Content warning: mentions of sexual assault, rape, violence, detention, abuse, mentions of homicide and violence against children.
When 16-year-old Lynda Chapman was released from Grandview Training School for Girls, a fellow inmate at the juvenile detention centre in Galt offered her some advice.
“Don’t look back, because if you look back, you’ll come back,” she said.
However, looking back, at the age of 67, is a way for Lynda to heal from the trauma of her lost childhood and rebuild her life.
“I said I wanted to get an education, I wanted to go to church, I wanted to have my own home. I did all of it,” she said.
Lynda’s husband, George, and Indigenous Elder Nina De Shane were on hand to offer emotional and spiritual support as she shared her story. A cleansing smudge took place during breaks.
Lynda lacks feeling in her palms and cartilage discs in her jaw, as well as carrying scars on her arms, from physical abuse she and her siblings faced at the hands of their parents. She also faced regular beatings from her parents for minor offenses or as a result of substance abuse problems.
Lynda frequently experienced and witnessed physical and sexual abuse of her siblings at the hands of family members.
“There’s only one reason that I want to see my mother again, and that’s when she’s in a casket so I can spit in her face,” said Lynda.
Exhausted from her home life, Lynda often escaped to her boyfriend’s house in Kitchener. She was put into several foster homes and a London detention centre.
“The police would always pick me up there. I was an idiot and kept going back to the same place,” she said, laughing.
“London did try to keep me out of Grandview. It was my mother who wanted me put away.”
In 1971, at the age of 15, a juvenile court judge described her as “incorrigible” and sent her to Grandview to be reformed.
“You learn the rules very fast,” Lynda said. “If it was washroom time or shower time, you lined up. You lined up again and you would go down the stairs and you would join the line that went into the cafeteria.”
During her first week at Grandview, Lynda opened the door of a room when she heard muffled noises that sounded like someone was in distress. She witnessed a gang attacking another a girl, killing her in the end, she said.
Lynda and other inmates cleaned up a lot of blood during her stay.
“I didn’t know a human being had so much blood in them. It was sticky and it was gross,” Lynda said. “Something changed in me and I toughened up in a hurry, because I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t.”
Lynda remembers the first time she was placed in solitary confinement. She had come to the aid of a girl who was being picked on, and a guard put her in a chokehold.
“Next thing I remembered was waking up in segregation,” she said.
The only contact she had with anyone was when meals were passed through the door.
Most of her sentence was in the high security building called Churchill House. Each wing had six cells in a row, with one girl per cell.
Rape was an almost daily ordeal, and she vividly remembers the sound of the guards’ keys jangling against the door.
“Two men at a time came in. You always hoped it wasn’t going to be you, but you cried because you knew it was somebody else,” Lynda said.
Lynda said she and other girls were forced to attend sex parties. She said guards would give dresses and other inmates would do the girls’ makeup. The group would then be taken to a house across the yard or to a location off the school grounds.
“The men got to do anything they wanted. We were there for their pleasure,” she said.
Lynda became pregnant at 16 after being raped and was coerced into having an abortion by Grandview personnel and her mother, who told the school she was a social worker. “There’s no proof anymore because they made sure we got rid of the proof. We couldn’t leave the school if we didn’t have the abortion,” Lynda said.
Lynda was released after eight months and one of the other girls told her not to look back because she would end up returning.
“I made the mistake of looking back,” said Lynda.
She deliberately got pregnant soon after her release because of the child she’d lost from the abortion. Lynda said she’d decided that “You might take my first one, but you’re not taking another one.”
In April 1973, she jumped into the Conestoga River to escape a gang that had mistaken her for her sister and wanted retribution for a botched drug deal.Her aftercare officer wrote a letter to the family’s physician, painting Lynda as hysterical.
“Linda (sic) has recently experienced a considerable amount of anxiety and stress with regard to her own safety and that of her child. Linda distorted comments and rumours regarding her family and motorcycle gangs to alarming proportions, and consequently became very distraught,” the letter said.
That was enough justification to return her to Grandview, and her infant son was taken into foster care. The whole of Lynda’s three-month sentence was in segregation where she passed the time counting spots on the ceiling and floor.
“I thought I was gonna go crazy,” she said.
After her release, Lynda moved into a duplex apartment in Fergus, across the hall from her mother, who still exhibited psychologically abusive behaviour.
Gradually, Lynda began healing through the help she received from her psychologist and doctor, as well as Reverend Rip Kirby, whom she met at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Recently, Elder Nina has been providing spiritual guidance as Lynda reconnects with her Indigenous heritage.
The most important person on her path towards recovery has been her third husband, George.
The two met in 1996 while they were upgrading their school qualifications as mature students, but they didn’t become a couple until years later. The pair married on a New Hamburg farm in August 2022.
“There is a way I have made it through all of this, and George is a part of that,” said Lynda.
For an overview of the Grandview Training School for Girls, click here.