The History of Com-Span…
is the history of social equality for
people with disabilities.
Com-Span Inc. arose out of parents’ desires for the best of lives for their children. The history of Com-Span Inc. is the history of social equality for people with disabilities.
The Late 1950s
There were no programs in Manitoba close to home for people with developmental disabilities until the late 1950’s.
Manitoba parents had to place their children, born with developmental disabilities, in the Manitoba Developmental Centre (MDC) in Portage la Prairie or in an institution in Saskatchewan for their education, vocational training and for daily living. These people usually lived in those institutions for the rest of their lives.
The Kinsmen School, built on Notre Dame Avenue, Winnipeg, opened in 1956 and served as a school and vocational training centre for people with educational disabilities. This was a step forward, but children who could not walk could not attend the Kinsmen School. There continued to be no programs in the community for children and adults with complex disabilities in Manitoba, other than the MDC in Portage la Prairie.
In the1960’s parents began to voice reluctance to place their children far away from home. The movement to de-institutionalize people with disabilities began. Administrators in education and health services supported and advocated for the parents’ desire that their children receive their programs in the communities in which they lived.
In Winnipeg, the movement for public school education for children with mental and physical disabilities resulted in the Winnipeg School Division establishing the first classrooms for these children in the province and in Canada.
Community-based programs for adults with complex disabilities still did not exist in Manitoba in the 1960’s.
In 1961 Mr. and Mrs. Boden began a program in their home for their son because they did not want him to move away from his family for his childhood and adult life. The Bodens were able to fit seven people with physical handicaps into their living room. They established a day program to provide physically and mentally stimulating activities for these individuals. The Bodens’ daughter told Com-Span staff of returning home from school everyday to a living room filled with her brother and his peers.
Other parents wanted their offspring to attend the program in the Bodens’ home, but there was no more room. They lobbied the Manitoba government requesting similar programs.
With the advocacy of parents and the support of individuals in government, a program for adults with developmental disabilities was started in 1962, called “New Horizons”. It was initially housed in a room at the Fort Osborne Barracks and then in a room at the University of Manitoba.
Funding for the program was in the form of grants provided by the Manitoba government and donations from community service clubs and individuals. Monies were received and administered through the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded. This system, which was insecure in terms of funding and location, continued until October 1974.
In 1974, the Directors of this small program had to find a new name. The Canadian government had named a federal program “New Horizons”, taking the name. The Directors also had to incorporate this program as a non-profit agency so that it could function as a legal entity. Marguerite Chown, a member of the governing Directors, suggested the name “Com-Span” meaning “spanning the community”.
The transition of name from “New Horizons” to “Com-Span” occurred at the end of August, 1974. The Incorporation of Com-Span as a non-profit legal entity occurred December 17, 1974 under the Manitoba Companies Act. Initially there were ten people enrolled in the program with a waiting list of five to ten individuals.
Com-Span Inc. has occupied various locations. It moved from rooms in the old Grace Hospital at 189 Evanston Street to a location on Corydon Avenue and then to a building at 19 St. Anne’s Road.
In April, 2014 Com-Span Inc. moved to its present location at 66 Moore Avenue. It now has the capacity to serve 50 individuals.
Com-Span Inc. in the 21st Century
The programs of Com-Span Inc. have changed over the years in response to the changing needs of the population that it serves.
The promotion of independence may require the use of adaptive equipment, communication may require the use of a voice-output electronic device and participation in leisure activities may require more assistance. The medical needs of the individuals have increased; Com-Span Inc. now employs a nurse for the benefit and safety of all participants.
However, the guiding and foundational beliefs of Com-Span Inc. have remained constant.
Com-Span Inc. believes that all individuals deserve value, dignity and respect; that all individuals are members of our society and that all individuals have the right to participate in and contribute to the community in a positive and meaningful way.
Sources for this history:
- A Resource Document on Institutions and De-Institutionalization, prepared by L’Arche Canada for the Ontario “Canadian and World Studies” curriculum (2014).
- The Story of Com-Span Inc. written by Stan Riddell, President of Com-Span Inc. Board of Directors,1995.
- Interviews with Mrs. Agnes Boden and her daughter, Mary Anne Boden.