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Ottawa-Carleton Association for

Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD)
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A Timeline

The beginning

Ann Smith moved to Canada with her two children to meet her husband who had immigrated to Canada for work. The family moved to Ottawa in 1958 when their daughter was just set to start school.

Mary, then five-years-old,  had shown signs of being developmentally disabled soon after birth. Ann’s husband had gone ahead to Ottawa and found out that a woman named Mrs. Kehoe started a school for children with disabilities only a few months earlier. Mrs. Kehoe’s own daughter had Down’s Syndrome and she wasn’t keen on placing her in an institution.

“School” might be too ambitious of a term. Mrs. Kehoe had started teaching in a rented classroom of an old public school on Kent St and, by all accounts, was doing incredible work. Having already had experiences with institutions, Ann was pleased to have somewhere for Mary to be educated.

Mary did eventually move to the Rideau Regional Hospital School—then the Smiths Falls Institution. The “hospital school” could provide an education more suited to Mary’s level. With an IQ of 50, she was considered highly educable, and as all parents do, her parents simply wanted to find her the best fit.

Ann kept working with Mrs. Kehoe and other parents at the classroom and with much support from local charities, they were proud to announce the opening of the Brighthope School on Feb. 21, 1962 on Rosenthal Ave. The building remains a part of the agency now where day programs are run.

The Ottawa District Association for the Mentally Retarded grew from there.

Thank you, Mr. Kennedy

The early 1960s was an interesting time for developmental disabilities. John F. Kennedy was running for president of the United States of America, and won the election in 1961. The Kennedy family was huge and JFK’s oldest sister, Rosemary, was developmentally disabled. Suddenly, disabilities and institutions were at the forefront of media outlets across the world, and governments were responding. Canada was no exception.

The agency’s official start is in 1964 with ODAMR’s Residential Care Committee, resolving to develop community residences, and assist in improving the conditions for patients and staff in institutions.

The Moffat House opened in 1965 and soon legislation for the developmentally disabled allowed ODAMR to take over residential operation of two institutions. With staff and parents applying more pressure, the National Capital Commission gave the agency a long-term lease of Silver Spring Farm in 1967 and agreed to the construction of additional residences.

Moffat House

The Moffat house is now a historical site in Ottawa.

In 1970 the Charette and Campbell houses opened with requests for admission exceeding the new capacity and by the next year, ODAMR committed to exploring every means possible to expand residential services.

The 1970s marks a time of growth for disability services across the board—financed by the community, the agency established downtown group homes, grows residential care through provincial funding, and adopts official plans for community service development.


Rideau repatriation

In part, this growth in the '70s is due to the governmental and administrational support of returning residents from the Rideau Regional institution back into the Ottawa-Carleton community. While the institution worked well for some, many cases of abuse and mistreatment have since come to light and there was a clear need to relocate people.

But the Rideau repatriation didn’t work for everyone. For some, the institution was the only home they’d known. Some of them didn’t have family backing them, others needed kinds of support that agencies weren’t prepared to give. At first, leaving the institutions started on a voluntary basis for those who didn’t want to be there, but soon the institutions would be empty.

Government support came in the form of funding grants to organizations like ODAMR who developed unique ways to accommodate all of the new clients and their needs. These included group homes, apartment-style residences, and different levels of support. While some clients needed around-the-clock care, others needed support in their daily lives but could work with some independence. The innovation that took place in these years paved the way for services today.

The Name Changer

The word “retarded” tends to make your ears perk up and leave a bad taste in your mouth. While it is technically a medical word, it usually graces someone’s lips as an insult and the only use it sees now is pejorative. The social alignment is such that while this prayer card is quite earnest and sweet, the language is a little abrasive.

A prayer card from the 1950s. 

But it doesn’t change the meaning of anything. Simply, it’s just a different word.

Yet the name change from the Ottawa and District Association for the Mentally Retarded to the Ottawa Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities was fraught with argument and years of debate.

As the word “retarded” became less and less socially acceptable to describe people with developmental disabilities, the provincial organization took to the term “community living” and with it, a new idea of what support meant.

The Ontario Association for Community Living wanted ODAMR to follow in its footsteps and nix the term “retarded” from it’s vocabulary. But the change sat heavy with the agency. Community living represented an idea the agency was moving against. In fact, the agency is no longer apart of this provincial organization at all. It also wasn’t as clear-cut as “retarded.” Make no qualms about it, “retarded” is clear in its meaning. But the connotations of the word were changing and many of the staff weren’t comfortable with the word anymore.

Then-president Rob Kirwan motioned for the name change during a general meeting—one he said he remembers as though it was yesterday. The tensions ran high and the in the end, the current name stands as a sort of compromise. It wouldn’t include “community living” but it also left out “retarded.”

“Developmental disabilities” in a lot of ways was a good turn because it’s the term now most commonly used. But the mouthful of a name still rubs some people the wrong way. Definitions of what is and isn’t a developmental disability isn’t commonly known and with terms like “intellectually disability” or “mental disability,” the whole thing can be confusing. Some worry the name change made the purpose of the agency unclear and doesn’t command the same care or respect in charity as “retarded” does.

But one thing is for sure. Much like the prayer card, the words are important but none of it means nearly as much as the care and support that goes into it.

The Harris Hell

It sounds dramatic, but the anger that premier Mike Harris incited in parents during his reign was far from. Mike Harris was the premier of Ontario from 1995 - 2002, during the “Common Sense Revolution” of the Progressive Conservative party. But it wasn’t common sense for the families affected by Harris’ changes and clawbacks.

Harris’ main act in disabilities was “Making Services Work for People” which, if you talk to most parents at the time, was the exact opposite of what it did. The legislation was made without consultation of the public involved with developmental disability services, and for an active group rooted in parent activism, this did not sit well. The cuts proposed weren’t going to cover the services needed and would leave an already vulnerable population even more at risk.

So, as they always did, parents hit the streets. The letter-wrote, they signed petitions, they demanded more of Queen’s Park, and they rallied at city hall. The Parents Group put together a comprehensive book for the provincial government of their rallies, protests, newspaper clippings, and needs for supports. They would not be ignored. And though many social services across the board are still clamouring to recover from the Harris days, no one ever stopped fighting.

What now?

Still coming off of an economic recession, Canada is going through another conservative spending turn. Funding is tight and waitlists are long. There just isn't enough resources to go around for everyone who needs them.

But the agency is still flourishing. The volunteer program is expanding. The farm is still operating as a residence and the garlic harvest is more popular than ever. Seen as a best practice organization, OCAPDD consolidated Open Hands in Cornwall and revamped the services there to now include seven up-to-standard residences. The agency now includes 14 homes and 25 programs in Ottawa. The shift in services has gone from "mom knows best" to working with clients, to now "person-directed" services so clients can have a say in their lives. OCAPDD is spearheading a campaign to ensure services are accessible to everyone who needs them. The parents and social workers have no plans to stop fighting for the rights of persons with developmental disabilities and will keep up the roots of activism that grounds the organization.

Awards, Fundraising and Social Events:

OCAPDD's 21st Annual Charity Golf Tournament
Jun 19 2023

Current Issues and Topics:

OASIS Bill 148 Submissions

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