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

Updated: SUV smashes through fences and deck in Anders

Driver taken to hospital after SUV veered off 30th Avenue into Anders

Red Deer’s new ‘equity co-ordinator’ will promote tolerance

Andrea Lacoursiere was hired by city with Alberta Human Rights funding

More bridge work this summer in Red Deer’s Coronation Park

The park’s north bridge is being rebuilt to ensure safety

Man badly injured in off-road vehicle collision on Saturday

Incident happened in Mountain View County about 10:50 p.m.

Heat warning in effect for Central Alberta

Environment Canada has issued a heat warning for Central Alberta. Residents in… Continue reading

CFIA inspects after video shows pigs crammed into B.C. transport truck

The video shows pigs piled on top of one another in a transport truck on a “sweltering” hot day last week

Lava crashes through roof of Hawaii tour boat, injuring 23

HONOLULU — An explosion caused by lava oozing into the ocean sent… Continue reading

Banff holds blessing ceremony with Indigenous elders before letting bison roam

BANFF, Alta. — Several Indigenous elders were flown by helicopter into the… Continue reading

Research expedition looks at unseen depths of Labrador Sea ecosystem

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Last summer, a team of scientists returned from… Continue reading

Protesters camped outside Saskatchewan legislature taking province to court

REGINA — Protesters camped outside the Saskatchewan legislature say they are taking… Continue reading

British PM accepts key amendments from hardline Brexiteers

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accepted amendments to… Continue reading

‘City of icebergs:’ Study says 100s of Arctic glaciers shrinking, disappearing

The statistics in her recently published paper say it all: hundreds of… Continue reading

U.S. hits back with WTO challenge against Canada’s retaliatory tariffs

OTTAWA — The United States fired back Monday at the Canadian government’s… Continue reading

Croatia gears up to give heroes’ welcome to World Cup team

ZAGREB, Croatia — Fans are pouring in from throughout the country as… Continue reading

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