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Patricia Seth, a former Huronia Regional Centre resident and plaintiff in the class action proceeding against the Ontario government, is interviewed in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013.

Galit Rodan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former residents of an Ontario institution for the developmentally disabled say they're relieved that a last-minute settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit over alleged abuse at the government-run facility.

The $35-million settlement, read out in a Toronto court Tuesday morning, falls short of the $2-billion the plaintiffs sought.

But the agreement includes an apology from the provincial government — something many former residents said they felt was long overdue.

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"I'm just elated to... not necessarily put the past at rest but put it on the back burner, because you can never forget something like that," said Patricia Seth, one of the lead plaintiffs.

"We can move forward now, tell our stories. People believe us now," she said outside court.

Kirk Baert, who represented Seth and roughly 3,700 others in the suit, said the settlement will spare former residents from testifying and reliving the abuse they endured for so many years.

Some expressed regret, however, that their experience wouldn't be chronicled at trial.

The agreement calls for a commemorative plaque to be placed on the Huronia grounds and for the centre's cemetery to be maintained and catalogued.

Researchers will also get the chance to visit the now-closed centre and retrieve artifacts they deem historically important.

The suit had alleged residents of the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ont., suffered almost daily humiliation and abuse.

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The centre was operated by the province for 133 years before it shut down in 2009.

The suit covered those institutionalized at the centre between 1945 and 2009, many of whom are now aged or dying.

If approved by the court, the agreement will see the money divided based on how much each plaintiff suffered.

Those who were harmed the most will receive more money, while those who choose not to describe what they went through will only be eligible for up to $2,000, Baert said. The maximum individual payout would be $42,000.

"We want to pay the money out as quickly as possible," he said.

Should there be fewer claims than expected, or fewer requiring a larger payout, up to $5 million of the surplus would go to organizations that help people with developmental disabilities, he said.

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Plaintiffs will be allowed to voice their concerns over the settlement at the approval hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

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