photo montage of faces of CNIB founders

“We are no longer the timid and leaderless sheep we once were, but we have become conscious of ourselves and have measured our rights.”

Sherman Swift in letter to fellow CNIB founder Charles Dickson, 1916

It has been said that CNIB was not so much founded as it evolved. The fledgling national organization was an outgrowth of various schools for the blind, as well as the Canadian National Library for the Blind (today the CNIB Library), which counted all seven CNIB founders on its governing board. Many smaller organizations also merged with CNIB in the decades after it was founded.

Nevertheless, when CNIB was formally incorporated on March 30, 1918, there were very few supports or rehabilitation programs available to Canadians with vision loss. A lifetime of poverty, unemployment and dependency was almost guaranteed to people with vision loss. Two defining moments in Canada’s history (the Halifax Explosion and WWI, both of which caused many Canadians to lose their vision), only served to underscore the growing need for an organization that could offer a better way forward.

Into this void stepped CNIB’s founders (five blind, two sighted, all men). Among them were a solicitor, two doctors, an electrical engineer, an insurance professional, an accomplished fundraiser and a librarian who spoke seven languages. All were passionate about the rights of people with vision loss and believed strongly that Canadians without sight should be able to shape their own destiny and speak for themselves and be heard.