In 1876, the Ontario Government opened its first institution for people with a developmental disability.

Originally called the Ontario Asylum for Idiots, it was built outside of Orillia on the shores of Lake Simcoe.

Much later, the name was changed to the Huronia Regional Centre to reflect changing attitudes and better understanding of people with a developmental disability. At its peak, it was home to more than 2,500 people.

Why did Ontario build these institutions in the first place? There were many reasons.

One reason was the lack of services and supports available in the community to help families who may have wanted to keep their loved ones at home.

Another reason lay in the way society viewed people with a developmental disability.

People with a developmental disability were considered patients. They needed to be treated. And they needed to be protected from the demands of every-day life.

The best way to do this was in institutions built away from towns and cities in the fresh air and open spaces of the countryside.

This attitude continued even into the 1960s. Doctors counselled families to place their loved ones into an institution for people with a developmental disability.

By 1960, the Ontario government operated 16 institutions for people with a developmental disability. More than 6,000 people lived in them, both children and adults.

Learn more

From institutional to community living: A history of developmental services in Ontario