Bert’s Greatest Achievement

Edgar Bertram Freel (Bert) Robinson did what no other blind Canadian had done before him:  he graduated from a Canadian university (Trinity College at the University of Toronto, 1893).  His father, a doctor, transcribed his son’s school texts into the raised print system that Bert had learned at the school for the blind at Brantford, using only a stylus. (While Braille eventually dominated, at this time there were several raised print systems in use by blind readers. Bert was familiar with one called “New York Point.”)

Bert and his father also printed a magazine for blind readers, using a master copy made of lead plates, and turning sheets of dampened paper through a clothes wringer.

blindness renders possible a more intense mental life
— Bert Robinson

Bert Robinson was responsible for another first:  he wrote the first Canadian publication by a blind author about blindness.  In "The True Sphere of the Blind,” published in 1896, he argued that "blindness renders possible a more intense mental life," and that rather than pursuing trades, blind people should do work requiring education and intellectual activity.  His book surveyed education for the blind in his era. He included an extensive discussion of “tangible print,” the various systems of raised, or embossed print, including Braille, that gave blind readers the opportunity to engage with the kinds of written materials that had allowed Robinson himself to achieve higher education.

Robinson’s greatest achievement was to start the Canadian Free Library for the Blind.  In his father's two-story red brick house in Markham, Ontario, he set up the first Canadian library for the blind that was not associated with a school for the blind.  He began with books from his own collection, including prizes that he'd won at school and the college texts his father had copied by hand.

Bert was a man of many interests. He was a member of the Markham School Board (where he met his future wife, Marion). He was secretary of the Lacrosse Association in Markham, a member of the Checker Club, a chess enthusiast, and a card player (he used a deck marked in raised print). He was described as being "tall and dark with a Van Dyke beard and was 'worth a second look.'"