History of Developmental Services

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Our story begins in the early 19th century. Institutionalization was an accepted part of society in North America and throughout Europe.

There were many kinds of institutions.

In Ontario, the earliest institutions — many were built before Confederation — were workhouses. Also called poorhouses or houses of refuge, these were places where destitute people could find shelter in exchange for work.

There were also institutions for orphans, unmarried mothers and the elderly.

Institutions for people with mental health issues were called asylums for the insane.

The latter half of the 19th century saw a new kind of institution being built. These were places where people with a range of intellectual disabilities, including people with a developmental disability, were sent to live. These institutions were known as asylums for idiots, lunatics, imbeciles, the feeble-minded and epileptics.

Why did Ontario begin building institutions specifically for people with a developmental disability in 1876? There were many reasons.

For one, well into the 19th century, jails were often being used to house destitute people with mental and developmental disabilities. There simply wasn't any other place for them to go. To understand why this happened, we have to look back to 1791 when the British Parliament enacted the Constitutional Act.

Another reason was the effect of the Industrial Revolution on society.

Still another reason was the eugenics movement, and the way society viewed people with a developmental disability.

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