Historical Timeline

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Our founding: 1918

Cover of CNIB's first annual report, 1919 The story of CNIB begins in 1918. At that time, a person living with blindness was almost certainly destined for a life of poverty. With braille books being a rare commodity even after almost a hundred years since the tactile code was invented, opportunities for education for the blind were few and far between. What's more, there were no organized social services to speak of for blind Canadians.CNIB founders at banquet 1918

At the same time, Canada was facing an increase in blindness as veterans returned from WWI, having lost their vision in battle; as well as the Halifax explosion of 1917, which left some 850 people fully or partially blind.

That's why in 1918, a group of seven Canadian men– five of whom were blind – founded CNIB to meet the demand for support for blind Canadians, particularly veterans.

Early years

Blind individuals weaving baskets circa 1920s From the start CNIB had a wide-reaching mandate that comprised residential and employment programs, advocacy work, blindness prevention and the CNIB Library, which remains the largest library collection for blind Canadians to this day.

CNIB cafeteria workers circa 1940s Creating employment opportunities was a high priority for the organization from the very beginning. In the 1920s, CNIB developed a job placement service which was one of the first for the blind in North America. The organization also established industrial manufacturing centres across Canada for blind people to make brooms and do manual tasks like industrial sewing. Although the work required only a small amount of training, it was revolutionary for blind Canadians, whose employment rates rose significantly during this period for the first time.

Steadily, as CNIB's reach expanded to regions across the country, the organization's client base grew to include not only veterans, but civilian Canadians who were blind or partially sighted.


Man uses talking book machine circa 1950s Fast-forward to the 1950s and CNIB had become the largest private not-for-profit charitable organization of its kind in the world – surpassing even the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) in England – and served more than 17,000 blind Canadians from CNIB locations nationwide.

Band featuring blind musicians circa 1950s While CNIB now began to take its place on the cutting edge of assistive technologies for blind Canadians (beginning with its landmark computer software education program of 1956), with changing attitudes and opportunities for blind persons by the 1980s, CNIB began to question the relevance of many of its founding programs and activities. Providing services which "cared for" CNIB clients. As such, residential accommodation and private employment programs began to give way to an empowerment approach toward independence in to the community.

Late 20th century

Stevie Wonder and CNIB staff at formal event circa 1990s The new CNIB of the 1980s, '90s and '00s sought to help Canadians with vision loss maintain independence, enjoy a good quality of life and succeed in just about every career – with programs such as white cane training, computer courses and career coaching. Meanwhile, advocacy continued to be a pillar of programming – as well as research into medical treatments that could improve sight or prevent vision loss.


Child sits on floor smiling circa 2000s

As we approach our centenary in 2018, we are excited to step forward into a new era for CNIB and Canada's blind community with our new strategic plan, The Path to Change: a bold, ambitious plan that aims to create a future in which every Canadian receives the essential post-vision loss rehabilitation services they need to thrive – not through charitable dollars, but through the health care continuum.

When this rehabilitation therapy is finally integrated into Canada's health care continuum through The Path to Change, CNIB will be able to free our resources to focus on our urgently needed charitable services – like career empowerment, technology training and recreation communities.​​