Community Living Espanola (CLE) has consistently strived to make the changes that best reflect the day-to-day needs of the clients it serves since its humble beginnings in 1963.

In the 1960s, children with special needs in Northern Ontario had nowhere to go once they reached school age. There were very few support groups for these families. In 1963, an association in the Kirkland Lake area was founded and word spread to families in the Espanola area, encouraging them to begin working together for their own children. These families, with nothing more in common than the love and compassion for their special children, were driven by the possibility that there was more to offer their loved ones.

An informal association began that year. It was called The Espanola and District Association for Retarded Children (EDARC). This labour of love came to fruition in 1963 with the opening of the first school in the basement of the United Church in Espanola. Four children were enrolled with one teacher. The teacher’s salary and school supplies were funded by raffles, bake sales, teas and donations from families and interested individuals, as well as some of the service clubs in Espanola.

In 1965, the Espanola Retarded Children’s Education Authority was formed by the town of Espanola. It consisted of four members who were responsible for overseeing the operation of the school. With enrolment increasing, another teacher was hired and the school was moved to a house on John Street in Espanola. The EDARC worked tirelessly to raise funds to pay the rent for the house, $80 per month.

In September 1966, a school in McKerrow became available due to the generosity of the North Shore School Board. Enrolment of 16 students became a reality at the newly named Birchwood School.

On April 14, 1967, the EDARC received their incorporated Charter and Letters of Patten, “for the purpose of providing school premises without charge for the use of the Espanola Retarded Children’s Education Authority. Head office was to be situated in the Town of Espanola”. The directors were Ida Leclair, Abram Henry Olfert, Mary Trottier, Mabel McWatch and Wilber Roswell Schmidt. The directors worked diligently for the operation of the school until 1970 when the Espanola Board of Education (EBOE) assumed complete responsibility.

In 1973, the EBOE built an extension to the Webbwood Public School to allow Birchwood students to join the main stream of children, perhaps the first time in Northern Ontario.

In December 1971, EDARC decided to legally change the name of the association, enabling it to accept developmentally challenged individuals of all ages, not just children. The new Espanola District Association for the Mentally Retarded (EDAMR) now worked towards implementing a much needed program for young adults with special needs.

In February 1972, a pilot project called the Adult Rehabilitation Centre (ARC) took shape starting with five trainees. ARC offered activities such as a pottery and woodworking shop from 1973 to 1983 located in McKerrow until it was re-located to Espanola.

By the mid 1980s, EDAMR established its first group home for six developmentally challenged adults on Grey Street, known as The Vincent House. In 1985, Parkview Residence was established with two Supported Independent Living (SIL) apartments and an administration office located on Park Street.

The EDAMR made many changes in 1988. ARC Industries and the administration office moved to its present location on Centre Street in Espanola. Another group home opened on Barber Street. Another legal name change was made to reflect what was taking place at this time. EDAMR became the Espanola and District Association for Community Living (EDACL). Another group home, Genesis House, opened its doors in 1990 and in 2007 underwent a retro fitting to include four additional rooms. In 1993, the LGJ Residence was built from the ground up. It was a unique, modern eight-bedroom home with additional SIL apartment units.

In 2004, EDACL came full turn with the new name Community Living Espanola (CLE), personifying the Board’s involvement with the larger association, Community Living Ontario (CLO). The name change reflected the board’s interest in promoting and enhancing the lives of the clients that are served in the community.

In 2008, CLE celebrated 45 years of vision, growth and commitment. There are hundreds of people who gave so much to the association paving the way for the CLE of today. CLE continues to stand behind their goal… to see all persons live in a state of dignity, share in all elements of living in the community and have the opportunity to participate effectively.

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