Photographer Jeff Stokoe and reporters Susan Zielinski and Myles Fish will bring you the series

Special series on Michener Centre begins Saturday

“This so-called closure of Michener is nothing new,” says the centre’s one-time CEO Gordon Stangier, “It’s been going on for years.”

“This so-called closure of Michener is nothing new,” says the centre’s one-time CEO Gordon Stangier, “It’s been going on for years.”

In many ways, that is true — the Michener Centre of today is a shell of its late-1960s apex, when it served as the definitive place for Alberta’s mentally handicapped population. About 215 people reside there now; 2,365 lived there then.

But if not new, the brusqueness of the provincial government announcement one year ago that the centre’s old institutional buildings would close, forcing about 125 residents out of their homes, resulted in shocked families and galvanized an opposing force emphatic in its stance that Michener is the best possible home for those who still live there.

The debate has raged since the announcement between two camps, who appear perfectly polarized.

Talk to them, though, and a different picture emerges — community living advocates sympathize with anguished parents; those protesting endorse community living, just not for their loved ones.

Like the present, the history of the institution is rich in complexity. Former staff speak of the inhumanity of stripping residents naked en masse to wash them with scrub brushes, but also of taking them on vacations to Disneyland or having them over for birthday parties.

For Leilani O’Malley, before the pain caused by the sterilization she was subjected to at Michener nearly drove her to end her life, her entrance into the institution gave her some semblance of a normal childhood and may have saved her life in the first place. An unloving, abusive mother confined her there at age 10, but also enabled her to leave for good a decade later.

Whatever one’s opinion, the evolution of the centre named for a former governor general is undeniable. Dwellers once labelled morons, imbeciles and mental defectives are today simply residents or, to some, survivors.

Red Deer became the central point for the province’s mentally handicapped by chance, because it had a large, underused building already in place. In the nine decades since the original Provincial Training School opened, there has been no more important or enduring institution in the city.

As the government pledges to push forward with closure and families gear up for a legal challenge they hope will keep the centre open, the issue of what will happen to the last bastion of mental handicap institutionalization in Alberta is unclear.

Over the next two and a half weeks, beginning on Saturday, the Advocate will bring you Michener Centre: The Closing Doors, a series by Red Deer Advocate reporters Susan Zielinski and Myles Fish that examines the centre’s controversial past, debated present and unclear future.

Just Posted

Tsunami warning for B.C.’s coast is cancelled after Alaska quake

VANCOUVER — A tsunami warning issued for coastal British Columbia was cancelled… Continue reading

Sewage spill shuts beaches along California’s Central Coast

MONTEREY, Calif. — Nearly 5 million gallons of sewage spilled into the… Continue reading

‘Shape of Water’ producer, Christopher Plummer among Canadian Oscar nominees

TORONTO — A Toronto producer who worked on “The Shape of Water”… Continue reading

US, others launch new tool to punish chemical weapons users

PARIS — The United States and 28 other countries are launching a… Continue reading

Fewer than half of Canadians hold optimistic, open view of the world: poll

OTTAWA — Canada’s reputation as a nation with an open and optimistic… Continue reading

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

RDC chosen to host 2019 men’s volleyball national championship

Sports enthusiasts in Red Deer will have more to look forward to… Continue reading

Police is still looking for Second World War army passport owner

No one has claimed a rare Second World War German army passport… Continue reading

DJ Sabatoge and TR3 Band kick off Sylvan Lake’s Winterfest 2018

Central Alberta’s youngest DJ will open for TR3 Band kicking off Town… Continue reading

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month