History of Developmental Services

In 1876, the Government of Ontario opened its first institution for people with a developmental disability just outside of Orillia on the shores of Lake Simcoe. By 1968, at the height of its operations, the facility had 2,600 residents.

The number of institutions and the number of people living in them continued to grow until the mid-1970s. By 1976, two years after the government passed the Developmental Services Act, Ontario operated 16 institutions, or facilities as they came to be called. They provided residential care to more than 10,000 people with a developmental disability.

The Developmental Services Act was a turning point in the evolution of Ontario's system of developmental services. It marked the beginning of the shift to a new way of providing services and supports to people with a developmental disability, one which focused on greater independence, social inclusion and personal choice. This shift culminated in 2009 when Ontario closed the doors to its last remaining facilities.

Spanning a timeframe of more than 100 years, this is the story of why the facilities were built and why they were closed. It's the story of how society's attitudes towards people with a developmental disability have changed over the years and how government policy and legislation have evolved in response.

Most of all, it's the story of the people who lived in Ontario's facilities and the men and women who worked there. We dedicate these pages to them.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services developed this information in partnership with Community Living Ontario and a faculty researcher from the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University.

The ministry would like to thank the following people for their participation and contributions in developing this information:

  • Gordon Kyle, Director of Social Policy and Government Relations, Community Living Ontario
  • Dr. Judith Sandys, PhD, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University
  • Megan Touw, Research Assistant, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University

The ministry would also like to acknowledge the support of the following organizations:

  • Family Auxiliary Associations of the facilities (including Rideau Regional Centre, Huronia Regional Centre and Southwestern Regional Centre)
  • Archives of Ontario
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Archives
  • Provincial Network on Developmental Services