Woodlands was constructed in NewWesminster in 1878 and was closed in the 1980s. Though the signage I read said 1996 – so I am not certain about the closure. It was an asylum for those with ‘developmental disabilities and the mentally ill.’ It was a place of incarceration, exclusion, dehumanization, and the existence of this institution and the attitudes that went with it, denied those with developmental disabilities the right to be valued for who they were and to included in their families and communities.
This past Sunday, my Mom, H, and I walked through the memorial gardens there. We read the signs – telling about the injustices and atrocities that occurred. A touch of spring accompanied us briefly on our deeply moving trek. The sun came out and stole away a bit of the chill, and the early buds promised something more of the spring yet to come. Today was just a glimpse.
I glimpsed another thing emerging today as well… H’s understanding of injustice.
As we read the memorial plaques – H became increasingly interested and was full of questions.
Who lived here? Who? When? Did they put people with autism here??
Yes, honey – they did…
Well – families were often told that they shouldn’t raise their children. Lots of people – and even doctors would say that.
They were wrong!!
Mom – I feel sad for these people.
Me too, honey…
He wandered through the rest of the gardens with a certain reverence – and picked up a discarded CD that was left by one of the grave stones. H said littering showed a lack of respect. He raced across the lawn to be sure that the offending item was discharged appropriately into the garbage.
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)