History of Developmental Services

Useful, practical work was an important part of life in the early institutions (or facilities, as they came to be called). Work kept some residents busy and was seen as a valuable way to provide training to people who might later be able to obtain some work opportunities in the community.

Residents were classified according to their perceived ability to work and learn. They were involved in a wide range of work activities depending on their ability.

Typical occupations for female residents in the 1920s included work in the kitchen, dining room, laundry and wards. They made beds, sorted laundry, served food, sewed, mended and made rag rugs.

Many facilities operated large working farms. Growing and producing the food helped to make the facilities self-sufficient and provided many work opportunities for the male residents. They worked in the gardens, the dairy, took care of the poultry and made maple syrup. They could also do kitchen and scullery work, carpentry, mattress making, painting, tailoring and shoe repair.

In their annual reports, superintendents presented their facilities as places where residents were busy, happy and productive individuals. In their reports, a resident who had an occupation in the institution was considered to have "made good".(1)

For many years, the work of residents was unpaid. Being able to contribute to the upkeep of the facility was the reward. According to the Huronia Regional Centre Inspector's Report of 1922, an important function of the residents' work was "that they may help to earn their maintenance in whatever institution they find a home."

Later, residents were given "pin money" as motivation to work. By the 1970s, facilities began paying residents who worked in the wards, the laundry or the dining room. Facilities also began to develop sheltered workshops where residents worked on contract and did assembly-type work This work did not contribute to the daily running of the facility. Some residents who demonstrated good work skills in the facilities were "probated", meaning that they were temporarily discharged from the institution to work in the community, where they were hired as domestics, farm hands, or to help in restaurants.

(1) Huronia Regional Centre Archives, report of Inspectors of Hospitals, 1914

Learn more