJ 4, no. 1, March 1972, pages 2-3.

114. Hansen and King, pages 23-25. See also Molly Ladd-Taylor, “Contraception or Eugenics? Sterilization and ‘Mental Retardation’ in the 1970s and 1980s,” CBMH/BCHM, 31, no. 1 (2014), pages 189-211.

115. Robert A. Wilson, “The role of oral history in surviving a eugenic past,” Steven High, ed., Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral history in the aftermath of mass violence, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2014,  page 137, ft. 14. Wilson points to Karen Stote’s work on the sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada as an example of research that looks beyond sterilizations performed by eugenics boards under provincial legislation. Rebecca Kluchin’s research shows that coercive sterilizations continued for poor women and women of colour throughout the 1970s in hospitals. Rebecca Kluchin, “Locating the Voices of the Sterilized.” The Public Historian 29, no. 3 (2007), pages 131-144.

116. Starkman, pages 175-185.

117. Pamela Fayerman, “Sterilizing all retarded called ‘terrible mistake,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 11 June 1979, page 8. A parent named Kathlene Hargeaves was cited in the article as saying that she knows other parents are seeking sterilizations for their children although she was opposed to the practice.

118. Manitoba Law Reform Commission, Discussion Paper on Sterilization of Minors and Mentally Incompetent Adults, 1990, page 2. The 1992 report subsequent to the discussion paper noted that “no relevant statistics” were kept by the Manitoba government to track non-therapeutic sterilizations. However, the Law Commission reported the demand for sterilizations existed both pre- and post-1986 and that they even heard “disturbing rumours” that some Manitoba doctors were willing to perform sterilizations on individuals on the basis of parental consent, despite the legal prohibitions on this following the 1986 Supreme Court Eve decision. Manitoba Law Reform Commission, Report on Sterilization and Legal Incompetence (1992), 23 ft. 12 and 13.

119. Lyndenn Behm, “Group seeks provincial aid,” Brandon Sun, 31 August 2001, page A3.

120. “Ninette training centre open,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 November 1973, page 10. Although it was hoped that the centre could house up to 150 residents, the refurbishment of the sanatorium buildings proved to be too costly and the residents never numbered more than 70. “Pelican Lake Centre to celebrate 25 years,” The Gazette-News, 23 June 1998, page 2.

121. “Pelican Lake Centre to celebrate 25 years,” The Gazette-News, 23 June 1998, page 2.

122. “Ninette training centre open,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 November 1973, page 10.

123. Stewart, pages 131-132.

124. “Pelican Lake Centre to celebrate 25 years,” The Gazette-News, 23 June 1998, page 2. Stewart says that “recognizing that the training aspect of the centre had accomplished all it could, the word training was dropped and it is now [ca. 1998] just The Pelican Lake Centre.” Stewart, page 132. The Centre closed in 2000. For information on the closing of Pelican Lake, see Zana-Marie Lutifiyya, Dale C. Kendel and Karen D. Schwartz, “The Community Inclusion Project in Manitoba: Planning for the Residents of the Pelican Lake Training Centre,” Untold Stories: A Canadian Disability History Reader, edited by Nancy Hansen, Roy Hanes and Diane Driedger, Toronto: CSP Books, 2018, pages 345-255.

125. George Jacub, “Didn’t know fire’s danger…”, Winnipeg Tribune, 23 April 1977, page 1.

126. George Jacub, “Patients didn’t understand fire,” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 April 1977, page 5.

127. Stephen Riley,“Inquest judge raps government,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 September 1977, page 5.

128. Robert Matas, “Doern defends himself, deputy,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 September 1977, page 1.

129. Hansard, 8 July 1987, pages 3699-3670.

130. Manfred Jager, “MD Foresees Many Retarded Moving Out of Institutions,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 September 1973, page 3. The article reports that Dr. Lowther hoped to soon have the name changed to “Westholm.”

131. The College of Physicians and Surgeons, cited in Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1987, page 51. This report said that “even the newest buildings are not well maintained.”

132. Hansard, 25 June 1986, page 3325 and Hansard, 14 April 1987, pages 983-984.

133. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1986, page 15. The issues were described as “fire safety, overcrowding, and the closure of the Northgrove Building.” The Ombudsman also noted a complaint that his office received from a MDC teacher who alleged that children at the institution were being denied their educational rights.

134. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1986, page 20. This figure included P.R.N. “as needed” orders such as when staff determined that a resident needed an immediate dose of drug.

135. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1987, pages 48-49.

136. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1987, page 49. The Ombudsman also cited that the College of Physicians and Surgeons review of MDC that said that the lack of staff and programming mean that “the residents face endless, empty hours” and that the care provided by the institution was only “custodial.” The issue of physiotherapy services was described in the Legislature as only amounting to fifteen minutes of activity per day due to the shortage of staff. Hansard, 23 February 1988, page 231.

137. Dan Lett, “Chronic care dilemma,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 October 1988, page 54.

138. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1986, pages 15-17. See also Barbara Aggerholm, “Son’s injury at centre remains unexplained,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1985, page 1. The injured man was not able to communicate verbally.

139. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1986, page 17.

140. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1987, page 48.

141. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1987, page 50.

142. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1988, page 12.

143. Ombudsman’s Annual Report, 1989, page 15.

144. Dan Lett, “Chronic care dilemma,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 October 1988, page 54.

145. “Legislative Digest,” Canadian Social Work Review/Revue for Social Work Education 4 (1986), page 254.

146. Dave Haynes, “Program for retarded ready to roll,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 February 1985, page 25.

147. Maria Bohuslawsky, “Foes say Welcome Home is ill-planned, dogmatic” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 December 1986, page 33. This article also reported that some parents who had never institutionalized their children were in “horror” that people leaving the institutions were now given priority in day programs. This lack of programming often pitted parents and families against each other in vying for services. Even the assistant deputy minister of community services, Joe Cels, agreed that “’Not all the programs were in existence.’”

148. For example, see Hansard, 13 June 1986, page 880.

149. Report of the Investigation of the Death of Mr. Russell Smith, Resident of Winnserv Home, 146 Wordsworth Way, Winnipeg, Winnipeg: Manitoba Community Services, 8 February 1988.

150. Maria Bohuslawsky, “Province checking home director’s past,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 August 1986, page 4.

151. See for example Hansard, 24 February 1988, page 257; 6 September 1988, page 1019-1023; and 13 September 1988, page 1227-1229.

152. “Unit Program Co-ordinator” employment ad, Winnipeg Free Press, 28 December 1985, page 54.

153. Hansard, 14 April 1987, page 983. Connery stated that Westgrove had twenty people over capacity and that another ward, probably Southgrove, had twenty-eight people over capacity.

154. “Legislature,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 April 1987, page 8.

155. Catherine Mitchell and Murray McNeil, “MDC dogs government,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 June 1987, page 52. This article also said that five individuals had ran away from MDC within a one-month period, including one who was later found in a “weedy slough”.

156. Manitoba Community Services, Annual Report, page 22. See also Julia Necheff, “Committee to probe Welcome Home returnees,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 May 1987, page 3.

157. Manitoba Family Services, Annual Report, page 50.

158. He had lived there for 46 years. He had entered as a child of six years and was labelled with “profound mental retardation, most probably due to post-natal infection.” As an adult, he developed epilepsy. This was not the first time a resident had been forgotten in a vehicle following an outing. The inquest noted that in 2002 a resident had been left in a vehicle for two hours. In that instance, the staff member received a Letter of Discipline and a one-day suspension. The Provincial Court of Manitoba, Dennis Robinson inquest, 26 March 2007, page 11.

159. Dennis Robinson inquest, page 17. Also, “it was commonplace for staff both not to follow policies and fail to report in such regard,” page 24.

160. Government of Manitoba website, “News Releases,”

161. See Schwartz, “‘We can’t close it yet’: How discourse positions people with intellectual disabilities,” Critical Disability Discourse 2 (2010), pages 1-15 for a review of the debates in the newspapers. See also Boulanger, “Look, Listen, Learn,” for a description of the protests, pages 80-83.

162. Jordan Maxwell, “MGEU worried about the future of MDC,” Portage Daily Graphic, 3 May 2012. See also John Robson, “Strategy for disabled offensive,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 October 2005, page A15. See also Malacrida, A Special Hell, especially pages 151-152 and 171-172. See also “Union plans rally to keep Michener Centre open,” Red Deer Advocate, 7 April 2013. In regard to the MDC, see for example a 2014 Winnipeg Free Press editorial that says “With well-paying union jobs at stake in the rural community, however, critics have said the government doesn’t want to make a decision that might upset both the town and organized labour.” “Resolve MDC’s future,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 June 2014. In 1973, Clarkson also noted the importance of the institution to the economy of Portage la Prairie and the town’s residents. He said “the institution is a major, if not the major employer” and that Portage la Prairie was “vulnerable and dependent on the institution.” He noted that the institution employed 2.5 times more people than the next highest employer in Portage la Prairie (the Campbell Soup Company.) He also noted that the concentration of a regional social service in a small section of the province went against “the operation of any modern social services program” and called for the services to be decentralized “so that facilities and programs more reasonably coincide with natural market and service regions.” Clarkson, pages 32-34.

163. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Annual Report, 2011, page 3.

164. Cited in Braun, “A Room of Own’s Own.” This Magazine (September/October 2010), page 32. In comparison, Newfoundland and Labrador announced in 1982 a policy of deinstitutionalization. Nova Scotia also had large deinstitutionalization efforts in the 1980s. In British Columbia, Woodlands closed in 1996. In 2009, Ontario closed its last three large institutions. In 2012, the Saskatchewan government announced it would close Valley View.

165. Malacrida also discusses the importance of the Michener Centre for Red Deer’s economy and the unionized employees. Malacrida, A Special Hell, especially pages 151-152 and 171-172. See also “Union plans rally to keep Michener Centre open,” Red Deer Advocate, 7 April 2013. These concerns were also raised during the 2019 provincial election in Manitoba. For example, Michael Blume, “Election Issue: Repurpose MDC to Maintain Economic Drive,” Portage Online, 23 August 2019,

166. “Resolve MDC’s future,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 June 2014.

167. Annual Report, 2016-2017, page 39.

168. Koski Minsky LLP website,

169. Laura Glowacki, “Manitoba denies widespread abuse at institution for people with disabilities,” CBC News, 19 February 2019,

170. For example, Brian Pallister has said “In the old days, the way we handled intellectual disabilities is that we institutionalized everybody”. Kacper Antoszewski, “PC Leader Brian Pallister visits Thompson as election campaign gets underway,” Thompson Citizen, 22 March 2016,

Page revised: 18 February 2020

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