Identities of unnamed dead at Huronia Regional Centre emerge
TheStar.com – news/GTA – Who was Child 1751? The Star found two children in a document obtained through a freedom of information request. Thanks to bureaucratic bungling, it’s not clear which one is buried in grave 1751.
Sep 24 2013. By: Marco Chown Oved, Staff Reporter, Tim Alamenciak, News reporter
Maurice Middlestadt and Lena Potts arrived at the Hospital for the Feeble-Minded in Orillia within days of each other in January 1919.
Nearly three years later they both died, just a month apart. Their bodies were laid in a graveyard of tombstones marked by numbers instead of names.
The fates of these two children — Maurice was 8 when he died, Lena was 15 — remain entwined by the bureaucracy that conspired to keep their names secret.
One of them was buried under the marker 1751. But which one remains a mystery thanks to faulty record-keeping by staff at Huronia Regional Centre, as the facility is now known.
The death register, obtained by the Star Monday, lists Potts as its 1,751st institutional death, while the official file for Middlestadt was modified, with the number 1751 scrawled across the front.
The tight whorls and loops on the handwritten register detail 4,246 deaths at the institution from 1876 to 1971, when the facility stopped burying residents on-site. About 2,000 people were laid to rest on the hospital grounds, 1,440 in unmarked or numbered graves.
Huronia was the subject of a recent $35-million class-action settlement between the province and former residents. As part of the deal the government has agreed to establish its own registry of deaths that occurred at the institution, though it’s unclear if that list will ever be made public or how it will differ from the one the institution maintained.
For decades the institution has been shrouded in secrecy, but former residents who launched the suit allege they endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse there. The Ontario government denied in its statement of defence that any abuse or mistreatment occurred at the facility.
Potts and Middlestadt died of different causes, according to the death registry. He died Aug. 5, 1921, of tuberculosis. She died Sept. 4, 1921, of “purpura hemorrhagica,” an outdated term used on the death registry that could be the result of leukemia, meningitis or a genetic condition.
The 1911 census record for Oxford County lists a Lena Potts, born April 1906, who lived in Dereham, Ontario, near Ingersoll. The Potts in the record had two siblings, a sister named Lula born 1907 and a brother named James born 1911. She had two parents listed: David and Maria Potts. David worked as a labourer, and listed no formal education.
A birth record for a Maurice Middlestadt, born in Toronto on July 19, 1913, lists his parents as Lionel Middlestadt and Leah Schwartz. Lionel worked as a printer. The couple lived in St. John’s Ward, a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood near the corner of Bay and Gerrard Sts. in the early 20th century. The couple married Dec. 25, 1910.
In addition to cause and date of death, the register, obtained through a freedom of information request, categorizes residents’ developmental challenges. Lena was classified as a “moron” based on the American Association on Mental Deficiency rating system in the early 20th century, meaning she had an IQ between 50 and 69. With an IQ between 20 and 49, Maurice was classified as an “imbecile.”
The short time frame between their two deaths may have led to confusion with the records.
“They may easily have occurred in one year and maybe the manufacture of those stones didn’t get made in a timely fashion and some of the reversal may have been that they put the wrong stone in the wrong spot,” said Werner Jacobsen, 64, a former administrator and archivist for the Huronia Regional Centre.
Jacobsen said even if you could find all the earlier paperwork, it’s still impossible to be certain because of errors in the records. Muddying things further, tombstone 1751 is no longer in the original place where the children would have been buried.
The oblong stones were removed and used to build a pathway for a nearby house, said Jacobsen. When a chaplain from Huronia found out about the mishap in the 1980s, the stones were removed from the path and assembled into a flat square on the cemetery grounds, more as a memorial than grave markers.
Originally issued under the guise of protecting the privacy of the residents’ families, the numbered stones remain there to this day.
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