What was it like to live in one of Ontario's institutions for people with a developmental disability?

The Rideau Regional Centre opened in 1951 on 429 acres of land outside of Smiths Falls.

By 1955, 2,600 residents lived there, mostly children and teenagers.

When it first opened, the Rideau Regional Centre had:

  • two residential buildings — with their own dining rooms — one for males and one for females.
  • a separate wing for vocational training, an auditorium, a bowling alley — and later — a swimming pool.

It had its own hospital, greenhouses, and a farm that produced enough food for both residents and staff.

It took a lot of staff to run an institution. In 1971, 2,200 staff worked at the Rideau Regional Centre. Some staff took care of the residents and provided treatment and training. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychologists, nutritionists, speech therapists, social workers set up medical facilities, classrooms, vocational workshops and recreational programs.

Other staff took care of operations: maintenance, housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, gardening, cutting grass, clearing snow.

Like the Rideau Regional Centre — Ontario's institutions for people with a developmental disability — were self-contained and, for the most part, self reliant.

They were their own communities. Separate and apart.

Learn more

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