An Extraordinary Journey
Revolutionary is not too strong a word to describe the impact our founders have had on those with spinal cord injury. Most soldiers who sustained an SCI prior to 1945 did not make it home. And of those who did, only 10 per cent lived longer than a year. Our founders envisioned a better, healthier, more inclusive life for people with spinal cord injury and set out to make it so. We are honoured to carry forth that tradition every day in Ontario, as we work for and with people with SCI to live the life they choose.
A Brief History
Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO) is part of a network of autonomous SCI organizations across the country that grew out of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, founded in 1945 by a group of Second World War veterans with spinal cord injury. With a low life expectancy after injury and facing a pervasive societal belief that those with a disability belonged in a hospital or institution for life, these veterans began advocating for improved services and assistive devices.
Headed by founder John Counsell, who fought and was injured at Dieppe, we partnered with medical leaders in SCI and the newly established Department of Veteran Affairs to establish Lyndhurst Lodge, a community-based rehab centre located on Lyndhurst Avenue in Toronto. (Read a summary of the role founder Al Jousse played in the establishment of Lyndhurst.) Counsell then brought the first folding, self-propelled wheelchair to Canada causing a revolution in mobility. (In fact he ordered 150 chairs from California-based Everest & Jennings and, thanks to Board member Conn Smythe, stored them in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.)
Other founders who worked with John Counsell, Al Jousse and Conn Smythe were Ken Langford, Andy Clark and LM Wood. (We’ve honoured our founders in a number of ways – our Builder Award, the Ken Langford Room at our admin offices and the Jousse Langford Society, whose members have identified SCIO as a beneficiary in their will.)
Over the next few decades, equipment innovations, strong advocacy and improvements in rehabilitation advanced the rights and living conditions of people with SCI. in 1974, Lyndhurst Lodge was left behind and Lyndhurst Centre opened on Sutherland Drive, the first and only hospital in Canada for the rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord injury. It was regarded as a model for the nation and the world. Today, the site is part of the University Health Network’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and home to SCIO’s administrative offices.
The 1980s and 90s saw advances in employment, housing access and attendant services in the Toronto Region, with SCIO actively engaged in all initiatives and offering its own programming at the Lyndhurst Centre, one of five Toronto Rehab sites. Rick Hansen launched the “Man in Motion Tour” in 1985 with our support, drawing much needed attention to spinal cord injury. And in 1996, the first pilot Wheelchair Relay Challenge was organized in Ottawa. Wheelchair Relay Challenges were SCIO’s signature fundraising events for many years.
Expansion in Ontario
After completing an aggressive expansion of spinal cord injury programs and services in 1999 across the province, we ushered in an era of ever-increasing supports, services and resources for the SCI community.
- Launching a Peer Support Program to assist people with new injuries transition through stages.
- Establishing an annual conference to introduce the latest research advances and educate the medical and lay communities, now called the Spinal Cord Injury Conference.
- Establishing a Postdoctoral Fellowship on spinal cord research at Toronto Rehab/University of Toronto.
- Adding more offices to expand services across Ontario.
- Opening the SCI Resource Centre in the Lyndhurst Centre, a joint initiative with Toronto Rehab.
- Establishing the Aboriginal/First Nations Strategy, expanding programs and services to Northwest Ontario and to the Six Nations Reserve.
- Winning several Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards from the Queen’s Centre for Governance at Queen’s University and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario.
- Partnering with RARE Theatre Company and Soulpepper Theatre to bring Borne, a play about living with spinal cord injury, to the Young Centre for Performing Arts.
- SCIO was part of a coalition of organizations that fought to pass Bill C-81, An Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada, It received Royal Assent in the Senate on June 21, 2019, an historic milestone that should improve accessibility for all Canadians.
We are proud of our history and long track record of providing people living with SCI and other physical disabilities the specialized programs and services they need to conquer barriers to independence. And we couldn’t do it without you. If you are inclined to continue our culture of philanthropy with a donation, please visit our Giving pages.