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An old black and white photograph of people at CNIB Lake Joe running into the lake.

CNIB Lake Joe History

Since CNIB Lake Joe first opened its doors in 1961, the dream of having a safe, accessible place where people with sight loss and their families could enjoy the magic of camp has been evolving and expanding. The incredible power of recreation and rehabilitation in a community camp setting has been life-changing for thousands of Canadians impacted by sight loss. Our historical timeline includes significant dates and milestones in CNIB Lake Joe’s history. Sharing our history is a work in progress, and we look forward to updating this timeline with additional achievements and accomplishments from the past, present and future.

Early 1900's

The CNIB Lake Joe property was originally on an old Canadian National Railway/Steamship line. Today, the boat dock is located where historic steamships departed to sail on Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka.

A black & white photograph of the dock at Lake Joseph, 1934.
The dock at Lake Joseph, 1934

 

Late 1940's and the 1950's

Before finding a permanent home on Lake Joseph, CNIB rented facilities like The Lions Club Camp in Ancaster, Ontario. The first Ontario summer camp for the blind was held in 1948 under the joint auspices of the Canadian Council of the Blind and CNIB at the Lions Club campsite at Ancaster. It proved so popular that CNIB arranged for two camp sessions in the coming summer. For 12 years, the camp hosted two ten-day summer holiday sessions, attracting over 2,000 campers. By 1959, demand exceeded the space available, and organizers looked for an alternate location.

A newspaper clipping from the Windsor Star, July 27, 1954, “Blind Windsorites Leave on Summer Outing: Special Camp for Sightless”.
Windsor Star, July 27, 1954, “Blind Windsorites Leave on Summer Outing: Special Camp for Sightless”

 

1960

Recognizing the life-changing role camp plays in the lives of people with sight loss, CNIB, in collaboration with the Lions Family of Ontario and the Canadian Council of the Blind, purchased a small piece of paradise from the MacDonald family on Lake Joseph in Muskoka.

An old black & white photograph of the Lake Joseph Building-Planning Committee studying pans for the Adjustment-Training and Holiday Centre (Seated: Elsinore Burns and Margot Brechenridge. Standing left to right: Wilfred James (Chairman), Norman Long, J.A Peguegnat, J. Mossop, J.A. Clark).
Lake Joseph Building-Planning Committee studying plans for the Adjustment-Training and Holiday Centre (Seated: Elsinore Burns and Margot Brechenridge. Standing left to right: Wilfred James (Chairman), Norman Long, J.A. Peguegnat, J. Mossop, J.A. Clark)

 

1961

CNIB Lake Joe, originally known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Lake Joseph Adjustment Training and Holiday Centre, hosted its official opening celebration July 21, 1961, and formally opened its doors to campers on August 17, 1961.

Black and white photo of the entrance sign to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Lake Joseph Adjustment Training and Holiday Centre, 1965
The entrance sign to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Lake Joseph Adjustment Training and Holiday Centre, 1965

 

1971

The CNIB Lake Joseph Adjustment Training and Holiday Centre celebrated its 10th anniversary.

A black & white photograph of Mary Patterson, Canadian Council of the Blind National President and William Dunlop, a young camper, cutting the special birthday cake – a realistic scale model of the Centre’s building baked for the occasion by CaterPlan Services/Division of CNIB.
Mary Patterson, Canadian Council of the Blind National President and William Dunlop, a young camper, cutting the special birthday cake – a realistic scale model of the Centre’s building baked for the occasion by CaterPlan Services/Division of CNIB

 

1986

On July 20, 1986, CNIB Lake Joseph celebrated its 25th anniversary with a barbeque and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Lincoln Alexander, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and executives of the Lions organization were in attendance.

A black & white photograph of Lincoln Alexander, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, following bagpiper and man in uniform at CNIB Lake Joe, July 20, 1986.
Lincoln Alexander, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, following bagpiper and man in uniform at CNIB Lake Joe, July 20, 1986

 

1991

Since 1991, CNIB Lake Joe has been the home of the Lake Joe Yacht Club (LJYC), a community based, volunteer run, non-profit sailing club, founded in 1967. With over 100 family memberships, the LJYC provides a great opportunity for local cottagers to get to know their neighbors while developing sailing skills.

Many sailboats with white sails on the water of Lake Joseph
Lake Joe Yacht Club sailboats on the water of Lake Joseph

 

 2000

The SCORE program (Summer Computer Opportunities in Recreation and Education) began in 1985 through the philanthropic efforts of Wayne and Walter Gretzky to improve access to technology for teens who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind. Over the years, SCORE has evolved into the Skills, Confidence, & Opportunities through Recreation and Education program, and in 2000, included CNIB Lake Joe as part of the curriculum. The program is now part of CNIB Learning Academy, a transformational program designed to prepare youth for success in post-secondary studies and beyond. 

Five youth post at Canada's Wonderland in front of water fountains
SCORE participants on a day trip to Canada's Wonderland

Recorded in 2019, this short documentary asks SCORE participants: what makes SCORE such a unique experience?

 

 

2002

CNIB Lake Joe facilities were in desperate need of repair and closed for one season for massive renovations. The Lake Joseph community at large rallied together to help fundraise and rebuild the facility. The Restoring the Spirit Campaign raised nearly $8 million to transform CNIB Lake Joe into a new, fully accessible and safe facility where people living with sight loss can participate in fun camp activities, and access life-changing experiences.

New buildings included the Dining Hall and Lounge (2003), Wellness Centre (2004), six guest cabins (2007) and the Welcome Centre (2008). New staff quarters were added in 2011 through additional corporate support.

The front page of the “Restoring the Spirit: The Campaign for the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre” guide.
The front page of the “Restoring the Spirit: The Campaign for the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre” guide

 

2003-2009

Joe Finley, a Toronto resident and Lake Joseph cottager, was a strong supporter of CNIB Lake Joseph Centre and a member of the Restoring the Spirit Campaign Cabinet. In 2009, Joe created the Blind Guys Tri Team, engaging blind and visually impaired athletes in sporting events across Ontario, including an annual triathlon at the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre.

Joe passed away in 2010. In 2013, the road at the entrance to CNIB Lake Joe was renamed Joe Finley Way in recognition of Joe's commitment to live life to the fullest and give back one hundredfold – an inspiration to all to pursue life the 'Joe Finley Way!'

A photograph of Joe Finley at CNIB Lake Joe. He is holding a microphone and standing in front of a branded step and repeat. 2008
Joe Finley at CNIB Lake Joe, July 5, 2008

 

2009-2011

With the success of popular television shows like American and Canadian Idol, CNIB launched its own music competition series; The iFactor. Featuring well-known celebrity judges and hosts, iFactor contestants showcased their musical talents.

A photograph of Becka deHaan, The iFactor winner in 2009 with ???
Becka deHaan (left), The iFactor winner in 2009

 

2011

CNIB Lake Joe celebrated its 50th Anniversary and unveiled its new facilities. Walter Gretzky was a special guest!

2. A group photo with John Rafferty, Jim Tokos, ?, Walter Gretzy, and Tim Tremain. The group is standing behind a table display of celebratory cupcakes.
John Rafferty, CNIB President & CEO, Jim Tokos, volunteer, Lion Carl Young, Walter Gretzky, and Tim Tremain, Lake Joe Board member.

CNIB unveiled the "Walkway to Independence" and surprised some Lions with a special "Salt of the Earth" brick, honouring Lions who have made significant and meaningful contributions with their time and efforts to CNIB Lake Joe over many years.

A photo of a celebration at Lake Joe. Two walk to shake hands in front of a  gathered crowd.
Steve Lutz, then CNIB Vice President  (right) unveils the ‘Walkway to Independence’, August 8, 2011

 

2012

A group of employees from Dumas Contracting Ltd. sang and danced their way into the judges’ hearts on the second season of Global TV’s Canada Sings. Jann Arden and other celebrity judges awarded them the $25,000 grand prize for CNIB Lake Joe. Dumas executives also gifted an additional $10,000 to the cause.

A photo of Dumas Contracting employees sitting at the waterfront at CNIB Lake Joe.
Dumas Contracting employees at the waterfront at CNIB Lake Joe, posing with a special plaque acknowledging their donation.

First introduced at CNIB Lake Joe in 2012, Camp Abilities is a goal-based athletic program modeled on the Camp Abilities program founded in New York, and now offered worldwide. The program focuses on athletic development, with participants receiving one-on-one coaching from instructors who help guide athletes to achieve their performance goals through specialized sports programs, like sailing or triathlon (swim, bike, run).

Four people in shorts on catamaran at Lake Joe.
Camp Abilities volunteers at CNIB Lake Joe

 

2016

Established in 2016 by founding members Tim Hogarth and John Firstbrook (co-captains), Randall Oliphant, Sue Creasy, and Bob Buchan (honorary chair), the Lake Joe Vision Team has evolved into a group of 6-10 philanthropic leadership volunteers who raise funds for highest priority needs and bursaries to boost participation at CNIB Lake Joe. As friends and neighbours of the camp, they lend expertise and advice to support and guide the philanthropic efforts that power program development and delivery at CNIB Lake Joe, while leveraging their networks to help build, strengthen and steward partnerships.

White Muskoka chairs lined up along the lakefront at CNIB Lake Joe.
The lakefront at CNIB Lake Joe

 

2017

CNIB Lake Joe hosted a Canada 150 Celebration BBQ event. Entertainment featured Annette Haas, Canadian singer, song writer and multi-instrumentalist, and Lucas Haneman, 2010 iFactor winner.

Lucas Haneman, 2010 iFactor winner performing at the Canada 150 celebration.
Lucas Haneman, 2010 iFactor winner performing at the Canada 150 celebration.

 

2018

CNIB celebrates its 100th anniversary with events across the country, including the CNIB Muskoka Clam Bake on June 23, 2018. Featuring live entertainment from Canadian recording artists Miss Emily, Shawn Brady, and the Northern Sons, a charity auction, a children’s concert, wakeboarding show, fireworks display and fabulous food and drink – a splendid time was had by all!

Joan Kelly-Walker, Eyre Purkin-Bien, Nancy & Steve Simonot, Tim Hogarth and Lesley MacAulay pose for a photo with the CNIB branded step & repeat in the background.

Joan Kelley Walker, event emcee. Lake Joe Vision Team member, Eyre Purkin Bien, CNIB staff, Nancy Simonot, event chair, Lake Joe Vision Team Member, Steve Simonot,  Tim Hogarth, co-captain, Lake Joe Vision Team and Lesley MacAulay, guest.

The CNIB Lake Joe Vision Team launched the Second Century Capital Campaign to raise $3.2M to support the camp's capacity to serve people with sight loss for years to come. 

to come
Artist's rendering of the new multi-purpose recreation and teaching facility that will replace the old Elms cabin

A donated boathouse was floated over from Lake Rosseau and installed at CNIB Lake Joe to increase opportunities for participants to get active through waterfront sports and activities.

The boathouse being installed on the lake at CNIB Lake Joe.
The new donated boathouse being installed on the lake at CNIB Lake Joe

 

2019

CNIB Lake Joe welcomed 30 handlers and their guide dogs – a record number of dogs onsite at one time – from across the Country for the Guide Dog AdvoCamp. Generously sponsored by Royal Canin, the event brought guide dog handlers together to network with their peers and strengthen self-advocacy skills.

Guide dog wearing yellow harness resting on the grass.
CNIB guide dog taking a rest

With funding from Canadian Tire Corporation, a brand new 1,800 square foot multi-sport court was built for guests to enjoy basketball, tennis, volleyball, etc. The shuffleboard court was also redone.

An outdoor fitness class featuring participants jumping around on the multi-sport court.
An outdoor fitness class at CNIB Lake Joe featuring participants exercising on the multi-sport court

Connecting over 20 youth from across the country, the CNIB Leadership Development Program focused on developing the leaders of tomorrow through public speaking, advocacy and mentorship opportunities and the Counsellor-in-Training Program brought youth together for two weeks to refine their leadership abilities and job-readiness skills.

Counsellors-in-Training team posing on the CNIB Lake Joe patio
Counsellors-in-Training 2019 team posing on the CNIB Lake Joe patio

On August 24, more than 500 guests kicked up their boots at CNIB Muskoka: Taste of Country. The signature event raised funds to support seasonal expansion at CNIB Lake Joe. Featuring Joan Kelley Walker as emcee, live country music by Beverley Mahood and friends, a mechanical bull, spectacular fireworks – and much more – it was truly the event of the summer.

Two guests enjoying the moment at the CNIB Muskoka Taste of Country Event at CNIB Lake Joe
Two guests enjoying the moment at the CNIB Muskoka Taste of Country Event at CNIB Lake Joe

CNIB Lake Joe co-hosted the first international learning retreat for camp professionals serving people who are blind or have low vision, Oct 2-6, 2019. Co-hosting with LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind, CNIB Lake Joe welcomed camp staff from across Canada and the United States.

A photograph of members of the international learning retreat seated for discussion in the Rec Hall.
Canadian and American members of the international learning retreat seated for discussion in the Rec Hall

 

2020

The Dining Hall & Lounge – our social gathering hotspot – got a facelift with an acoustic retrofit and brand-new ceilings to reduce noise and make conversations clearer. This was made possible from a generous donations from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and CNIB Lake Joe supporters.

A photograph of the renovated ceilings in the dining hall and lounge with new sound panels.
Renovated ceilings in the Dining Hall and Lounge with new acoustic sound panels

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CNIB Lake Joe reimagined its programming, launching virtual programs, CNIBLakeJoe@Home. From coffee chats to arts and crafts, trivia sessions and campfire singalongs, virtual programs provide opportunities for our community to gather, celebrate and learn year round. In addition, Camp-in-a-Box was created for kids to enjoy at home.

A zoom call/gallery view of 9 CNIB program leads and participants.
Summer 2020 CNIBLakeJoe@Home virtual program for children & youth.

CNIB Muskoka: Dock-to-Dock: Party with a Purpose made history as Canada’s first and largest socially distanced, synchronized dock-to-dock party from coast to coast. We welcomed more than 350 guests including “Dock Hosts”, donors, sponsors, and volunteers. Joan Kelley Walker, Rod Black, and a fantastic lineup of musicians featuring Beverley Mahood added star quality!

Entertainers Beverley Mahood and Mac Shepherd enjoying a break "between docks" on a pontoon on Lake Joseph
Entertainers Beverley Mahood and Mac Shepherd enjoying a break "between docks" on a pontoon on Lake Joseph

A new climbing tower was installed! Funded by generous donors at the 2020 CNIB Muskoka: Dock-to-Dock Party with a Purpose event and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the accessible climbing tower stands 32’ high with a climbing surface that will be 12’ wide and comes with leading-edge safety equipment. Installed by Challenges Unlimited, this tower will be a star attraction in CNIB Lake Joe’s new Adventure Zone.

The climbing tower structure at CNIB Lake Joe.
The climbing tower structure at CNIB Lake Joe is part of the exciting new Adventure Zone

 

2021

Warm Memories and Bright Futures are being celebrated all year long as part of CNIB Lake Joe’s 60th anniversary

CNIB Lake Joe 60th anniversary logo - yellow background with "60" in big black text. The CNIB Lake Joe Joe logo with an outline of a sailboat is inside the zero. Underneath is a black brush stroke followed by "Est. 1961".

CNIB Lake Joe is the very first Canadian organization to be selected by the STC (Synthetic Turf Council) for their annual Community Service Project. The STC is donating a synthetic turf soccer pitch to CNIB Lake Joe. The field is scheduled to be dedicated at CNIB Lake Joe 60th Anniversary celebrations in August.

Rendering of the new synthetic turf soccer pitch, a 40m x 20m field. 2m high black netting on the sides, with the CNIB Lake Joe logo (white sailboat) in a yellow circle at centre field, soccer goal nets at each end and a yellow boarder around the edge of the field.
Artist's rendering of the new synthetic turf soccer pitch, a 40m x 20m field

Celebrate with a donation to CNIB Lake Joe!

DONATE TO CNIB LAKE JOE