Canada Day 2017 – Embracing Change

“We don’t develop courage by being happy everyday.  We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity” – Barbara de Angelis

Full body braces 1955
1955 Winnipeg newspaper

What does Canada Day mean to me?  Well according to my mother it is the 64th anniversary of my polio diagnosis and the beginning of the 1953 polio induced summer of silence so to me it is a day of rebirth.  1953 also marked the end of the Korean War resulting in a second round of wounded veterans returning to Canada for rehab.  This was the largest influx of wounded veterans since the end of WW2 and the community was ready.

Programs and supports had been put in place following WW2 to help disabled vets move back into their home communities.  National legislation and regulations were being put in place to assist wounded veterans return to the productive life’s they knew prior to fighting for their country.  These policies and programs would ripple from veterans to the child survivors of the last polio epidemic prior to the vaccine in 1955.

In 1945 the Veterans Rehabilitation Act (Canada’s equivalent to the American GI bill) was introduced in Parliament and became law.  The Family Allowance Act was introduced in 1945, in part, to assist those vets with children but also as an acknowledgement that Canadian values were changing.  Rehabilitation services and supports for wounded vets were available through facilities in larger centres and kept them from returning to the farm.  Between the influx of European war refugees and wounded veterans settling in cities to access services Canada was on the road to leaving an agrarian society and becoming a country of urban dwellers.  The face of Canadian demographics was changing.  The need for national regulations to accommodate the massive urban migrations while acknowledging the universality of Canada became the new rally call of politicians.

This was also before socialized medicine so my family moved to Calgary from Manitoba to access the polio treatment being offered through, what was then, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.  The next ripple on the growing tide of affordable health care was the introduction of the Hospital and Diagnostic Services Act in 1957.  This was a major step forward in the development  that we, as a society, began to recognize the need for universal healthcare.  This became part of history with the introduction of the Medical Care Act of 1966.  It took twenty years of the ripples created by a variety of legislation aimed at assisting veterans to achieve a universal healthcare system.

Graph of polio stats
Polio outbreaks over the years.

By the time the early 50’s polio epidemic spike a new form of veteran was created, the polio veteran.  The groundwork put in place to assist war vets re-enter society set the regulatory stage for the massive influx of polio survivors.  These polio surviving “children” were becoming young adults in the 60’s and the regulatory system that had been developed to assist veterans integrate back into the community began to be tweaked to meet the community needs of the polio kids.  In the late 60’s the Veterans Rehabilitation Act was rewritten to become the Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Persons Act.  I was one of the early beneficiaries of that change and spend two years at Mount Royal College in Calgary, all expenses covered.  There is a certain irony here in that I was now able to access further education in a group of buildings that were not built to be accessible.  When I was still using crutches stairs weren’t as much of an issue but my unexpected longevity has changed that.  The new Mount Royal, completely accessible.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Alberta Individual’s Rights Protection Act and the Alberta Bill of Rights.  That was in 1972 (my last year at Mt Royal) and the ripple effect of those pieces of legislation had long lasting effects.  It is that history that paved the groundwork for so many of today’s advances.  If you don’t know your history you will never notice the erosion.  The Alberta Human Rights Commission newsletter highlighted the anniversary but failed to mention the long term effects of these pieces of legislation.

The first, and to me the most personal, was the resulting repeal of the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act.  As a disabled teenager in the 60’s with an attitude this option was presented to my parents (1966).  It was seen as a form of “behavioural management” by the system of the day and the abuses that went on resulted in court actions up until the mid 90’s   The Individual Right’s Protection Act help to eliminate that threat.  Another ripple effect was the ability to vote.  Prior to 1972 my ability to vote was decided by the poll manager, they had the final say in deciding if a person was “competent” enough to vote.

We have spend fifty years developing a regulatory system to provide safety and consistency to our communities.  Removing regulations without fully acknowledging the potential for dangerous ripples leads to tragedies like Grenfell Tower.  Let’s be cautious so the new generation of Canadians will be here for our bi-centennial.

What does Canada Day mean to me?  It means I live in a country that believes everyone has the same rights and that regardless of colour, race or creed we are all equal.  It means we are celebrating a country where compassion and care still exist…

Happy Canada Day



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