Former Woodlands residents eager to see centre block fall

Robert Keen -
Robert Keen
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Oct. 18 is a day Robert Keen has been waiting for, for more than 50 years.

The 67-year-old former resident of Woodlands will be a happy man when the wrecking ball is taken to the centre block tower, the last remaining structure of the former institution that housed developmentally challenged children.

Keen, a former NewsLeader carrier, lived at Woodlands from 1957 to 1965. The food was awful, the smell of needles was everywhere, their rooms were locked, and they were put in straightjackets, he said.

“It was terrible,” said Keen. “I am happy because I didn’t like it. It was known to me as a jail.”

Keen recalls one night when he was 13 years old, a staff member came into his ward—the biggest at Woodlands where 20 children slept—took his glasses off and slapped his face.

“They said when we got slapped we were making noise, and I was sound asleep. I didn’t know anything about it,” said Keen. “They were drinking on duty because I could smell the staff’s breath and it smelled like he was drinking.”

The demolition was supposed to be on Sept. 19, but when B.C. People’s First Society president Lorie Sherritt heard about it, she asked the city to put it off so she could send invitations to past residents. Ever since they went out last week she’s been inundated with calls from people wanting to be there.

“It’s [Woodlands] something they want to forget. It’s going to be emotional on that day. It’s part of history that shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen. It’s closure for people,” said Sherritt. “It’s long overdue.

“When I go by there it’s painful to me. It’s an eyesore, it just sticks out.”

The centre block was the lone surviving building following a fire in July 2008.

A task force has determined the demolished materials will be hauled away and not reused. There will be up to four interpretative panels at the site.

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