Close to 250 veterans returned to Canada with varying degrees of paralysis. These veterans, who were otherwise healthy, found themselves scattered across half a dozen veterans hospitals surrounded by professionals who expected very little of them. The veterans expected far more from themselves than simply spending the rest of their lives convalescing. They were ready to carry on with life; to contribute – to give 100%.
One such man was Lieutenant John Counsell. During a battle, he was injured and sustained a spinal cord injury. Back in Canada, John often visited the Christie Street Hospital in Toronto and talked to the veterans about their future. He spoke to them about creating an organization that would represent them, and bring positive change in their lives. During a visit to the hospital he met Ken Langford, another war veteran with a spinal cord injury, who agreed to work with him to build the organization across the country. At that time we were known as the Canadian Paraplegic Association.
John then approached philanthropists such as L.M. Wood (who also helped found the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) and Conn Smyth, (the hockey legend who ended up providing office space for the Canadian Paraplegic Association at Maple Leaf Gardens). These men brought in financial support and helped to build important relationships with sponsors.
John asked his brother-in-law, Walter Gordon (of the accounting firm Clarkson, Gordon and Company), and his wealthy cousin, Bootsie Thomson to financially and philosophically support the creation of an organization supporting people with spinal cord injuries.
He also spoke to Dr. Harry Botterell and Dr. Palmer McCormick about medical professionals and people with spinal cord injuries working together to improve people’s quality of life. Dr. Botterell encouraged Dr. Albin Jousse to join them in their quest. These medical professionals embraced John Counsell’s vision for people to achieve independence, self reliance and full community participation, and they were willing to work together to see it happen.
In short, John Counsell brought people together to make a difference. Without his vision and passion and the help of his collaborators, many people’s lives could be very different today. We are all indebted to them and to what they gave this organization.
In 1945, the Canadian Paraplegic Association was founded. Prior to 1945, fewer than 10% of people who sustained a spinal cord injury lived longer than a year. Our organization was named the Canadian Paraplegic Association because people with an injury that would have caused quadriplegia did not survive. We are now known as Spinal Cord Injury Canada.
Since our organization's beginning, the spinal cord injury community has made great strides in research, information exchange and the development of support networks. We can be proud of a federation of associations across the country that has served over 100,000 people since its inception. Our organization has worked hard to be at the forefront of change – a time honoured legacy that continues today.