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Woodlands: The good and the bad

City man reunites with long-lost friend from Woodlands School

Richard McDonald recently had the joy of being reunited with a long lost friend from his days as a student at Woodlands School.

While he was thrilled to see his old friend, the New Westminster resident is hoping he'll be able to put some bad memories to rest when the Centre Block tower at the Woodlands site is demolished on Oct. 18.

"I lived in Woodlands from '52 to 62," he said. "I seen a lot of abuse there. I seen people put into real hot water and cold water. I seen a lot of stuff."

McDonald, 68, said residents couldn't say anything about what they'd seen or they'd be put punished.

"It was very hard," he said about staying silent. "It (abuse) was quite frequent those years that I was there."

McDonald went to Woodlands in 1952 when he was nine years old. He said has parents had no idea of what they were getting him into by sending him to Woodlands.

"They came and visited me on the weekends," he recalled. "They would take me home on the weekends and take me back on Sunday nights."

In 1962, McDonald and some other Woodlands students moved to Tranquille Institution in Kamloops. He lived there until 1970.

Although McDonald has bad memories of his time at Woodlands, he has fond memories of his friend and classmate, Dorothy.

"She was up in Tranquille the same years I was," he added. "We were very good friends." When they had to leave Tranquille in 1970, Dorothy moved to Invermere and McDonald moved to Powell River to be closer to his family.

"I lost contact with her for 41 years," he said. "We got back together again. She saw me on Facebook."

McDonald recently flew to Invermere and visited Dorothy for several days in September.

"It was incredible. We had a fantastic time," he said. "It was like no time had passed."

During their five-day visit, the friends went to a staff appreciation dinner at the home where Dorothy now lives, out for dinner, to a fall fair and scarecrow festival and to Radium Hot Springs. McDonald was also able to visit with six other people who had lived at Woodlands during his time there.

"She (Dorothy) called that place a jail," he said of their discussions about Woodlands. "The others are happy to be out of there, too."

McDonald lived in Powell River from 1970 to 2002, eventually moving to Vancouver because he was coming here so often for various meetings he was attending. He is active in a number of advocacy groups including the We Survived Woodlands and the B.C. Association for Community Living.

McDonald is ecstatic that the Centre Block tower will soon be demolished and has been part of a task force that's planning the event.

"It's about time," he said. "Everybody needs closure. That will definitely give us closure. I want it gone. It's still there - it still reminds me of the institution."

A visit to the cemetery at the Woodlands site inspired McDonald to become active in advocacy organizations involved with former residents.

"I saw some of the headstones along the ravine. They were cemented together. I was appalled," he said. "Some of the staff would take the headstones and use them for a barbecue. They would put stones down for driveways at home and everything. I was appalled."

McDonald was part of a From the Inside/OUT!, a multimedia art show that told the stories of almost 30 former residents of B.C.'s large institutions.

McDonald is a member of the We Survived Woodlands School Group that formed in 2002 to fight for justice and compensation for the abuse suffered by former residents.

The provincial government agreed to a compensation package for Woodlands residents who lived there after Aug. 1, 1974 but not those who had lived there earlier.

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