50th Anniversary

50th Anniversary (2014)

Niagara Children's Centre celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2014. An open house celebration was held to commemorate the milestone and reconnect with former colleagues, clients and classmates. 

We invite you to browse our archives and stories from the past 50 years by using the menu on the left.

Open House Program Book



Dr. William Orr – Founder and Niagara Children’s Centre Champion

Since Niagara Children’s Centre’s humble beginnings in 1954 in the basement of the former St. Catharines General Hospital, Dr. William Orr championed the work done here.
When volunteers from the May Court Club of St. Catharines began offering half-day respite for parents of children with disabilities, Dr. Orr – whose wife was one of those May Court volunteers – saw an opportunity to do so much more. He began offering what is now physiotherapy and occupational therapy as the Centre’s first medical director, which were not widely available to children in the Niagara Region at the time.
In an interview with the St. Catharines Standard in 2000, he explained, “I wanted a place where children could go and get real help.”
He attended Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls, and completed medical school at the University of Toronto in 1943. Following medical school, he joined the Canadian Army as a medical corps captain, although he was never deployed. He opened a medical practice in Espanola, Ontario after the war, before moving back to St. Catharines to begin his work with the Centre.
He served as Medical Director for the Centre for 30 years, and in that time, never accepted a salary. In his honour, in 1989 the Centre’s Board of Directors set up a trust fund for the equivalent of his earnings. The Dr. William Orr Trust fund is use to provide financial assistance for children requiring specialized equipment, programs and orthotic devices.
His wife, Edith, explained in the same interview, “Bill didn’t want to gain anything from the children. He didn’t take any remuneration at all. He returned everything to the Centre.”
Over the years, Dr. Orr was honoured with many awards, including: the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, Ontario’s highest award for civic spirit; and the Glen Sawyer Service Award from the Ontario Medical Association.
Dr. Orr passed away peacefully, surrounded by family on March 27, 2018, at the age of 97.  The Centre continues to recognize Dr. Orr as a founding father and visionary of children’s rehabilitation treatment in Niagara. 
small dr orr

Rotary Clubs of Niagara – From the beginning


Rotary Logo
Up until 1963, Rotary Clubs of Niagara had primarily been involved with the Centre by way of financial donations to the May Court Club of St. Catharines, but in that year, the clubs became part of the committee that would determine the feasibility of a full-fledged Cripples Children’s Centre. In 1964, the Niagara Crippled Children’s Centre officially opened full-time with Rotarian support.
Dr. William Orr, a longstanding Rotarian served as the first Chairman of the Board and medical director, while never accepting any payment for his service. Financial support came from the St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland Rotary Clubs who together, worked to raise $131,000 for the Centre’s new (and current) site on Glenridge Avenue.
The Rotary Clubs are still active donors to the Centre, and Oksana Fisher, current CEO along with Jackie Van Lankveld, current Manager of Speech Services Niagara, both serve the St. Catharines Club.

May Court Club of St. Catharines


May Court Coat of Arms
The May Court Club of St. Catharines was established as a women’s service organization in 1935, dedicated to addressing needs in our community, primarily those of women and children.  In 1952, in conjunction with the Rotary Club Mobile Unit, May Court opened the Cerebral Palsy Play Centre at St. Thomas Anglican Church.  Club volunteers cared for 4 children one afternoon a week to give parents a needed break, as well as to give the children an opportunity to socialize. 
By 1957, the Centre had moved to the St. Catharines General Hospital (1953), the number of children in the program had grown from 4 to 32, Dr. W. Orr had become the medical advisor, and a physiotherapist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist had been hired.  A Management Committee was formed with Dr. Orr as Chair and with representation from Rotary Club, May Court Club and SCGH.  Throughout these years of growth, the May Court volunteers raised funds, provided equipment, and cared for the children 5 days per week. 
May Court members travelled to Queen’s Park several times to request provincial funding, and in 1958, they were successful in receiving an annual grant of $990.  By this time, with rising enrolment, transportation needs, increasing salaries, utilities and maintenance costs, Rotary and May Court and other supporters were grateful for the assistance.
In 1965, the Centre was incorporated and plans were begun for a new building. Four years later, the Niagara Peninsula Crippled Children’s Centre was officially opened at 567 Glenridge, with an enrolment of 60 children.   As the Centre continued to expand in size and treatment facilities, May Courters continued to provide funds as well as volunteer in the classroom, the lunchroom, the playground, and the swimming pool.  They also organized orientation/training for volunteers, conducted tours, participated in interpretive sessions with teachers and therapists, and contributed as members of the Board of Directors.  In the late 1970’s our volunteers numbered 42 per week.
Presently, May Court provides for a children’s Christmas Party each year, with lunch, carols, Santa and presents.  Additional funding is provided for the library as well as for equipment.  Although the need for volunteers has diminished over time, several members continue to serve in the library and in the classroom.
May Court President, Betsy Partington says, “It has been a privilege for us to be a part of the Children’s Centre through the many years and we cherish the friendships we have made with students, staff and our fellow volunteers.  We wish the Centre a Happy 50th Anniversary!”

St. Catharines Firefighters Association


St Catharines firefighters

The St. Catharines Firefighters have been supporters have the Centre for many years. In the 1970's and 80's, they often provided transport for the children of the Centre to and from activities they might not otherwise be able to travel to.  Many past clients have fond memories of playing in the firetrucks and going to interesting places in them.


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