For its world premiere, Barri Cohen’s documentary Unloved: Huronia’s Forgotten Children is screening at this year’s Hot Docs. What Cohen is looking for here is a bit of truth. Truth about a story most of us want to turn our backs on. And the people involved too. Why? Because it is just too damn hard. Not a pretty picture and the ugliness does not reflect well on those in charge of Huronia Regional Centre in Orilla, Ontario. Plus those who knew about it, then and now, and continue to do nothing to help the victims. Admit what went on and help them or their surviving families try to heal.
During the 1950s children with intellectual disabilities in the area of Orilla, Ontario were sent to a facility called Huronia Regional Centre. Instead of being a place that took care of these kids and helped them live a life, it was a place of horror and abuse. This was true of the Cohen family. The father of director Barri Cohen suddenly told her one day that she had two other siblings. Two half-brothers named Alfred and Louis. They were brought to the Huronia Regional Centre as youngsters. They never came home again nor did they survive living there.
Cohen is looking to find out what happened at the Centre and, more particularly, to her half-brothers. After a class-action suit is successfully filed, she sets out to get to the bottom of things. To find out what happened to her half-siblings. What she uncovers is heartbreaking and horrifying.
Through interviewing former residents of Huronia and their family members a clear picture begins to emerge of what went on there for an entire generation. None of it is good. Case after case of abuse, violence, humiliation, neglect, and terror is revealed. It is shocking, yet sadly, not so as it is not the only centre that has the same legacy.
The cruelty that was carried out against the young residents was allowed by those who ran the so-called facility and the government at the time. Anyone with a heart watching this feels it break time and time again for these beautiful, innocent young people who went through this. Horrified by the knowledge that some did not make it out alive. Those who were the most vulnerable. Who most needed our love and protection. Sick to your stomach knowing that to this day the full extent of what happened there has not been admitted and those who went through it were not offered any sort of retribution. None.
There is a beautiful side to the story. You just have to search for it. The beauty of the fact that the young people who once lived there have survived. Despite the odds stacked against them. They not only got out and survived but they are fighting back. Seeking to have what happened to them acknowledged so they continue in their healing. An illustration of the strength of the human spirit.