Sarah Anne Johnson had always known the broad strokes of her maternal grandmother’s story. In 1956, Velma Orlikow checked herself into a renowned Canadian psychiatric hospital, the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, hoping for help with postpartum depression.
She was in and out of the clinic for three years, but instead of improving, her condition deteriorated – and her personality underwent jarring changes.
More than two decades passed before Johnson and her family had an explanation, and it was much stranger than any of them could imagine: in 1977 it emerged that the CIA had been funding experiments in mind-control brainwashing at the institute as part of a North America-wide project known as MK Ultra.
At the time, the US agency was scrambling to deepen its understanding of brainwashing, after a handful of Americans captured during the Korean war had publicly praised communism and denounced the US.
In 1957, this interest brought the agency north of the border, where a Scottish-born psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, was trying to discover whether doctors could erase a person’s mind and instill new patterns of behaviour.
Orlikow was one of several hundred patients who became unwitting subjects of these experiments in Montreal in the late 1950s and early 60s.
Read the rest of the feature here
(Photo credit: Allan Memorial Institute, Montreal, in 1901/Wikipedia)