Prior to 1947, there was no system of supports in Canada or the United States for children with intellectual disabilities. At that time, children with an I.Q. less than 50 were not allowed to attend school. The only option provided was institutionalism.
Donald Frisby was a teacher at Queen Elizabeth Public School in Kirkland Lake and one of his responsibilities was to administer I.Q. tests and, by law, he was to exclude those who tested at less than 50. He found this very upsetting and became convinced that something had to be done.
A committee was formed and through persistence, the Premier of Ontario authorized an experimental class in Kirkland Lake with a grant of $10 per month per pupil. On April 14, 1947, the class opened in the basement of the Trinity Church.
Within a year, it was apparent that the idea had tremendous merit. Word had spread across Canada. Teachers were invited to speak of the successes they were experiencing and families from as far away as British Columbia and Nova Scotia were inquiring as to whether they could board their children in Kirkland Lake so they could attend school.
Over the next few years, the Ontario Association for Retarded Children was formed and 8 chartered organizations across Ontario had joined. Our organization became the ninth chartered member and in 1953, Kirkland Lake was able to send voting members to the first meeting of the Ontario Association for the Mentally Retarded in Toronto.
By 1958, it became apparent that the need was there to build a school. The goal was to raise roughly half of the $40 000 it was going to take to complete the project, with the remaining coming from various government grants.
Money was tight and fundraising was moving slowly when Bill King, Manager of CJKL and Lorne Butler, Publisher of the Northern News decided to spearhead the campaign. The stories hit the paper and the airwaves on a Monday morning and by Wednesday of the same week they had raised $35 000; surpassing what was required of the community.
Alpha School became a reality. The name “Alpha” was chosen because it means “first” in Greek. Now the newly formed Association had to find ways to fund their new school. Fundraising campaigns were endless and local service clubs were always there to lend a hand to ensure the teachers and custodians were paid.
By 1962, the provincial government took responsibility for the education of “trainable retarded” children and the Alpha School was sold to the Kirkland Lake Board of Education for $1. The school was now funded like any other elementary school.
Government regulations only permitted students to remain in school to the age of 18 so, in 1965, the first adult workshop was established in Kirkland Lake. An office building on the Wright Haregraves Mine property was donated and later, the Association moved to an office on the corner of Main and Queen Streets, close to Alpha School.
The Association quickly outgrew their accommodations and through another successful fundraising drive, a building was purchased on Government Rd. East and the Adult Rehabilitation Centre (ARC) was established. Over the next 10 years, ARC continued to grow and thrive through woodworking, book binding, ceramics as well as the packaging of Easter Seals until it was bursting at the seams. The need for a new, larger building was a reality and with steady government involvement, the new ARC Industries building was opened at 4 Tweedsmuir Road in 1980.
At the same time, the Association opened its first group home on First Street. This was a significant milestone, as barriers were broken down and the concept of social inclusion was planted in the community. A children’s residence was opened on Wright Haregraves Ave. in 1984 and 1986 saw the establishment of Supported Independent Living, a program where individuals reside in their own residences in the community and support is provided as needed.
In 1990, three new group homes were built on Third St., Wilson Ave., and Furlong Street. These homes would house the residents from Extendicare’s fourth floor, in accordance with the government’s plans to de-institutionalize individuals with an intellectual disability. An apartment complex was opened in 1991 with four two person apartments and 24 hour staffing.
In 1993, the ARC Industries program was closed after 28 years in Kirkland Lake. A new, Vocational Alternatives Program was implemented and supported individuals began to work in the community, participating in volunteer work as well as paid employment.
In 1997, Community Living Kirkland Lake Celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Our achievements were celebrated as we looked to the future.
Over the next 15 years, change continued. The First Street group home was closed and a building was leased at 11 Station Road. Residents moved in in 2005. The Community Living Skills (CLS) program was taken over from Northern College and eventually moved to our facility at 4 Tweedsmuir Road. It is now a day program with four full time staff who provide a mix of classes, outings and recreational activities to as many as 36 participants throughout the week. The Supported Employment Program was successful in assisting individuals to start their own yard care business and KL 4 Seasons Yard Care Cooperative was incorporated in 2000. Their business continues to thrive, cutting grass in the summer and shoveling snow in the winter. Our administration office found a permanent home in 2003 when TD Canada Trust donated their building at 51 Government Rd. W. to Community Living.
Community Living Kirkland Lake continues to evolve and grow, providing meaningful supports and services to the individuals we support and their families. The past 15 years have seen many changes but one thing remains unchanged; the level of support provided is always second to none. In 2011, we went through an accreditation process through Focus Accreditation. The agency scored 97% in this process and is now accredited through 2016.