Edwin A. Baker

A German star-shell lit up the desolate landscape...  as I watched, a bullet smashed through the bridge of my nose and left me to the mercy of the darkness and my friends.
— E.A. Baker

E.A. Baker had a bright future ahead before his wartime service changed his life’s path. The future CNIB leader was born in a stone farmhouse in 1893 near Kingston, Ontario, and went on to earn an electrical engineering degree from Queen’s University.  Baker served with the 6th Field Company of Engineers in Canada’s Expeditionary Forces in February 1915.  Eight months later the 22-year-old entered a trench that had been partially filled in, and immediately recognized the danger.  “I found myself with my head and shoulders above the top of the trench.  A German star-shell lit up the desolate landscape...I remember wondering if there was any possible chance of the enemy being able to see us.  I think the last thing I saw was that bright, floating star shell for, as I watched, a bullet smashed through the bridge of my nose and left me to the mercy of the darkness and my friends."

Baker went to St. Dunstan’s Hostel in London for rehabilitation.  His experience there introduced him to the life philosophy that influenced his future work at the helm of CNIB. It was a philosophy of empowerment:  if he could do it on his own, then he should do it.  At St. Dunstan’s, Baker’s training and studies included braille, typing, and business administration. For recreation, he took up fencing and sculling.  Through these experiences Baker developed his confidence and his core belief in independence for people with vision loss.

Baker returned to Canada in Sept. 1916, and found work as a Dictaphone typist taking and transcribing trouble reports from the field at the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission in Toronto.   He quickly became involved with work for the blind in Canada, speaking at fundraisers and Victory Bond rallies, and joining the board of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind. He was very aware that Canada wasn’t ready for the return of blinded soldiers from the war, and knew that better services were needed. At the age of 25 in 1918, Baker was appointed to a government position to take charge of the aftercare program for Canadian blinded soldiers.

Baker and six other Canadians living with vision loss were the founders of CNIB.  Baker himself went on to lead the organization for four decades.  A man of seemingly boundless energy, he had a huge career, initiating eye care and treatment projects in Canada and through the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, and sitting on the boards of many foundations and associations.  In 1967, five months before he died, he became a Companion of the Order of Canada, “for his pioneering work in the development of training and after-care arrangements for the Canadian blind.”