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Centre building

Our History

Niagara Children’s Centre began in 1952, when the May Court Club of St. Catharines provided half-day per week parent relief programs for children with cerebral palsy. Originally operating out of St. Thomas Church’s parish hall in St. Catharines, the May Court Cerebral Palsy Centre ultimately relocated to the St. Catharines General Hospital.

In 1963, the Centre added speech therapy and physiotherapy to its service offering and established a committee to investigate the feasibility of operating a full-fledged crippled children’s centre in the area. After due investigation, the committee recommended that a full five-day program be initiated to provide educational opportunities as well as therapeutic treatment.

In January 1964, classroom space was provided and a teacher was procured. That same year, through the efforts of the May Court Club, several area Rotary Clubs, and the Port Colborne Lions Club, the Niagara Peninsula Crippled Children's Society was established, and was officially incorporated on October 15, 1965, with Dr. William Orr was the founding chairman.

The Centre opened at its present location on Glenridge Avenue in St. Catharines in 1969. In 1978, a major addition was completed, incorporating a therapeutic pool and a gym. To meet increased space demands, five portables were added in 1990, while another major redevelopment was planned. This redevelopment, which was completed in 1996, provided the Centre with up-to-date space and equipment that allowed the Centre to serve some 3,000 children and their families each year.

In 1999, the Centre changed its name from the Niagara Peninsula Crippled Children’s Centre to the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre. The name change occurred in part to reflect the broader group of children served by the Centre, including children with physical, developmental and communicative delays and disabilities. In the fall of 2012, the Centre changed its legal and operating name to Niagara Children's Centre.

In 2019, the School Based Rehabilitation Services (SBRS) program transferred to Niagara Children’s Centre from the Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand and Brant Health Integration Network. The SBRS program delivers occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech-language pathology services to children in their schools and supports their participation and success in school activities. This transfer aligned with the Centre’s vision of delivering services across the age continuum and provided greater continuity and coordination of services as children transition into schools.

Present Day and Looking Forward

Throughout its history, Niagara Children’s Centre has stayed attuned to the needs of children and youth with special needs in the Niagara Region and has grown and evolved to meet these needs. In recent years, the Centre has expanded its offerings to meet the increasing demand for services that provide children and families with strategies that help children develop their independence and give them the skills they need to participate in activities in their homes, schools and communities.

As the Centre continues forward, it will remain true to its guiding principles and vision: Niagara's Children and Youth at Their Best.

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

Dr. William Orr was Niagara Children’s Centre’s founding chairman and first medical directoDr. William Orr has a special place in the Centre’s history. A local physician and a Rotarian, Dr. Orr was instrumental in establishing the Centre. He unselfishly gave of himself, volunteering at clinics before the Centre was established, while relentlessly pursuing his dream of a children’s treatment centre for Niagara.

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, Edith, was one of those May Court volunteers – saw an opportunity to do so much more. Dr. Orr 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 addition to serving as the Centre’s medical director, Dr. Orr was also appointed the founding chairman when the organization was established in 1964. He served as the chair until 1970 and as medical director until 1994. Following the Centre’s expansion in 1996, the therapy wing was named the Dr. William J. Orr Wing to recognize his significant contributions.

Throughout his 30 years as medical director, Dr. Orr did not accept 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 used to provide financial assistance for children requiring specialized equipment, programs and orthotic devices.

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 at the age of 97. The Centre continues to recognize Dr. Orr as a pioneer and visionary of children’s rehabilitation treatment in Niagara. The Dr. William Orr Tribute Award is awarded annually to recognize an individual’s or organization’s outstanding dedication to supporting the mission and vision of Niagara Children’s Centre and positively impacting the quality of life of children and youth with disabilities, in the Niagara Region.