In the Beginning
The formation of Easter Seals Ontario can be traced back to November 28, 1922, when 10 representatives from seven Rotary Clubs (Hamilton, Windsor, Kitchener, Chatham, Toronto, Stratford and London) met in Windsor, Ontario to discuss the inadequate resources and support available for the province’s children with physical disabilities. Recognizing a need for action, they formed the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, inspired by the American organization of the same name, which had been recently created by Ohio businessman, Edgar Allen. Present at the meeting were Arthur FitzGerald, president of the Windsor Rotary Club, Dr. David Smith, Stratford; Alex Martin, Kitchener; Phil Coate, Chatham; R.L. Stratton, London; John Gibson, Toronto; Dr. G.C. Clegg, London; Harry Lovering, Hamilton; and a few additional representatives of the Windsor club.
Some of Easter Seals’ early goals were treatment for children with physical disabilities and public awareness. During “Health Week” in 1931, Easter Seals launched its first public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis. Easter Seals would continue to conduct public awareness campaigns on a variety of relevant topics in years to come.
In 1934, Easter Seals initiated its first public fundraising initiative, held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Although the organizers were highly enthusiastic, the 500 guests failed to meet the revenue target. Fortunately, enough money was raised to hire Easter Seals’ first full-time District Nurse, Gretta Ross. This allowed Easter Seals to expand its services and improve treatment of the children in its care.
The Ontario Government turned to Easter Seals in 1937 for expert assistance following a devastating poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak. In the same year, Easter Seals opened the first Canadian camp for children with physical disabilities. Fifty-five percent of the children who attended the camp that summer had polio.
In 1947, the first Easter Seals’ mail campaign was introduced in Ontario, with the goal of raising $150,000. The same year, the first March is Easter Seals Month campaign was launched including the annual presentation of official seals to the Prime Minister.
Lynn Berry was chosen as the first “Timmy” to represent all children with physical disabilities. The concept of “Timmy” was borrowed from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Timmy is depicted as child with a physical disability who has indomitable spirit. In 1979, Nadia de Franco of Toronto was chosen to be the first “Tammy.”
In 1952, Easter Seals fundraising efforts were given a lift thanks to several prominent Canadian sports figures. Champion wrestler “Whipper” Billy Watson began raising awareness and dollars through innovative fundraising activities that continue to this day such as Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids. This also marked the year that a group of sports writers introduced what is now know as the Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction.
In a plan to bring health and happiness to more children with physical disabilities, Easter Seals opened the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre, now known as Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, on May 16, 1962. It was considered the most outstanding treatment centre for children with physical disabilities in the world.
Easter Seals Camps
Easter Seals has provided fully accessible summer camping programs for children with physical disabilities since 1937. In 2002, Easter Seals launched the Recreational Choices Funding Program.
In October 1936, a member of the Crippled Children’s Committee of the Rotary Club of Toronto, Gordon Leitch, telephoned the Executive Secretary to ask if the Society would be interested in having a camp. For several years, Mr. Leitch had taken small groups of children with physical disabilities for trips on his grain boats to the head of the lakes. He was fearful that there might be an accident, especially while loading and unloading the children. He had discussed the camp proposition with the Collingwood grain elevator operator who said that he had a site in mind. The Executive Secretary made a trip to Collingwood, who along with Norman Boadway, went to a site west of the town on the shore of Georgian Bay, under the shadow of the Blue Mountain. Mr. Leicht bought the site, put up buildings and got his friends to assist in furnishing and supplying the camp. The architect, Abe Wilson, donated his work. The first Easter Seals camp in Ontario, Blue Mountain Camp, was opened on July 4, 1937.
In 1946, with funds from the lean wartime years, Easter Seals acquired property in Komoka, near London, that would soon be known as Easter Seals Camp Woodeden, named for the former owner Frank Wood. In its early years, Woodeden would be the first residential treatment centre in Canada for children with cerebral palsy.
In 1948, Merrywood Camp, on Big Rideau Lake in eastern Ontario near Perth, began as a camp for kids with polio. Only six campers attended in the first year.
Ohio businessman, Edgar Allen, recognized the need for specialized care for children with disabilities in the early 1920s. Having lost his son in a car accident, Mr. Allen felt better resources could help prevent the deaths of other children. With the help of his Rotary Club, he built a special facility where children could receive medical assessment and treatment, but to his surprise, he soon found it was seldom used.
He discovered parents kept their children with disabilities at home because of the large expenses involved in treatment. This inspired him, with the help of other Rotary Clubs in nearby communities, to create the Ohio Society for Crippled Children. They forged relationships with hospitals and people with disabilities to ensure vital services went to those who needed it, regardless of their finances. In Canada, this pioneering organization became what is now known as Easter Seals Ontario.
Easter Seals Ontario would not exist were it not for the dedication of Rotary Club members. Starting in Chicago in 1905 as a fraternal organization of businessmen (women were welcomed as members much later), Rotary required that its members devote their personal resources of time, energy and money to the betterment of their communities. When Edgar Allen heard about the lack of resources for children with physical disabilities in Ontario, he suggested the Rotary Clubs of South Western Ontario meet in Windsor to discuss the issue.
The members were able to use their business and professional skills to benefit Easter Seals. For example, members of the Rotary Club of Toronto spoke with leading physicians and surgeons at the Hospital for Sick Children to pave the way for Easter Seals kids to be admitted to clinics and services. This began a relationship of mutual respect and trust between Easter Seals and the hospital. By 1926, Easter Seals expanded to include Lions and Kiwanis clubs as members, followed in later years by Kinsmen, Optimist, Canadian Royal Legion branches and other community service organizations.
Public awareness has always been an important goal for Easter Seals. During “Health Week” in 1931, Easter Seals launched a public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis, a major threat to children.
In 1977, Easter Seals joined with other organizations in a public awareness campaign to encourage Ontario residents to sign consent forms for the donation of specific organs at time of death. Print advertising was also created, urging women who were about to become pregnant to be checked for immunity against rubella, and to caution against the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco during pregnancy.
In 2002, Easter Seals sponsored a province-wide public awareness campaign targeted at women of childbearing years, communicating the importance of folic acid in preventing neural tube birth defects.
Easter Seals was the first organization to employ nurses to carry services into the home. In 1934, a fundraiser was launched resulting in the first full-time district nurse, Miss Gretta Ross. Her first posting was to London where an office was provided in the War Memorial Children’s Hospital. During a devastating polio outbreak in 1937, many expenses fell on Easter Seals. At the request of the provincial Department of Health, Easter Seals employed six nurses temporarily for follow-up care. An office was provided in the polio hospital, where May McAdam of Easter Seals arranged transportation of children in and out of the hospital using service club volunteer drivers. After the epidemic, it became clear that Easter Seals had to expand its services and employ more nurses.
In 1904, a children’s hospital was needed in Copenhagen, Denmark. A local postal clerk wondered if postage stamps, which were designed to decorate Christmas letters and parcels, could be sold to finance building of the hospital. The Danish royal family loved the idea and that year, the first Christmas ‘seals’ were sold with remarkable success. A Danish social worker in New York received a package from home bearing the Christmas ‘seal’ and decided a similar label could be sold to raise funds in the U.S.
The ‘seals’ were adopted by a small tuberculosis hospital in Delaware and were used in 1907, raising $3,000. In the summer of 1933, The U.S. Easter Seal Society’s President, Paul H. King, suggested a similar campaign to raise funds for his growing organization.
Easter ‘seals’ were first used in the U.S. in 1934, and in 1947 were introduce in Ontario. The campaign proved to be a resounding success, resulting in $138,396 raised. Later that year, March was dubbed March is Easter Seals Month and included the annual presentation of official ‘seals’ to the Prime Minister. In 1962, sales of Easter ‘seals’ exceeded $1 million for the first time!
Easter Seals Ontario has been very fortunate to have the support of many Canadian sports and broadcast celebrities. One major contributor was hockey-legend Conn Smythe, who built Maple Leafs Gardens in 1931, and coached, managed and owned the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In 1947, Conn Smythe made Maple Leaf Gardens available for the Easter Parade of Stars, generating much awareness for the new Easter Seals’ direct mail campaign. The event played to a large live audience at the Gardens and reached a large listening audience through radio, and later television.
In 1952, Mr. Smythe created the annual Sports Celebrities Dinner to benefit Easter Seals, which has become one of the most successful events of its kind in North America. In 1976, the Conn Smythe Research Foundation (renamed Easter Seal Research Institute in 1985) was established. This was the first organization in Ontario devoted exclusively to research prevention, treatment and management of physical disabilities in children and young adults.
In 2003, Easter Seals formed a partnership with McMaster University’s CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research. Projects supported by Easter Seals grant include the development of a youth kit, and research on how to best assist parents whose children are waiting for therapy.
“Whipper” Billy Watson
The history of Easter Seals would not be complete without mentioning the enormous support of “Whipper” Billy Watson, Canada’s leading wrestler from the 1940s to the 1960s. Watson was an essential figure in Easter Seals’ fundraising efforts, most notably establishing Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids in 1975, an event that involves snowmobile riding in local communities.
Treatment and Rehabilitation
In 1952, a report to Easter Seal’s Board of Directors suggested building an institution devoted to “bringing health and happiness” to children with physical disabilities. Ten years later, the most outstanding facility for treatment and rehabilitation was created. Originally, the centre was to be a department within Easter Seals but, to qualify for government health grants, it was necessary for it to be established as a separate medical institution with its own corporate structure, bylaws and Board of Trustees. However, the two organizations remained strongly linked.
In 1984, the centre became “The Hugh MacMillan Medical Centre”, as a tribute to the late Dr. Hugh MacMillan, Assistant Medical Director of the centre who was an important role model for others with physical disabilities. In 1996, the centre voluntarily merged with Bloorview Children’s Hospital, bringing together more than 130 years of combined experience in service to children and families. The centre is now called Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
Timeline of Easter Seals Ontario
|1922||November 28, 1922, Windsor, ON, representatives from ten area Rotary Clubs form the Ontario Society for Crippled Children.|
|1928||Easter Seals hires its first employee, Reg Hopper, as Executive Secretary.|
|1930||The organization is incorporated as the Ontario Society for Crippled Children|
|1931||Easter Seals launches a public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent tuberculosis.|
|1934||Easter Seals launched its first public fundraising appeal held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.|
|1934||Easter Seals hires its first full-time District Nurse.|
|1937||Easter Seals opens Blue Mountain Camp, the first Canadian camp for children with disabilities.|
|1946||Woodeden Camp opens, just outside of London.|
|1947||The first Easter Seals mail campaign was introduced in Ontario, with the goal of raising $150,000. March was dubbed March is Easter Seals Month.|
|1947||Easter Seals initiates an ambassador program, with Lynn Berry selected as the first provincial “Timmy” to represent all children with physical disabilities.|
|1948||Merrywood Camp opens in eastern Ontario near Perth.|
|1952||The first Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction, a fundraiser founded by the Ontario Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association is held in Toronto.|
|1954||Northwood Camp near Kirkland Lake, and Lakewood Camp on Lake Erie open.|
|1962||Ontario Centre for Crippled Children opens. This centre is now part of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital.|
|1973||Easter Seals partnered with Hospital for Sick Children to launch “Track Three Skiing”, the first downhill skiing classes of kids with physical disabilities.|
|1975||Whipper Billy Watson hosts the first Snowarama events in 12 communities throughout Ontario, raising a total of $130,000 in its first year.|
|1978||Easter Seals is instrumental in establishing a network of children’s treatment centres throughout the province and creating a formal alliance, now known as Ontario Association of Children’s Rehabilitation Services (OACRS).|
|1979||Nadia de Franco selected as the first female child (“Tammy”) to represent Easter Seals kids.|
|1981||The Ontario Society for Crippled Children officially changed its name to the Easter Seal Society, Ontario.|
|1982||Easter Seals launched “Head First” and “Be Bike Smart” public awareness campaign, becoming the first organization to focus on bike safety and helmet use.|
|1984||Easter Seals adopts the annual naming of both a “Timmy” and a “Tammy” to represent children with physical disabilities.|
|2000||Timmy and Tammy” program renamed Easter Seals Provincial Ambassador Program.|
|2000||A network of grassroots volunteers known as District Councils is formed in communities across the province.|
|2001||On January 30, Easter Seals received the Conference Board of Canada/Spencer Stuart National Award in Governance for demonstrating innovative and successful application of leading private sector business practices to traditional charity governance.|
|2002||“Recreational Choices Funding Program” was implemented to offer funding for Easter Seals kids to attend other camps and recreation programs of their choice.|
|2002||Easter Seals sponsors a public education campaign promoting the importance of Folic Acid.|
|2003||Leaders of Tomorrow program initiated for youth and young adults to promote independence through leadership and community involvement.|
|2004||Easter Seals invests over $4 million to revitalize camper cabins and swimming facilities at Camp Woodeden and Camp Merrywood.|
|2005||GEAR UP program introduced to help young adults transition to adulthood.|
|2008||Easter Seals adopts “national” branding standards and changes name to Easter Seals Ontario|
|2008||Libro Challenge Course for Easter Seals Kids – The high ropes course expansion at Camp Woodeden added 8 new activities, including a zip line, doubling the activities specifically designed for kids with physical disabilities, and making it the largest in North America.|
|2011||The new Bruce Power Recreation Centre and indoor gymnasium opens at Camp Woodeden, which includes the Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson Performing Arts Centre, an indoor rock climbing wall, a life-skills kitchen and program rooms.|
|2013||A new covered sports pad, complete with lighting and a washroom facility, opened at Camp Merrywood, thanks to support from a generous group of donors.|
|2017||Easter Seals Ontario celebrates it’s 95th anniversary of serving children and youth with physical disabilities.|
|Thanks to our generous donors, Easter Seals Ontario continues to offer programs that allow children with physical disabilities kids to experience freedom, independence and a sense of accomplishment. For families, Easter Seals is somewhere to turn for help when they need it.|