It was a chance meeting after a home and school meeting at Codrington School. It was 1953. Eileen Hankin was a young mom with a brood of little ones and like most young moms in the 50’s, she helped out at school.
The family lived on Blake St and Eileen walked home with another mom from the meeting. They ‘got to talking’ (as the saying goes) about some of the children with intellectual deficiencies… the kids who couldn’t keep up. There were no fancy words in the 50’s for kids who had trouble in school. And there was no system to help them. They just lagged along, with kindly teachers overseeing simpler work and including them in class activities to the best of their abilities. Those who were really handicapped just stayed home.
‘Learning disabilities’ didn’t exist then, as a description. Neither did words like ‘attention deficit’, ‘intellectually handicapped.’ The country was bursting at the seams with children now that dads had come home from World War Two. The nation’s attention had been focussed on the depression of the 30’s and then war of the 40’s. Kids were about to emerge in the 50’s.
Some people talk about things and part ways and go along.
And some people don’t. Somehow, Eileen Hankin and her new friend were the type who don’t go along. They put an ad in the local paper asking for interested people to meet at Barrie Public Library, anyone interested in developing services with children with ‘deficiencies.’
And people came to that meeting. Mostly parents of kids who needed a special kind of attention. Service clubs came out too, offering support.
In 1953 Eileen launched the Barrie & District Association for the Mentally Retarded and the first board of directors opened its first school at the newly vacated King George School on Blake St. [Today it is Parkview Centre for Seniors]. Betty Hardy was the teacher. The association rented the school from the school board for $1 a year. The school opened with 7 students who came every morning. The elementary school aged kids now had a place.
Eileen turned her attentions elsewhere. Within five years, she and other association members visited the country’s two sheleted workshops in Ottawa and Toronto. Barrie was to be the country’s third location. The Association begged money from local service clubs and Eileen went around to businesses looking for ‘work’ the Sheltered Workshop could subcontract. Purpose? To set up a business and train people with handicaps how to work, learn, socialize, and get paid. It was a novel concept for the 50’s.
Barrie’s first workshop opened on a third floor walkup overtop of the arcade store on Dunlop St East. Chairman was Jim Lowe, a law enforcer, whose son was handicapped. The workshop got contracts from DeVilbiss and Lufkin Rule to do packaging. They got quite a few contracts producing service club newsletters and while staff ran the gestetner machine, workers folded, stamped, licked and stuffed envelopes. They did the Lions Club newsletter, the Horticultural Society’s Garden Gate, the Numismatic Society’s newsletter.
The special adults were getting to be job ready.
The Sheltered Workshop moved from its third floor downtown to a location inside Cundles Heights Public School, a spanking new school on the newly developed Cundles Dr. From there, it moved to 1 Berczy St, a century home which is now an inn, and daily 13 adults came to work. Burned out of that location, Eileen stayed focussed on the dream, raising money, coaxing funds from government until a brand new Sheltered Workshop was opened at 175 Bayfield St in 1973. Once into the new facilities, even more subcontract work came along… baseballs from the John St factory, packaging for Canplas, Lufkin and DeVilbiss, and snowbabies from leather with little knitted red & white toques for Barrie Winter Carnival. It was managed by Eileen Hankin. It was her first salaried position. $25 a week.
While the workshop was up and functioning, Eileen turned her attention to the wee ones, and a preschool nursery started in 1964. Central United Church offered its basement and Sunny Park Nursery School offered fabulous socialization to kids who were marginalized by their disabilities. Sunny Park grew in the 70’s to take over an entire church at Cook and Steel and in fact services remain there today.
And now that toddlers and school kids and adults had places to go and things to do… where would they live?
Eileen was conscious of the fact that aging adult children would eventually not have their parents and she pushed tirelessly for a residence for intellectually handicapped people. Progress House opened at 72 Mary St in 1973. The Foundation bought the building and gave it to the association. It’s still in use today. It houses eight people. Eileen was 60. She and husband Ernie moved in to Progress House where they lived all week long, caring for and teaching and encouraging independence among their residents. On the weekends, staff took over and they moved out to a little cottage they’d bought in Oro Township. But come Sunday night, they’d be back.
In the earliest days there was no government funding and it was celebration indeed when the United Appeal accepted the Barrie Association as one of its fundable charities during its early campaigns.
Without the United Appeal, the efforts of Eileen and a team of caring parents would have taken much longer to achieve. Slowly support came from the Ministry of Community & Social Services but it took years of agitation by parents and community leaders to have a special group of people recognized.
The Sheltered Workshop closed in 1990 as the ministry decided it shouldn’t fund working programs, that its people should work in the community integrated with job coaches.
For four decades, Eileen kept her focus, maintaining her work at Progress House and other emerging residences. She had a purpose and she involved her husband, Ernie, and her five kids in every aspect of her commitment. She had a lot of energy but she never seemed to be in a rush… always calm, always concentrated. Like all organizations, the Barrie Association went through incredible change and Eileen’s energy and vision were taken in a different direction by others…
But her dream survived. Eileen died this past August, nearly 93 years old. She’d enjoyed times with her three daughters and an annual reunion with her two sons. Her beloved Ernie died 18 years ago. She lived with her daughter Carol and then at IOOF Home until heart failure took her this summer.
And what is Eileen Hankin’s legacy… this calm, diminutive, red-haired, determined visionary?
Well, today, the Barrie & District Association is now called Community Living. There are over 500 stuaff with 34 residential homes and 8 administration and program sites. The association serves 2,721 clients and does 38,000 child visits and 27,000 adult visits in early years centres and satellite offices. And Eileen’s final stage of development–the one she didn’t get to work on–is the seniors home on Shanty Bay Rd. O’Brien House provides home for those over aged 65.
How many programs have resulted from Eileen’s original intent? Well… adult day, foundations transitional, adult residential, family homes, supportive independent living, family support, family relief, residential respite, housing services, infant development, youth programs and preschool services… now that’s a legacy!
All this from a young mother not content to have a chat and just go along.