A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta's Eugenic Years
Using rare interviews with former inmates and workers, institutional documentation, and governmental archives, Claudia Malacrida illuminates the dark history of the treatment of “mentally defective” children and adults in twentieth-century Alberta. Focusing on the Michener Centre in Red Deer, one of the last such facilities operating in Canada, A Special Hell is a sobering account of the connection between institutionalization and eugenics.
Malacrida explains how isolating the Michener Centre’s residents from their communities served as a form of passive eugenics that complemented the active eugenics program of the Alberta Eugenics Board. Instead of receiving an education, inmates worked for little or no pay – sometimes in homes and businesses in Red Deer – under the guise of vocational rehabilitation. The success of this model resulted in huge institutional growth, chronic crowding, and terrible living conditions that included both routine and extraordinary abuse.
Combining the powerful testimony of survivors with a detailed analysis of the institutional impulses at work at the Michener Centre, A Special Hell is essential reading for those interested in the disturbing past and troubling future of the institutional treatment of people with disabilities.