Poverty and dependence: that was the future many blind Canadians faced at the turn of the 20th century. Canadians with vision loss had few ways to earn a living, and little opportunity to pursue higher education. Blind beggars were not an unusual sight on the streets of larger cities.
Canada was still a largely rural country of 5.3 million people. In 1901 census figures suggest 3,279 Canadians were blind. There were schools for the blind in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. In some cities training existed in trades such as broom and basket making, and piano tuning. But the only places with collections of embossed books were the schools for the blind, and a few public libraries serving their local communities. Thus, Canadians who were blind faced obstacles if they hoped to move forward in any pursuit that required education. They had to rely on others to translate print material into one of the forms of embossed type they could use.
But better days were on the way. Key activists had a mission to unlock the human potential of their blind fellow citizens by providing access to books. Their achievement founding the Canadian Free Library for the Blind (CFLB) in 1907, and developing it as a national service led to the establishment of CNIB itself.
This section traces the founding and activities of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind. Thanks to the CFLB, for the first time, blind Canadian adults could access embossed type books from somewhere other than schools for the blind. Founder Edgar Bertram Freel (Bert) Robinson, the first blind graduate of a Canadian University, and his wife, Marion Robinson, who quickly took over the library's operations after her husband's untimely death, were key figures in this important development.