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Our History

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Since our founding in 1918, the CNIB Foundation has been creating programs, providing services and advocating to change the lives of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted.

Our origins


  • In response to rising blindness rates caused by the Halifax explosion and veterans returning home from World War I, CNIB is founded and incorporated by a group of seven Canadian men - several veterans and blind men among them - all of whom were members of the board of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind (founded in 1906). For more information about the history of blind literacy and reading in Canada and around the world, visit That All May Read, a comprehensive online multimedia resource. 
  • To provide employment opportunities to blind Canadians, CNIB began to establish workshops and later stores to manufacture various items including brooms and knitted socks, and do service work like repairing boots.
  • Canadian Free Library for the Blind becomes part of CNIB and is renamed "CNIB's Library and Publishing Department".


  • CNIB founders open Pearson Hall at 186 Beverley Street in downtown Toronto. This facility served as a residence, rehabilitation centre and braille teaching facility for blind Canadians. It was also home to CNIB's library department and headquarters.
  • CNIB holds its first annual general meeting - the organization is now serving 1,521 people who are blind and has 27 employees, including 16 "home teachers" who provide rehabilitation to people in their homes and communities.

The early years


  • CNIB established operating divisions in Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the "Central Western Division", which included parts of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
  • CNIB began to deliver censuses into the community to identify people who were blind who might benefit from CNIB's services. It also began keeping detailed records on its clients' needs, eye conditions, demographics, etc.
  • CNIB took on the enormous task of identifying/reaching out to blind Canadians in isolated communities across a huge 1,600-kilometre area in central/northern Canada. "Home teachers" travelled through all weathers by foot, train, and horse and buggy through bad roads and unhospitable territory to find and serve these remote Canadians.


  • CNIB appointed a blindness prevention committee and began actively working to eliminate avoidable blindness.


  • Blind men began operating street units and stands located in office building lobbies where they sold various goods such as tobacco, chocolate bars, newspapers, and sometimes handicraft items produced by blind people.

The mid-20th century


  • Ontario passed the Blind Workmen's Compensation Act to provide special protection for employers of blind workers and to encourage the employment of blind individuals in general industrial occupations.
  • CNIB placed its first dicta-typist in a job in London, Ont.
  • An act providing pensions for people who are blind was passed by the Canadian Parliament.


  • CNIB offers rehabilitation training to blinded soldiers returning home from the Second World War.
  • Canadian Association of Rehabilitation Teachers (CART) was formed.


  • The BakerWood complex opens at 1929 Bayview Avenue in Toronto, Ont.
  • In 1956, CNIB helped sponsor a course for blind computer programmers.
  • Close cooperation between CNIB and key doctors in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto led to the founding of the first Eye Banks.


  • CNIB launched the Wise Owl Club of Canada - a blindness prevention program focusing on workplace safety.
  • The E.A. Baker Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness was created to fund research into eye conditions in honour of the retirement of CNIB's most celebrated co-founder.
  • By 1968, CNIB operated at some 550 locations in every part of Canada, including the military installation in Churchill, Manitoba.


  • First mobile eye care units to provide eye health care evaluations are established in Ontario and Newfoundland.
  • CNIB Library introduces talking books on cassettes.

The late 20th century


  • In 1988, under the leadership of National Council President Tim Sheeres, CNIB inaugurated the Winston Gordon Award for Technological Advancement in the Field of Blindness and Visual Impairment.


  • By the 1990s, with the introduction of specialized software programs, blind or sighted volunteers were able to use the new technology to translate French or music in braille.
  • In September of 1990, the launch of Wayne Gretzky's autobiography marked the first time in the world that a major publication was published simultaneously in print and braille. A portion of the print sales were donated to the CNIB.
  • CNIB launched the Technibus to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
  • In 1997, after ten years of lobbying, the CNIB Library for the Blind became exempt from copyright law, which gave it the right to produce material in braille, e-text, or audio for the personal use of blind people.
  • In 1998, CNIB was named role model organization of the year by the SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Award. The awards program promotes the awareness and widespread use of innovative technology for people who are living with vision loss
  • CNIB undertook to rebrand itself and its look. Corporate documents were given a striking yellow, black and white makeover, using an easy-to-read, large print font. A new magazine, Vision, was launched and mailed in the reader's preferred format to 100,000 clients across Canada.

A new millennium


  • The Bank of Canada introduced bank notes specially marked with raised dots so that blind people could differentiate among denominations.
  • Euclid Herie established the World Braille Foundation to provide braille, braille equipment and technology, teacher training and materials and other support to groups of blind people and schools for the blind in developing countries.
  • In August 2002, Bill Gates was presented with a gold Louis Braille commemorative coin by Jim Sanders, CNIB President and CEO and Euclid Herie, past CNIB President and CEO. Mr. Gates received this honour in recognition of Microsoft Canada's contribution to the development of the CNIB Digital Library.


  • After a decade of intensive advocacy and work by CNIB, the Centre for Equitable Access (CELA) was created in 2014 by public libraries in collaboration with CNIB so that Canadians with print disabilities, including those who are blind or partially sighted, could have access to equitable services through their local public libraries. 
  • In 2014, CNIB introduced its boldest strategic plan to day - The Path to Change. This plan examined the complex roles CNIB played as a provider of health services and as a charity, and looked to redefine those roles for the future. 
  • In 2015, CNIB, along with Canadian Ophthalmological Society, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Opticians Association of Canada, and community organizations to come together to sign the Canadian Patient Charter for Vision Care, the first step on the journey to improve the patient experience. This was the first time CNIB and Canada's leaders in eye health came together to make a shared commitment to providing optimum patient-centered care across all stages of the vision loss journey - from prevention to diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation. 
  • CNIB advocated for the Government of Canada to make amendments to the Copyright Act allowing for the Marrakesh Treaty to be ratified in Canada
  • On June 30, 2016, Canada became the 20th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, thus entering it into force. The World Intellectual Property Organization's Marrakesh Treaty is designed to remove barriers to the access of alternate-format print materials through changes to domestic copyright laws on an international basis. The Treaty also facilitates the sharing of materials between nations.
  • On September 30, 2016, CNIB and Vision Australia exchange books as the first book exchange in the world under the newly enforced Marrakesh Treaty.
  • In March 2017, CNIB launched a new brand for its rehabilitation services, in recognition of the successful integration of vision loss rehabilitation therapy into the continuum of health care. This new brand, Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, is strongly positioned as a leader in providing professional, high-quality sustainable rehabilitation to Canadians with vision loss now and into the future.
  • In April 2017, CNIB launched its CNIB Guide Dog Program, designed to raise and train guide dogs - exclusively for people with sight loss.