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Victoria Freeman and Catherine McKercher | In Her Voice

October 18, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm


Please join us for a special In Her Voice event! Victoria Freeman and Catherine McKercher will be discussing their new books, A World Without Martha and Shut Away, respectively. The conversation will be moderated by Madeline Burghardt.

A book signing will conclude the event.


Friday October 18

6:30 to 8pm

(Doors at 6)


Ben McNally Books

366 Bay Street

This is a free event. All are welcome.

You can RSVP through Eventbrite.

Victoria Freeman was only four when her parents followed medical advice and sent her sister away to a distant, overcrowded institution. Martha was not yet two, but in 1960s Ontario there was little community acceptance or support for raising children with intellectual disabilities at home. In this frank and moving memoir, Victoria describes growing up in a world that excluded and dehumanized her sister, and how society’s insistence that only a “normal” life was worth living affected her sister, her family, and herself, until changing attitudes to disability and difference offered both sisters new possibilities for healing and self-discovery.


Victoria Freeman is a writer, theatre artist, educator, and public historian. She is the co-creator, with Sol Express, of Birds Make Me Think About Freedom, a play about the experiences of peoples institutionalized for intellectual disability, and is on the advisory board of Uncovering the People’s History, which documents the stories of institutional survivors and their families for Family Alliance Ontario. She also co-wrote the Talking Treaties Spectacle with Ange Loft of Jumblies Theatre, which was performed in 2017 and 2018 at Fort York in Toronto. Her previous book, Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, was shortlisted for the 2000 Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. She teaches in the Canadian Studies Program at Glendon College, York University, in Toronto.

An explosive book that exposes the abuses of institutionalization.
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” It was one of the first questions kids asked each other when Catherine McKercher was a child. She never knew how to answer it.
Three of the McKercher children lived at home. The fourth, her youngest brother, Bill, did not. Bill was born with Down syndrome. When he was two and a half, his parents took him to the Ontario Hospital School in Smiths Falls and left him there. Like thousands of other families, they exiled a child with disabilities from home, family, and community.
The rupture in her family always troubled McKercher. Following Bill’s death in 1995, and after the sprawling institution where he lived had closed, she applied for a copy of Bill’s resident file. What she found shocked her.
Drawing on primary documents and extensive interviews, McKercher reconstructs Bill’s story and explores the clinical and public debates about institutionalization: the pressure to “shut away” children with disabilities, the institutions that overlooked and sometimes condoned neglect and abuse, and the people who exposed these failures and championed a different approach.


Catherine McKercher is a writer, scholar, and educator based in Ottawa. She worked as a journalist in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Ont., and Washington, D.C., before joining the faculty of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, where she taught for more than 25 years and now holds the title of professor emerita. She is the author of a 2002 book on trade unionism among newspaper journalists in the digital age, and the co-author of a leading textbook for Canadian journalism students, now in its third edition. She has written extensively about communication labour and is the joint recipient of the 2014 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award. Her new book, which combines personal and social history, returns to her journalistic roots.

Madeline Burghardt is the author of Broken: Institutions, Families, and the Construction of Intellectual Disability (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018). She holds a PhD in Critical Disability Studies from York University. A long-time advocate and ally of people from various marginalised communities, she lives with her family in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.


October 18, 2019
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Event Category:


Ben McNally Books
108 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON M5C1S6 Canada


In Her Voice