In the 1950’s people with developmental disability, known then as mental retardation, were routinely sentenced to life in institutions. Family doctors and social workers advised parents to commit their children and then ‘forget about them’. This was the standard practice of the time. The Tranquille School in Kamloops, the Woodlands School in New Westminster and Glendale Lodge in Saanich, housed thousands of children and adults who lived with varying degrees of disability. For many, life in the institution was a never ending cycle of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and science-mandated ‘research’ that was little more than experimentation. The full horror of this life has yet to be revealed.
In 1958, in a living room in Courtenay B.C., a small group of moms and dads, teachers and friends gathered. They were determined to end the custom of sending children away; their goal was to provide supportive services for families right here in the Comox Valley. Thus the Beaufort Association was born.
The first services for children were provided as a preschool/daycare in the basement of St. George’s United Church. Beaufort Association, then known as the Comox Valley Society for Handicapped Children, incorporated as a non profit registered charity in June 1960. Incorporation allowed charitable fundraising to begin. Members and directors of the Society had very clear goals – to build and operate a school for children with special needs. This, along with support for families in the form of residential and respite care, would allow our community to keep our children and help them to learn and grow with their peers.
A few short years of fundraising, appeals to school district 71 and the securing of service contracts with the province, and the Beaufort School was up and running. The school was built on the grounds of Courtenay Elementary School near Sixteenth Street and McPhee Avenue. The Society owned and operated the building, provided supplies and equipment, wages for teaching assistants and transportation for the children. The School District provided a Special Education Teacher. The idea of the Special Needs School located in close proximity to the regular school was in hope that some integration would take place, at least in the playground.
Once this goal was achieved, the Society wasted no time sitting back on its laurels. The next step was to lobby Government and the Board of Education, to assume responsibility for these children, and make room for them in regular schools. Although it took almost fifteen years, in 1980 a special needs classroom opened at Puntledge Elementary School. In the meantime former Beaufort Students were continuing their education at G.P. Vanier Secondary School.
In the late 1960’s, Beaufort Association was operating Sandwick Lodge, a twelve bed residential facility, for the Ministry of Social Services. This group living home, located next to Vanier School on Headquarters Road, provided a home for ten children from the Comox Valley and Campbell River areas, and temporary and respite care for children from the entire North Island, that is from Nanaimo to Port Hardy.
It was also around this time that the Provincial Mental Health Branch approached the Association to consider operating an adult residence at Bevan. Beaufort Association Directors felt that embarking on this project would put too great a strain on this volunteer organization. The Bevan Lodge Society was created to manage the adult project and several directors from Beaufort Association were seconded to provide assistance to the new organization.
With the School District assuming responsibility for the education of children, and the Bevan Lodge Society providing residential and day program services for adults, Beaufort Association took ‘a step back’. While it continued to provide transportation for school children, it focused on community education and advocacy. It provided some financial support, through its transportation contracts and fundraising, for ‘Special Needs’ students at G. P. Vanier secondary school and the adults who attended the Lillian Lefcoe Adult Training Centre.
In 1988, with the closure of the sheltered workshop, Beaufort Association was awarded a contract to provide ‘community based day services’ for fifteen adults. This took the form of the Quest Personal Development Program, an experimental learning and social exploration of the Comox Valley and beyond. The group ‘took on’ many projects, including paid work (newspaper recycling for the Regional District, assembly contracts for local businesses) and volunteer activities (Community Park Development for the City of Courtenay, assisting local service clubs).
In 1990, the Ministry of Social Services asked the Association to ‘take on’ an additional day program. The Community Options Program serves eighteen adults.