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Watch our 60th Anniversary video that honours and remembers the civil rights history of people with developmental disabilities in BC. Read more about our history here.

Woodlands Demolition Ceremony - speech by Faith Bodnar

Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of the BC Association for Community Living, gave the following speech at the demolition ceremony of Woodlands Institution in New Westminster on October 18, 2011. Read more about the event here.

My first thought for today is one of thanks to all those who worked relentlessly to make today truly memorable, that is be by and for former residents. As well, we thank as all those individuals, families, community members and organizations who got us here over many, many decades. We remember those who stood up and said no one belongs in institutions, those who challenged generations of people and governments who justified the institution under so many false pretexts and stood fast even when there was danger of loosing site of the truth – a simple yet profound truth – no one should have ever been confined in places lie Woodlands, not in 1878, not in 1958, not in 1974 not in 1998 and not in 2011. No then, not now not ever.

Most importantly today is about remembering the thousands who died in this god forsaken place and for those who survived. Today we can be part of releasing the ghosts that inhabit this structure, the bricks and mortar that hold the memories of terrible things we are still reconciling and demanding redress for, of things that never should have happened, yet did, of things we knew about within weeks of it opening, of things that were done under the eye of those who knew better, looked the other way, should have acted and yet didn’t until more 100 years after it opened. We have no excuses – none.

We know that by tearing down this structure we are not wiping out what went on in its walls. Rather we are honouring – finally – the wishes of former residents who continue to be traumatized by the mere sight of this structure – for what it represents and also for what happened within its walls. We know that souls cannot be crushed in the rubble, they cannot be washed away as the building is torn down and that the evidence of what happened will not disappear with demolition. We are called here to day to take up the dreams and nightmares of those souls who are with us here today in these bricks, of events that are imprinted in the stone, of lost dreams, of unimaginable pain and cruelty –of rejection gone unchecked. It is our job here today as fellow human beings to give some measure of peace and a step towards reconciliation. It is our job today to reclaim the humanity that the Centre Block stole and to remember, to always remember what this was all about and what it must never about – it was about a structure with what has become about architectural history rather than humanity, it is about expediency, jobs, money and economic development. It was never about the well being and human rights of people confined here. It was never about the people confined here.

Today can and must be a celebration of reclaiming personal power and embracing what we can no longer deny – community is for everyone – no exceptions, no exceptions, absolutely no exceptions. We are a few of the many voices that inspired public conversation and social change. As a result this site with will become a new public garden and will provide the opportunity and space for the whole community to acknowledge what happened here and for the community to be part of the healing and in so doing heal itself. We provide the space that will be transformed into a place of peace, to learn and relearn the lessons that we are not that far removed from. Woodlands is closed but other places like it still open today in Canada, reminding us that denying humanity lurks not just under the surface but out in the open and that we are only steps away from what is being torn down today. So let us all know the truth, let us show each other what it really means to be human, let us embrace each other in our hearts and actions. Let us say so long and good riddance to the remains of a crumbling old building and by doing so release us to a new day.