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People and organizations
OISE Library

Blissymbolics Communication Institute Canada

  • Corporate body
  • 1975 - present

Blissymbolics Communication International (BCI) was established in 1975, originally as Blissymbolics Communication Foundation (BCF). BCI is a non-profit organization with the worldwide authority, “to publish, teach and disseminate Blissymbols in any manner whatsoever for use by handicapped persons and persons having communication, language and learning difficulties.” (Legal agreement with C.K. Bliss, 1982).

Blissymbolics is an augmentative communication language, derived from an international semantic language developed in the 1940s by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985), published in his book Semantography – Blissymbolics (1965). The language uses pictographic and ideographic symbols to convey meaning, with symbols representing specific words or concepts.

In 1971, Shirley McNaughton (1931—) within a clinical team working with children with cerebral palsy at the then Ontario Crippled Children's Centre (OCCC) – now the Holland Bloorview Kid’s Rehabilitation Hospital – discovered the work of Bliss in a book called Signs and Symbols Around the World by Elizabeth Helfman (1967). The team was able to acquire Semantography which detailed the use of Blissymbolics as an international language. Then, the team introduced Blissymbols as a communication method for non-speaking students at the OCCC.

After the successful response of Blissymbolics in OCCC classrooms, the Blissymbol program was formalized as an OCCC service called Blissymbolics Communication Service (BCS) in 1975. This program gained International recognition as a breakthrough for persons who were non-speaking. The BCS was later renamed to Augmentative Communication Service (ACS) in the 1980s with a broader communication mandate, and was supported by the Easter Seal Society (ESS) until 1991. When the ESS program was closed and this augmentative communication service became a program of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Blissymbolics programs have had many name changes through the decades. In 1975, BCI was established as the Blissymbolics Communication Foundation in order to separate the international administrative work of Blissymbolics from the services provided by the BCS. In 1980, BCF was renamed to Blissymbolics Communication Institute to clarify that the organization was not a foundation giving out grants. In 1987, the program was renamed to the Easter Seal Communication Institute (ESCI) to recognize the primary financial supporter of Bliss services, the Easter Seal Society. In 1994, the organization was renamed to Blissymbolics Communication International to recognize its primary mandate. In 2009, a process began in order to enable the Sweden Bliss organization to take on the international responsibilities. This agreement was completed in 2011, and the Sweden organization assumed the name, Blissymbolics Communication International, and acquired the worldwide authority to publish, teach and disseminate Blissymbols. The Canadian organization adopted the trade name of Blissymbolics Communication Institute – Canada (BCIC) in 2009, changing from its international mandate to providing resources and support for the Bliss community in Canada. Today, BCIC continues to support Bliss users and alumni.

Bliss, Charles K.

  • Person
  • 1897-1985

Charles K. Bliss was born September 5, 1897 as Karl Kaisal Blitz into a Jewish family to parents Michael Antchel Blitz and Jeanette Jochewed Seidmann. Bliss was born in Czernowitz, the capital of the province of Bukowina in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now a part of Ukraine. Bliss spent his childhood growing up and attending school in Czernowitz, and enrolled in the Army at the age of 18 to fight in World War I. After which, he studied chemistry at the University of Czernowitz, and then enrolled in Technical University of Vienna to become a chemical engineer.

While living and working in Vienna, Bliss was arrested by the Nazi party and was transported to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Throughout September 1938 to April 1939, Claire, Bliss' wife who was German, attempted to negotiate Charles’ release from the camps.

In April of 1939 Bliss was released and able to flee to London, England, where he changed his name from “Blitz” to “Bliss” in response to the London Blitz bombings. Throughout the next year, Charles attempted to negotiate a visa for Claire to leave Vienna and join him in England, but they were unsuccessful. In 1940, Claire and Charles were able to acquire visas to Shanghai, China where they were officially reunited in 1941. In 1946, Charles and Claire moved to Sydney, Australia where they settled until their deaths.

Between 1941 and 1949 Bliss began a process of developing his own symbolic language, partly inspired by Chinese characters. His hope was to create a universal language where meaning and intent could not be misconstrued or manipulated by others. In 1949, Bliss published Semantography (Blissymbolics) which described his symbolic language, Blissymbolics. The book attracted little attention by the public until 1971, when it was discovered by teachers at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre, who began to use Blissymbolics in their classrooms for children with cerebral policy.

Bliss died in 1985.

OISE Kindergarten Teacher Training Collection

  • Corporate body
  • 1894-[19--]

The OISE Library's Kindergarten Teacher Training Collection documents the Frobelian approach to teaching kindergarten, employed in Ontario in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, following the teachings of German education theorist Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). Froebel’s approach to early childhood education consisted of two parts: “Gifts,” which consisted of 10 types of wooden objects for children to interact and play with, and “Occupations,” which were activities designed to develop a child’s skill and creativity. These Occupations included perforating, sewing, drawing, weaving, paper cutting, and paper folding. The Gifts and Occupations were to be presented to children in sequence, gradually building on one another. Froebel believed that this would ground children in the world around them and provide them with a solid foundation for later schooling.

Froebel’s method of early childhood education was introduced to Ontario schools in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, Froebel’s method was formally part of the kindergarten curriculum. Children aged 4-7 were presented with Gifts and the Occupations, including sewing, drawing, folding, cutting, and weaving. Froebel’s Gifts and Occupations remained a distinct part of the kindergarten classroom into the 1930s.

Turner, Vernon G.

  • Person
  • 1926-

Vernon George Turner (1926- ) is a former Canadian ambassador. Born in Ottawa, Turner attended Maurice Cody Public School from 1936-1943 and North Toronto Collegiate Institute from 1943-1948. After completing a graduate degree in German history, Turner joined the Canadian Foreign Service in 1954 and spent 16 months in Hanoi, Vietnam as a junior member of the Canadian delegation to the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC). Turner was also accredited to the United Nations in New York City in the late 1960s. Turner served as Canadian Ambassador to Israel and Cyprus from 1982 to 1986, and Ambassador to the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic from 1986 to 1990. He served as Foreign Service Visitor at the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto from 1990-1991. Turner retired from the Canadian Foreign Service in 1991.

Canadian Farm Radio Forum Collection

  • Corporate body
  • 1941-1964

From 1941-1964, the Canadian Farm Radio Forum operated as a mechanism for rural adult education, using the radio to reach large numbers of Canadians simultaneously despite Canada's wide geographic distances. Advertised as a discussion group for Canadian farm families, the Farm Radio Forum was equally established to empower rural Canadians, who were particularly hard-hit by the Great Depression: the goal was to help them develop solutions to the economic challenges they faced.

Sponsored by the Canadian Association for Adult Education, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Farm Radio Forum launched in Ontario, the Maritime provinces, and English-speaking Quebec in January 1941. In the fall of 1941, the Farm Radio Forum expanded into western Canada. Farm Forum groups were organized in communities across the country, with provincial committees established to coordinate with the national office. At its peak in 1949, approximately 1600 groups were registered with the Farm Radio Forum, with over 21,000 individuals tuning into the weekly broadcast. The average size of a Farm Forum group was about 15-17 members, although some were small as 5-6 or as large as 35-40.

Farm Forum groups gathered at a neighbour's home to listen to the broadcast. The Farm Radio Forum broadcast aired every Monday night from November to March. Each broadcast was 25 minutes long, followed by a 5 minute provincial newscast with a summary of local activities. The broadcasts themselves used a variety of formats, from speeches and interviews to discussion panels to dramatizations set on the fictional "Sunnybridge Farm." The broadcasts addressed a wide range of topics, such as "Should Farmers Grow More?," "Can We Pay Off Our Mortgages?," and "The Farmer's Image." A Farm Forum Guide with information and articles about each topic was distributed to Farm Forum members a week in advance, allowing members to study the topic before the broadcast aired. These Farm Forum Guides also provided groups with sets of questions to facilitate discussion following the broadcast. This discussion could last anywhere from 30 minutes to two or three hours. Following the discussion, each group would report back to the Provincial Farm Forum Secretary with their conclusions, and every fourth week the radio broadcast would feature a summary of Farm Forum groups' opinions from across the country.

According to the 1949 Farm Radio Forum Handbook, in addition to fostering educational discussion, the Farm Radio Forum increased neighbourliness, broadened members' horizons, and even influenced public opinion. Furthermore, the problem solving ethos of the Farm Radio Forum resulted in concrete community action projects. These projects varied according to local needs, and included building recreation facilities such as skating rinks and swimming pools, livestock vaccinations and disease control, road improvement, rural mail delivery, purchasing school equipment, providing school bus services, building community halls, and extending electrical and telephone service to rural homes, as well as giving donations to existing charities.

The Radio Forum model of adult education was adopted in other parts of the world in the 1950s, including India, France, and Ghana. Founded in 1979, Farm Radio International continued to carry out this type of programming and today supports farmers and rural communities in over 30 African countries.

Railway Car Schools Collection

  • Corporate body
  • 1926-1967

From 1926 to 1967, the railway car schools served children in remote parts of northern Ontario, where the settlements were too small or too temporary for the construction of a regular school to be practical.

In 1926, the Ontario government conducted a two-car pilot run of the railway car schools. The rail cars were donated by the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway and were converted into schools by the Department of Education (later called the Ontario Ministry of Education). Teachers Walter H. McNally and Fred Sloman taught 82 children during this pilot run, stopping at 14 points along two rail lines. Of these children, 57 had never before attended school, and only 4 spoke English.

The railway school cars were considered an immediate success. During the two-year pilot run, these school cars had 100% attendance and the children attending them progressed rapidly, completing on average three weeks of schoolwork every week. Following the success of the pilot run, the railway car school program was expanded. Two new rail cars were added in 1928, with an additional two in 1935 and one in 1938. At its peak in the 1940s, the Department of Education operated seven railway car schools serving over 200 pupils, with four cars operating on Canadian National Railway lines, two cars on Canadian Pacific Railway lines, and one car operating on the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway.

Each railway car school served 5 or 6 settlements and travelled about 150 miles each month. The school cars would stop at each point of call for 4 to 8 days, and the teacher would assign pupils homework to complete between calls. Although the railway school cars were not limited to a specific set of stops and would change location as the settlements changed, many children nonetheless travelled great distances by foot, horse, snowshoe, or even canoe to meet the school car.

The railway car schools contained a schoolroom as well as living quarters for the teacher and his family. The schoolroom was equipped with two blackboards, roll-down maps, a globe, desks, school books and general supplies, and a small lending library with titles for both children and adults.

The railway car schools would also operate night schools for their pupils’ parents, teaching reading, writing, and math. Many of these parents did not speak English and could not read. For railway employees, these night classes offered them the opportunity for advancement in the rail company, as they could now perform functions such as writing a train order.

As the number of pupils attending the railway car schools decreased, so too did the number of railway school cars in operation. Ontario’s last railway car school closed in 1967.