Founding of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind

In the fall of 1906, EBF (Bert) Robinson called a meeting. In attendance were blind men and women from Toronto. The mission: to set up a circulating library to serve blind Canadians with embossed print reading material. It was to be called the Canadian Free Library for the Blind.

Copy of the original charter sworn at Toronto in the County of York, 22 November 1906 by E.B Robinson.

Bert and his colleagues knew the Library was needed badly. Books in embossed print took up many volumes. Most blind readers couldn't afford to buy them. The few accessible libraries that existed were in schools for the blind, and were thus directed towards young students. Adults who wanted to read for education or for pleasure were out of luck without significant private assistance.

The Library began life with official incorporation from the Department of Education of Ontario, and a grant of $200. It contained 75 volumes, mostly from founder Bert Robinson's personal collection, and served 26 members.

He had told me of his dream of establishing a library, which he could not carry out alone
— Marion Robinson

Marion Robinson, Bert's wife, provided a firsthand account of her part in the origins of the CFLB at an event commemorating its 50th anniversary in 1956. As she explained, she had been a young school teacher at Markham’s public school. Bert was on the school board, and came to visit the new teacher.  It wasn’t long afterwards that they became engaged. “He had told me of his dream of establishing a library, which he could not carry out alone, and… talked me into moving up our wedding date about two years earlier than I had planned.  We set up housekeeping and established the library simultaneously in temporary quarters in Dr. Robinson's house.”

Unlike her husband, Marion was sighted.  She helped Bert increase the collection: she dictated, he printed.  She learned the system of tactile print Bert used, and copied stories from magazines to add material.

In the collection readers could find biography, history, poetry, religion, science, and reference books, in English, French, German, and Italian.  Possibly half the titles were fiction (classical and popular).

At the end of October 1908 Edgar returned home from a week of work in Toronto, complaining of not feeling well.  He died a week later, on Nov. 7, 1908. It had only been a year since CFLB had opened its doors.  His untimely death in 1908, could have ended the project.  But thanks to Marion, the torch was passed, not dropped.