Remembering BC’s Institutions – Part of Our History

The institutionalization of people with developmental disabilities began more than 100 years ago in BC with a large institution in New Westminster, known now as Woodlands. Other large institutions – Tranquille and Glendale – were later created around the province. People with developmental disabilities lived in these facilities isolated from their families and communities, sometimes for their whole lives.


WoodlandsWoodlands opened in 1878 and provided residential care between 1950 and 1996 for thousands of children who were deemed to have developmental disabilities and mental and behavioural disorders. Woodlands was closed in 1996 after allegations of abuse at Woodlands surfaced. Tranquille had already shut down in 1985, and Glendale was also closed in 1996.


In the spring of 2000, the BC government commissioned Dulcie McCallum, a former provincial ombudsman, to look into allegations of abuse at the residential facility. Her report, The Need to Know, was released to the public in 2002. In it, she described finding evidence of hundreds of cases of sexual, emotional and physical abuse inflicted on residents, that had been kept quiet by staff and left out of incident reports. The closure of Woodlands marked the end of a long struggle to shut down large institutions in BC. Self advocates who left the institutions were encouraged to begin speaking up for themselves and join self advocacy groups in their communities for support.


The We Survived Woodlands Group was formed and members launched a class action lawsuit against the provincial government in 2002. In December 2009 a settlement was proposed and was approved by the court in 2010. However, survivors discharged from the institutions before August 1974 are currently excluded from the settlement process – about 500 people. Survivors and their supporters provincially and nationally are currently urging the provincial government to include all survivors in the settlement.


There are several organizations in BC, that work to promote self advocacy and the integration of those with developmental disabilities into their communities.          centreblock_1895


Some more information about Woodlands and its former residents can be found at the following links:

Inclusion BC: Woodlands Institution

Do the Right Thing: A brief by by the We Survived Woodlands Group

The Need to Know: Report by Dulcie McCallum

When The Place Supposed to Help Kids Hurts Them: Interview with Dulcie McCallum

Freedom to Belong: Bill Macarthur, a former Woodlands resident and spokesperson for the We Survived Woodlands Group (VIDEO)

BC Coalition of People with Disabilities: Woodlands School


This is the Story of a Civil Rights Movement



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