How a group of dedicated women helped change what it is to be blind in PEI over the last 80 years


On November 16, 1937, the following notice appeared in The Guardian newspaper in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island:

In co-operation with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, there will be a meeting held in the Canadian National Hotel, Charlottetown on Tuesday (tomorrow) afternoon at 3 o’clock. All ladies interested in this worthy cause are invited to attend promptly.

The next day, 20 women attended a meeting to form the Charlottetown Women’s Auxiliary of the CNIB under the leadership of Mrs. W.J.P. MacMillan.

Over the next few years, members of the Women's Auxiliary located Islanders who were blind or partially sighted, visiting them in hospital or at their homes. They purchased milk, groceries, clothing, cigarettes and even paid coal bills for those in need.

Little by little, the women were making a profound difference in the lives of Islanders who were blind or partially sighted.

The Women's Auxiliary reported back to CNIB the names of individuals with vision loss who were living in PEI and notified authorities about those who were eligible to receive pensions – and ensured they received their cheques. They also inquired about outstanding bills owed to hospitals by patients with vision loss and paid their bills.

By 1953, there were eight Women's Auxiliaries in the Maritime provinces – with Prince Edward Island being the most active.

By the 1960s and 1970s, the role of the Women's Auxiliary was changing. With the exception of visiting patients in hospital, the ladies were spending less time with clients to focus their attention on hosting more events for CNIB, including social get-togethers, bowling, banquets, summer picnics and Christmas parties including gifts.

In the 1990s, the Women's Auxiliary had only six members but they were determined to move forward. Over the next few years they continued to recruit new membersto help with their mission.

Today there are 16 members with the longest running member being Gwen Taylor with 35 years of service.

They still raise funds through bake sales, fudge sales, basket raffles, bring and buy sales and many other ways.

Each year, they donate the funds they raise back to CNIB for the purchase of white canes and victor readers, which allow CNIB clients to travel independently in their communities and to be able to rediscover the joys of reading.

Now marking their 80th anniversary, the Women's Auxiliary of the CNIB in Prince Edward Island is the last remaining one of its kind in Canada.

The Women's Auxiliary has helped shape the organization that CNIB is today and they have changed what it is to be blind in PEI. As CNIB approaches its 100th anniversary in March 2018, we owe much gratitude to the many women – across the Island and spanning many decades – who have made a meaningful impact on the lives of so many Islanders.

The PEI Ladies Auxiliary of CNIB celebrates its 80th anniversary on November 23, 2017.

Dave Hilchey is Board Chair of CNIB Prince Edward Island

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