Canada's Place in Work for the Blind
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Mar 1937, p. 246-259

Baker, Captain Edwin A., Speaker
Media Type:
Item Type:
Schools for the academic and technical education of the blind in Canada. History, development and purpose of The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, with a Dominion Charter secured in March, 1918. Details of services and programmes. The philosophy that blind people are normal human beings who have been handicapped by the loss of sight, but still with talents and if given opportunity for expression those talents may be usefully applied. Some illustrative examples and anecdotes. Helping and training people to become self-sufficient, with examples. Caring for those who cannot become self-sufficient. The prevention of blindness. Progress achieved in the last 18 years in Canada, as against the thousands of years that went before and during which there was very little development in the way of services or consideration for the adult blind. Co-operation within the Empire and with the United States for the prevention of blindness.
Date of Original:
4 Mar 1937
Language of Item:
Copyright Statement:
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Thursday, 4th March, 1937

PRESIDENT: We welcome to the head table today, on his first visit, Mr. George McCullagh, President and Publisher of The Globe and Mail. (Applause.)

We also welcome--we have him about as far away as we could place him from Mr. McCullagh--Dr. Welsh, the successful candidate in the East Hastings by-election. (Applause.)

The welcome I especially give today, however, is for those who are interested, and I am sure you are all interested, in the wonderful work being done in Canada for the sightless. At our head-table we have representatives from the Board of the Canadian Institute for the Blind. We have, also, some of the active workers who are sightless and after today's proceedings I am sure you will have the opinion which I now have regarding these gentlemen.

I could very well spend too much time introducing our guest-speaker, Captain Edwin A. Baker, O.B.E., but I am going to ask one who will, perhaps, treat him not as kindly as I, from what he has said by way of joking. I am going to ask Mr. Harris Turner to introduce Captain Baker today. I might say, before I call on Mr. Turner, that he was a member of the famous Princess Pats, and on his return was a Member of Parliament in Saskatchewan and he is now doing wonderful work in publicity for the Blind. (Applause.)

MR. HARRIS TURNER: Mr. President, Members of the Empire Club: I find myself in rather an embarrassing position here this afternoon. The man I have the honour of introducing to you is my boss. If I get too enthusiastic about my subject, I will be accused of currying his favour and if I refuse to lay it on too thick, I will probably be fired. These are very difficult days for those who feed impelled to speak in the presence of those in authority over them.

This is a meeting of the Empire Club. It was in the Empire's Capital that I first heard of Captain Baker. When I arrived at St. Dunstan's, the famous training school for blind soldiers, I found I had been preceded by two Canadians. One was Mr. A. G. Viets, Vice-President of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, sitting at my left; the other was Captain Baker, and I might say, if the Canadian, financiers could make even half as good -an impression in the Empire's capital as these two soldiers there wouldn't be the slightest difficulty in floating the largest issue of even the most delicate bonds.

The enemy blew up a mine in front of Kemmel Hill 'in the fall of 1915. Captain Baker, a young engineer, was sent up to repair the trenches, fix up the wire. It was a difficult, dangerous job, a dirty night and there he lost his sight from a sniper's bullet, but he came back to Canada and since then has had a succession of difficult jobs. He even now holds quite a few of them. He is the permanent representative of the Department of Pensions and National Health, to administer after care for blinded soldiers in Canada. He is Chairman of the Ontario Soldiers Aid Commission. He is a member of the Dominion Executive of the Amputations Association. He is a life member of the Canadian Legion. He is a great many other things. Perhaps his proudest distinction is that he is a school trustee in the village of Forest Hill. He is now all these things. If like the sinful members of the Anglican Church he has left undone some of the things he ought to have done it is simply because he hasn't got that far yet.

Captain Baker is going to speak to you today on "Canada's Place in Work For The Blind." For sixteen or seventeen years he has been Managing Director of this organization. When he speaks of the place Canada holds in the work for the blind he, more than any other individual, is responsible for that position. He holds military honours, the Military Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and he is a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He is the Managing Director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and I ask him now to speak to you. (Applause.)

CAPTAIN EDWIN A. BAKER, O.B.E., M.C.: Mr. President, Mr. Wood, and Gentlemen of the Empire Club: Needless to say it is a very great pleasure for me, and I esteem it a very great privilege, to speak to you today.

About twenty years ago a number of us who had little thought of those or for those who must go through this world without sight were serving on the Western Front, and by one kind of an accident or another we had--well, if you like, we had our point of view slightly changed. Then, by way of St. Dunstan's we came back to Canada.

May I pause for just a word about St. Dunstan's. It wasn't so much the technical training that St. Dunstan's gave us as it was the inspiration, the encouragement to stand on our own feet, face our difficulties squarely and undertake to do our part in life. That was the great contribution that we got from St. Dunstan's. The founder of St. Dunstan's was to us the greatest inspiration of all, Sir Cyril Arthur Pearson. He typified all these things and to us who had the opportunity of associating with him he will always remain the greatest Englishman that ever lived.

Then, we came back to Canada and we met here men and women who had lost their sight in civil life. When we began to compare notes we soon came to the conclusion that our admiration must go to many of them who had made outstanding achievements in spite of difficulties, in spite of lack of favourable circumstance, in spite of the lack of facilities which exist today, they had made good and they were a great encouragement to us. Among them were Dr. C. R. Dickson, Dr. Sherman Swift, and many others. Then we began to discuss the facilities existing in Canada. It is true there were schools for the academic and technical education of the blind, located in Halifax, Montreal, Brantford, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, their purpose being to give academic and technical education to blind juveniles and youth between the ,ages of seven and twenty-one. For the adult blind however, there were two local institutions in Montreal, the Nazareth Institution for, the Blind, and the Montreal Association for the Blind, with some training and employment facilities for the adult blind, and in the City of Ottawa, an organization known as the Ottawa Association for the Blind.

Here, in Toronto, there was the Canadian National Library for the Blind, attempting to carry on a Dominion-wide service through the loaning of embossed books to blind persons, passing free through the mail as a result of the kind offices of Sir William Mulock when he was Postmaster General, and which made Canada the leading country in the world in granting free postage for Braille literature through Canadian mails.

Then we turned our attention to the organization of more comprehensive services for the adult blind of Canada. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind was organized after a year or more of effort and secured its Dominion Charter in March, 1918. In securing that Charter we had the invaluable help of men and women, public-spirited, who threw their time, effort, and influence into the balance and in co-operation with us, helped to achieve the launching of the Institute. Mr. L. M. Wood, who is the President of our Institute today was one of those prime movers, and those people have kept up their interest and their numbers have been added to until across the whole of Canada today we have a very large representative group of public, spirited men and women who are co-operating with our blind fellow-citizens on the National Institute for the Blind, on the Central, Western, Quebec and Maritime Division Boards of the Institute, on the Newfoundland Division Board of the Institute, and on the -many boards and committees in the larger cities and towns throughout this province and all the way across the country. To the number of some 2,000, they are giving their services freely and unstintingly on these boards and committees. In addition to that we have developed a technical staff, working through the different Divisions 'in Canada, and the Division in Newfoundland. These technical staffs are responsible for the registration of blind persons, for the extension of services, whether they be ameliorative, training and employment and so on, or for the prevention of blindness.

Now, I would like to take just a few moments to give you some idea of the services. For instance, the first thing we had to do was to register blind people so we might know who they were, where they were, what their condition might be and their need. We have today 8,500 blind people registered and I wonkier if you realize that on the average we are registering about 17 new cases each week in Canada. That does not mean that our register is constantly going up by that rate because we must subtract for deaths, recovery of vision through operative treatment, and other reasons.

Then, our services. We serve those under school age by instructing the parents and guardians. To illustrate not long ago one of our field workers found a child past four years of age whose mother was so fearful that it might hurt itself if it were allowed to get out on the floor that it had been kept constantly in the crib and had never learned to walk or do a thing for itself. Our home teacher was sent to instruct the mother and to help that child to become self helpful. Then, when the blind children arrive at school age we refer them to respective schools for the blind, in order that they may be certain, of receiving their education and in co-operation with the Provincial Educational Department we give instruction to those who .are so physically handicapped in addition to blindness that they cannot attend one or other of the established residential schools for the blind. Then, in the case of those who lose their sight in early youth, we often step in and give some encouragement to take additional training, either in the high schools of the country or at a school far the blind. In the case of those who graduate from the schools for the blind we give further training where necessary and undertake to find employment so each graduate as he or she steps out of the school for the blind may in these days have some degree of assurance that there is a helping hand ready to find them a suitable employment opportunity and to help them over any difficulties they may meet with in the early stages of such employment. The big problem for the Institute, however, has been to assist those who lose their sight in adult life. I wonder if you realize that 70 per cent of all blind people in this country lose their sight in adult life from a variety of causes to which I will refer a little later, but these people come from every walk of life. They are a cross section of society as a whole. No one is necessarily immune from the loss of sight. It behooves each and every one of us to take every possible care of our God-given blessing of sight. Those who unfortunately lose 'it, and after all it is a tragedy in any human life to lose sight, those who lose it look to the Institute for assistance and guidance and it becomes our problem, whether they are 21 years of age, or 30, or 40, or 50, or 60, or 70, to do what we can to make their path a little brighter, to enable them to pick up some fresh interest in life or to, continue in some measure the work in which they have been engaged.

Now, you may feel that is not an easy thing to do. You are quite right. This has been a work, if you like, for specialists. No two cases can be dealt with exactly alike. As Mr. Clunk, who is in charge of our Placement Department has so aptly remarked on many occasions, there is no more reason why all blind men should be made broom makers than for all red-headed men to go into the legal profession. So, it is a case of individual service to each and every one, endeavouring to find out what their particular talent may be and we insist that they do have talents because after all if we think of the parable of the talents, we realize that even though we may only have, one, two or three talents, we are expected to apply those talents, to make use of them and that is why we have never agreed with the view that to secure the interest of those who might be interested in assisting us in this work, we should parade the helpless, afflicted side of blindness. We don't believe in that philosophy. Instead, we believe in the positive philosophy that blind people are normal human beings who have been handicapped by the loss of sight and often other disabilities, but they still have some talent or talents, and if given opportunity for expression those talents may be usefully applied.

Let me illustrate. First, I have in mind a young man who at the age of sixteen, while playing tennis one evening when it was twilight, didn't see a hard driven ball coming. It smacked him in the eye and he lost the sight of that eye. A little later he was working in an office and a playful office worker-you know, one of these practical jokers-picked up a heavy elastic band, hooked a metal paper clip on it and shot it across the room and hit the man in his one remaining good eye and that was gone. After that I met this lad with his mother. He attended the Ontario School for the Blind a couple of years, then went through University, taking his B.A., and his M.A. degrees. Today, he is one of the valued staff members of the Institute, helping to advise and assist others who have lost their sight.

Then, I think of another young man who, while working in a factory, had an accident and he lost his sight. Today he is back at work in the factory, not on the same job, it is true, but we found another job for him and he is working.

I think of another man who lost his sight along toward middle life and he had had some business experience before. Under the auspices of our Placement Department he was established in a stand, one of these business stands where they sell tobacco, cigarettes and chocolate bars and today he is earning about as much as he did before he lost his sight. He is one of the most self-respecting, independent men in the community, asking for favours from no one and actually holding his head up and carrying on as though nothing had happened. Isn't it far better to have him thus than standing on the street corner with a tin cup. That is what we, as trustees acting for society, are endeavouring to do for those who have been so unfortunate as to lose their sight.

Then, I think of another lad who, at the age of eleven, tried an experiment. He and his companion secured a stick of dynamite. As it turned out it was a very successful experiment. The -other lad was killed and this lad lost his sight, also his right arm. Now, ordinarily speaking, you would consider a chap who has last his sight pretty well a total loss so far as industry goes; or, if he has only lost an arm it is a pretty tough handicap, but the combination seems just about overwhelming. As a matter of fact that lad went through the Ontario School for the Blind and we picked him out and undertook to find a job. I must hand it to the Placement Department, they had had a lot of experience and they succeeded and as a result, any of you who attended or visited the Canadian National Exhibition last autumn and went into the Electrical and Engineering Building, inside of the Prince's Gate, if you went far enough to see the exhibit of the Canadian Institute for the Blind, you would have noticed a drill press being operated by a totally blind young man with his right arm off. He is a regular employee of the Ford factory at Windsor, earning wages equal to the experienced sighted men on similar machines on either side and, lest there should be any misapprehension, doing just as much work. In fact, the first year he came to the Exhibition he was being supplied with sufficient materials for a full eight hours of work. About two hours before closing time one day I went along and I found that his machine was idle and he was sitting down. I said, "What is the matter? Didn't the supplies come?" "O, yes." "Machine broken down?" "O, no, it's fine." "Tired?" "O, no." "Well, what has happened?" He said, "O, I just got through in six hours." I said, "As a matter of fact, this idle machine and you sitting idle doesn't mean anything to the people who come to see this exhibit. They ask too many questions. It will keep somebody else busy telling them why you aren't working. Now, after this you string it out." That is what he has done since.

Now, I could go on giving illustrations of what blind people can do, what they have done and what, particularly, they are doing today. Let me illustrate 'in another way the type of service we can give.

You realize as well as I do that all blind people don't live in the cities, they live on farms and out in villages. What can we do there? There are no industries there and we can't set up industries in every town and hamlet, so we send our teachers out in an effort, first, to train them to stand on their own feet. Let me give an illustration. A young woman with three small children lost her sight at the age of thirty-five. She was sitting helpless in her home, she felt that the whole bottom of the world had dropped out from underneath her and she had nothing to do but sit back and wonder what was happening to her family, and wishing all the time she was able to do the things necessary to be done for them. Our home teacher went and the first thing was to encourage the woman to stand on her own feet, to get around, the home in familiar surroundings and then to take an, interest in what was going on. In the finality, that women was taught to do her own housekeeping, to do her own cooking, to do her own sewing and mending and to look after her own children and, if she had any spare time, she was taught knitting and machine sewing, something she had never done before. If she still found any spare time there was our library service, our talking book service, our radio service and we might even help her to go to the theatre once in a while in the way of recreation. That is what we can do for the women in the country districts.

And for the man in the country district? Yes, there is something we can do, for him because I have seen men in the country districts who found they could keep so busy doing the chores around the barn, feeding the stock, milking, clearing stables, cutting wood, splitting and piling, carrying water, doing the hundred and one jobs that same one must do around every farm and in addition keeping gardens, that they didn't have any time to worry about their troubles.

In fact, I came across a rather good example of the ingenuity of a sightless person on a farm during the past summer. You remember, some of you, that it was quite warm last summer. Down in a certain district east of Toronto there were a number of people who had strawberry beds. Now, those who went at the things in the old fashioned way got up in the morning, had breakfast, and having done the few chores around the place, decided to go out and weed the strawberries. They got nicely started when the sun beat down altogether too hotly on their heads; they had to give up and go in the house where they moaned about the loss of their strawberry crop. Not so this young man, who also had a strawberry bed. He went out the first day and found it was as the others had found, too hot, so he went back and he went to bed. At night, after the sun went down he got up and went out and weeded his strawberries. In that way he overcame what seemed to be a bit of difficulty for the others. Now, I ask you, do blind people, after ally lack ingenuity?

Thus, we carry on with our services throughout the country. Now, we come to another point in this whole field of service and that is the question of those who are not capable of working. Well, you say, why shouldn't they be able to? Well, for one reason, some are past seventy years of age. We have now a system across Canada in each of the nine provinces, a system of old age pensions and these apply to blind persons just as to sighted persons where the individual is otherwise eligible. In addition to that we are still called on to render ameliorative services to those over seventy, through our library books, or through talking book machines which we assist them to get, and through the records which we stock in our library department and mail free of charge to them so they may secure the most modern books. As fast as we can secure the stocks they may borrow them and read them in this very modern way and with a great deal of pleasure.

Then, those under seventy. Well, many of you have heard of a condition or ailment, known as arthritis. In some cases arthritis in its severest form may cause blindness but you will realize that the crippling effects of arthritis are actually serious and when added to blindness it makes the individual practically incapable of performing any sustained work or work that calls for much effort.

Also, you have heard of certain types of kidney trouble and Bright's Disease, certain types of heart condition and these may, in certain instances, cause blindness. Diabetes may, in some instances, cause blindness. Certain types of head troubles, such as tumours on the brain, may cause blindness. Such conditions are responsible for disabilities and, in addition to blindness, makes the person unemployable and for such it becomes necessary for us to continue to give occupational services to develop their interest and keep them occupied, with possible earnings. We could never count on making them self-supporting. For that reason, fourteen years ago we approached the Government of Canada and had discussions with each of the Provincial Governments, with the result that after fourteen years of effort-educational, 'if you like-presenting all possible facts and logic coupled with statistics on blindness in Canada, and with records of condition, the number we have been able to re-establish, and showing the remaining group we could not help through employment to economic self-sufficiency, it has now been decided, or at least it is in process of being dealt with by the Dominion House of Commons, that pensions for the blind shall be made available to those persons between forty and seventy years of age who are blind within the meaning of the Act and who are eligible in other respects. Thus, this group of unemployed blind persons who are unemployable, are to be cared for in that way, but it still means that the Institute must continue to assist with ameliorative, training and occupational services so they may not become the victims of morbid despondency, since the pension at most will only be about $20 per month. They may, therefore, be enabled to supplement to some extent through their own earnings.

Now, I wish to touch briefly on another phase of this question. That is the prevention of blindness. You see, the world, according to our records, has had man living on it for at least a million years and all down through the ages wherever we can trace records at all, we find reference to blind people. At the present time there is something in excess of 2,000 millions of population in the world. There are also, according to the best records we can secure, over 3 millions of blind people. In Canada, we have a population, now approaching 11 million. We have a blind population of approximately 9,000. In other words, in Canada our average is about 1 to 1,200 of population. This same average is fairly constant throughout the English-speaking part of the British Empire. It now becomes our problem to consider for humanitarian, economic and other reasons, the prevention of blindness wherever possible. We have made some strides but we still have a long way to go. As one problem after another in connection with our services to the blind has been solved we have turned our attention increasingly to the prevention of blindness because, as I pointed out earlier, blindness in any case is a tragedy in any human life, apart from its effect on the economic capacity of the individual and on the community in general. Now that we have social legislation we feel we may reasonably hope for even greater co-operation from the state and from all other agencies as well as the public in general, in dealing with with we consider to be a most important question, that of prevention of blindness.

Now, Gentlemen, I feel I have taken sufficient of your time but just in conclusion, I do want to say this, that we have achieved certain progress in the last eighteen years in Canada, as against the thousands of years that went before and during which there was very little development in the way of services or consideration for the adult blind. Now, we have brought the problem very much to the fore. Now, that we can put our finger on it and we can define it, it seems to us we are in a much better position to not only solve the problem of blindness in so far as it is humanly possible for us to do, but that we must now accept the responsibility of attacking the question of saving sight. We know so much more about the subject now and the people of the country are beginning to realize. So I say at the moment, with our National Council and all our boards and committees and with all those thousands of men and women and, yes, younger people, that are taking an interest in this work, that we are now turning our faces forward, looking to the next few years in Canada, when we hope to develop a prevention of blindness service that will be second to none in the world. We, at the present time, within the British Empire, are working in the closest possible co-operation with all other parts of the Empire. We have splendid co-operation from our friends in the United States and through the International Association -for the Prevention of Blindness we are securing data from all parts of the world, but we have found it is necessary for us to develop our own programme designed to meet Canadian conditions and needs. If we can develop a successful programme here that will prevent practically all preventable blindness, then we wild have made a contribution not only to the life of Canada, but to the Empire and to the whole of the world. We have an efficient staff, the people of Canada are behind us and we hope, Gentlemen, that the next few years will tell a very important story in the life of our work, in the life of Canada, in the care of blind people and in the prevention of blindness.

Thank you. (Hearty applause.)

PRESIDENT: Captain Baker, may I, on behalf of all who have heard you today, express our thanks for this very fine exposition of the work being done for the blind in Canada under your leadership. If I might add anything to what you have said, Captain Baker, I would simply like to say that your work, while being an inspiration for the blind, is also an inspiration and a lesson in fortitude to those of us who have our physical faculties. I think we have all profited by this wonderful lesson you have given us today and I thank you very much.


Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

Canada's Place in Work for the Blind

Schools for the academic and technical education of the blind in Canada. History, development and purpose of The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, with a Dominion Charter secured in March, 1918. Details of services and programmes. The philosophy that blind people are normal human beings who have been handicapped by the loss of sight, but still with talents and if given opportunity for expression those talents may be usefully applied. Some illustrative examples and anecdotes. Helping and training people to become self-sufficient, with examples. Caring for those who cannot become self-sufficient. The prevention of blindness. Progress achieved in the last 18 years in Canada, as against the thousands of years that went before and during which there was very little development in the way of services or consideration for the adult blind. Co-operation within the Empire and with the United States for the prevention of blindness.