As she sat at the table and began telling her life story, 67-year-old Lynda Chapman’s right leg shook nervously. It was more than a year since she’d decided that sharing painful details from her past would be cathartic, but it had taken her until now to find the strength.
Her husband, George Chapman, and Indigenous Elder Nina De Shane offered emotional support as she spoke for almost six hours.
In 1973, Lynda moved in with the father of her two children soon after she was released from Grandview Training School for Girls, and the couple married when she turned 18. Their kids were taken into care by Children’s Aid two years later after Lynda’s mother repeatedly reported her daughter for neglectful parenting, a charge that Lynda refutes.
“The kids were taken because I had been abused so much at home and then at Grandview. They said there was a chance I would have been abusive with my own kids,” Lynda said.
Years later, she built a relationship with her daughter, but she has had a tougher time reconciling with her son.
“These schools have split generation after generation,” Lynda said, as her voice faltered for the only time.
Her first marriage ended after a few years, but her second lasted 18, until the Grandview scandal broke in the early-Nineties and her husband’s family learned that Lynda had been incarcerated there.
“I was this great daughter-in- law, and all of a sudden, I was one of those girls that got ‘favours’,” she said, referring to inmates who were coerced into trading sex for privileges. “It pretty much finished my marriage.”
For more than 20 years, Lynda hid what happened to her.
“The biggest part of coming from that school was the shame. When I was speaking, I always looked down. It took me years to get to the point that I could even look up at anybody.”
The compensation package that
Grandview survivors negotiated with the province in 1994 included counseling to help them heal from the abuse they had experienced.
The settlement also included payment of further education fees, and in 2003, Lynda earned her Social Service Worker diploma at Conestoga College. It took six years to complete the two-year course due to her learning disabilities. She wanted to continue her studies at University of Waterloo, but the government would not cover the cost.
“The agreement was broken,” she said, angrily.
One of the most important people on Lynda’s healing journey is George, her third husband, who was an addiction and mental health counselor in the mid-Nineties.
He spoke with Lynda almost daily and helped her to focus on her schoolwork.
“Lynda could keep on the straight and narrow as long as we dealt with what was happening right then and there. I always met her where she was at that moment,” he said.
George stopped counseling Lynda in 2003, but for years they continued to chat on the phone.
“When I asked her how she was doing, she would break down and hang up. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong,” he said.
“She has a natural inner strength, and she’s come miles. Before, she was breaking down all the time, but now that’s kind of gone away. I’m the kind of person that lives for the moment, and Lynda’s learning to do that, which she never did before because she felt overwhelmed.”
In 2015, Lynda and George got closer and became a couple, and then they married in 2022. They enjoy spending time in their trailer, visiting yard sales and flea markets, and going fishing.
Whenever Lynda has to visit the hospital for surgery, Chapman said he ensures that “everything’s calm and peaceful and relaxed,” and he goes to the reserve to pick up her medication.
“George has stood with Lynda through many years,” said De Shane. “He’s a wonderful person and they make a great couple. He’s with her every step she takes, and she has an abiding love and concern for his welfare.”
“I believe that you should help people, not hurt people. Lynda’s learning that too,” Chapman said.
De Shane serves Indigenous people in the community through the Wilmot Family Resource Centre. She first spoke to Lynda over the phone in 2020, when they were still unable to meet in person.
“I remember the first time I heard Lynda’s voice on the phone,” she said. “She was asking for someone to listen to her story. More than help, she needed someone to believe what she was saying.”
De Shane is helping Lynda reconnect with her Indigenous heritage by encouraging her to attend ceremonies as often as possible.
When Lynda first joined circle, she felt uncomfortable and left quickly. “Gradually, you could see her trust and confidence grow,” said De Shane. “Our circle constantly reaches out to one another with encouragement and support.”
Soon after Lynda arrived, sisters began to give her gifts.
“Traditional clothing, a drum. She was overwhelmed because she felt their loving kindness. When she is not at circle, everyone wants to know who’s spoken to her,” De Shane said.
When Lynda told the circle that she would be marrying Chapman, everyone wanted to help. A New Hamburg farm owner offered space for the ceremony and celebration. Others helped by making a traditional ribbon dress for Lynda, as well as assisting with hair and makeup for the bride and her maids-of-honour.
“By the time we had gone around the circle, she had her wedding planned and organized. Everyone was so happy for her,” said De Shane.
De Shane and Lynda recently attended a conference with healthcare professionals that examined the
role of western medicine in older Indigenous people’s lives. When attendees were reluctant to talk, Lynda spoke first, releasing a flood of testimonies from others.
“Lynda has much to say and much to teach us,” De Shane said.
The pair now meets weekly at WFRC.
“For nearly 200 years, this country has been attempting to shatter our communities, our languages, our world views, our religions, our music,” De Shane said. “Now we are trying our best to gather everyone home. Lynda is coming home. We are all coming home.”