Barry T.

Barry spent twenty-nine years in Ontario Hospital School, Orillia.  He was placed in the institution on October 30, 1947, at age seven, and was not released until October 23, 1973.

His testimony is important as it covers many important decades in the history of the hospital, including five superintendents: Dr S.J.W. Horne, Dr S.R. Montgomery, Dr F.C. Hamilton, Dr MacLean Houze, and Dr F.C. Jones. Barry was still a patient in the Hospital when administration made the change-over from using the term “Superintendent” to “Director”. Dr Vera Binnington became the first Director of Treatment and Training in 1970. Barry was also there when Pierre Berton, a young reporter from the Toronto Daily Star, visited the institution on December 31, 1959, and wrote an expose of Orillia on January 6th, 1960. This influenced the government to make a documentary movie of life in the institution, “One On Every Street”, the same year.

Barry’s recollections are clear and intensely moving, an evocative insight into life inside an institution. The following is a transcript of an interview with Barry at his home in 2009. 

Contains some explicit sexual content.


Barry T.'s Story

Barry’s photo on admission to Ontario Hospital School, October 30, 1947. Photo courtesy of Barry T.

I was seven when I was put in Orillia (Ontario Hospital School, Orillia) on October 30th, 1947. I was put in Boys Dorm. I was in Cottage “B” after Boys Dorm, the oldest cottage. When I was eight years old, I was put in Cottage “D” for Boys, then the Boys Ward in the Infirmary up until the 1960s, then Cottage “C” for Boys.

I remember the day I arrived. We came by train. The train stopped in the grounds at the old train station at the bottom of the hill. My grandmother brought me. I was wearing a striped T-shirt, a sweater and a brown parka with fur on it.  I lived with my grandparents before Orillia. Grandfather was a mechanic. Grandma was nice.  “See you on your birthday,” said grandma. I cried a lot.

After that I became a ward of the Children’s Aid Society. One day my grandparents visited. They saw the bruises on my body. They asked me to pull down my pants and they saw more bruises. They went to Queen’s Park and they tried to sue Ontario Hospital School. They lost the case. Another time my grandmother sent me gingerbread cookies in the mail. I was seventeen when they passed away. I got a letter, that’s all, saying they’re dead. I wasn’t told anything more by the staff. I don’t know where they was buried, I’d like to know.

Cottage B for Males. Photo courtesy of Ontario Archives.

I was in Cottage “B” (after Children’s Dorm). It had an old-fashioned slate roof. There were no railings in Cottage “B” on the staircases, you could fall down. There was money in the attic. A trunk full of money someone stocked in.  I saw boys in straight jackets. I recognise the photo of the fire wagon (that is in the Huronia archives stored in the Huronia Regional Centre after it closed in 2009). I saw it during the fire. I remember the fire. The fire burnt down the tower. (No date given but he thinks 1950.) I was outside in my nightshirt running around crazy with nothing on underneath, in School Cottage. (School Cottage was in the main Administrative Building.) We wore nightgowns (nightshirts?) half-naked to bed. Our clothes were too tight under the arms and around the crotch. The doors were locked and you got out when it was time to eat.

There was nurses and attendants in Boys Dorm. Attendants had stripes on pants, light black and stripes were dark black.  There was staff, attendants, nurses.  I was happy when I first went, but they took that away from me. They had punishments. There were old-fashioned wood floors. They gave you a big block of wood and you had to push it on your belly. You had to scrub the floors with hard soap.  If they caught you talking to somebody you had ten smacks with an old-fashioned razor strop.

Punishment room with grille to provide oxygen. Photo by Thelma Wheatley.

One special punishment they did to me.  I was spoon-fed at meals, I was not allowed to use my hands, like a baby, as a punishment for something I’d done wrong. They forced the food down my throat.

Another punishment – you had to get down and dig dew worms. There was a dirt pail, and they swore at us. They also had side rooms where you were locked in by yourself as punishment. One guy committed suicide in a side-room for fighting in the showers. They (the attendants) closed the door and locked it. They phoned for an ambulance and buried him down town Orillia. His parents came up.


In school I went to kindergarten. I went to other classes when I was older, I was in Group 5. I learned arithmetic and reading. My mother sent me a toboggan by train. It had a marker on it. There were cedars there (by the train station). Go across the train track.

I went to church in the town (of Orillia) when I was older. I walked in on my own.  I was trusted. You had ground privileges when they trusted you. They took the privileges away if you broke them. I also helped look after bed patients as part of ward work, clean them up, change them. It was a smelly job.

In Cottage “B” they took a strap. One hold me down, one turn me over his knee. They caught me doing sex with another patient. The attendant was jealous. He beat me with an ironing cord. Attendants checked you for rashes between the legs. You played with your members in the showers. It was popular. I liked it. One attendant did it to me (in the showers). Ward One in the Administration Building was where it happened. One time he felt horny. I had a nightshirt on, nothing underneath. It was in the middle of the night, I went to pee. He got me in the boys’ sitting-room after I done peeing, I was walking back to bed. He put me over the arm of the bench. I had to suck him off first. He had sex with me, I had my arms folded.

Underground tunnel. Photo: Thelma Wheatley.

Bad things went on in the tram-ways (underground tunnels) at night. There were some bad attendants in Orillia, they bought guns at a gun store on Colborne Street. There was smuggling going on. They smuggled clothes. The attendants smuggled clothes, come in all sizes.


Some attendants were good and kind. Upstairs in School Cottage, they had a dance for us in the auditorium. There was a socket to plug in an RCA record player. There were beams across the ceiling.

Cottages C with verandahs. 1960

The music teacher treated us as one of his own.  He was a good guy. One attendant gave me a car calendar, a nice man. I went and cut the grass at his house, the back lawn.  I had a bottle of pennies in a wooden box I kept hidden in Cottage “C”. I used it for calendars. I painted it dark blue. I worked in the Garden Gang picking potatoes, carrots and beans. I slept in a bed. They dumped you out of bed in Cottage “C” and Boys Infirmary.

I had a girl-friend in Cottage “M” (for older females many on probation). We used to meet at the tree outside “M” where the landing was.  Girls used to come down at night and go outside and sneak back in, meet their boyfriends. The girls got the keys from the desk.

I was thirty-three when I left, in 1973. I was locked up for twenty-six years. A social worker got me released. I was glad to leave. Oh, yes. I had my teeth pulled out after I left Orillia. One was pulled when I was in there. They were yellow and rotting.

I worked at a nursing home after I left Orillia, I worked in the laundry.

I liked Superintendent Martin at the institution. He had a 1947 mercury car. He was a good guy. He had a Bible. You had to tell them the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.


After Orillia: Reconciliation: Barry’s life today

Written through the kind assistance of Barry’s counsellor.

Today Barry is in his 70’s. He lives in a group home with three other men whom he had known for many years. He has found the cemetery where his grandparents and mother are  buried and visits regularly. He has even a plot near his grandparents so that he can be close to them again one day in the future.

Barry at his grandparents’ gravesite, 2010.

Barry spent many years working doing piecework and decided to retire on his 65th birthday with a limousine ride. Barry has a great love and incredible knowledge of classic cars. There really isn’t anything he doesn’t know about them. During the summer he attends a local classic car show every week, where he is well-known. On his 70th birthday one of his friends from the car show took him for a ride in a 1940 Ford, a car from the year he was born.

Barry has traveled a great deal over the years. He has been out east, traveling by train. He recently went to New York City to see the museums.

These days Barry loves going to Tim Hortons for coffee, garage sales over the summer and thrift store shopping in the winter. He loves to find old books about cars and trains. He really likes calendars and has several up at all times. He spends time having coffee with friends, watching his favourite shows and DVD classics like I Love Lucy and the Beverley Hillbillies. He goes to church every Sunday.

Barry is committed to justice for himself and all the other people who lived in Ontario Hospital School, Orillia (today called Huronia Regional Centre) and the other institutions. He has attended the hearings when the decision for the class action to go forward was being argued. He is excited to attend. He believes justice will be done.