Thursday, February 16, 2017

700 Elgin Avenue - Former Ellen Douglass School / Child Guidance Clinic

Place: Former Ellen Douglass School / Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg
Address: 700 Elgin Avenue (Map)
Opened: January 20, 1961
Architect: William Enns
Contractor: Arlington Builders
Cost: $476,000 (est)

This school was built specifically for the education of physically disabled children and was funded jointly by the Winnipeg School Division and the province's Department of Health and Social Services.

It was named for Dr. Mary Ellen Douglass (1878 - 1950), a well-respected physician who lobbied for women's health, mother-child programs and specialized programming for disabled children. (Read more about her here and here.) At the time it was rare for the school division to name a building after a local person. Their practice was to use place names or, in the case of senior schools, to alternate between Christian saints and British Lords.

Prior to the opening of Ellen Douglass School, disabled children had little chance for a proper education.

The city's network of aging, multi-storey schools could not accommodate them physically. Even if they could, there wasn't the specialized staff needed to teach them. Some urban school divisions offered a limited home tutoring service, while in rural areas there was often no services at all.
Top: Vanier lays cornerstone (Source: Winnipeg Tribune Collection)

The school's cornerstone was laid on April 28, 1960 by Governor General Georges Vanier. Known for his dedication to young people, he remarked at the ceremony: "This is a fine project and I hope an example that will be followed by many other parts of our country."

The two-storey, 46,000 sq ft structure was designed by William Enns, an in-house architect for the Winnipeg School Division who also designed St. John's and Kelvin High Schools. The contractors were Arlington Builders, also noted for educational buildings, including Riddell Hall and Sisler High School.

The school offered a full range of programming for elementary through to junior high children. There were six classrooms, a home ec kitchen, music room and art space. Some modifications had to be made in the design phase to cater to the students, such as extra wide door frames. In the finishing stages, handrails were installed in all of the hallways, sinks and mirrors were lowered and tilting blackboards were provided in some of the classrooms.

There was also office space for visiting psychologists, speech therapists, social workers and other specialized staff needed to meet the children's needs.

Crosland with students. June 22, 1967, Winnipeg Tribune.

The school opened on January 20, 1961 and in its first partial year of operation taught 49 students. By the 1963- 64 school year that number rose to 60 and by 1967 - 68, there were 84.

The principal for much of its first decade was Margaret Crosland, a graduate of the University of Manitoba. She would go on to earn her PhD at the University of Toronto and become the province's Assistant Director of Special Services with the Department of Education.

In 1961, the Ellen Douglass School Auxiliary started under the leadership of Mrs. S. Patterson.

This group, made up mainly of parents, hosted a variety of fundraising events and worked with social service agencies to raise money for the wide range of modified equipment, everything from kitchen electronics and typewriters to playground equipment, needed by the school.

Students on a  field trip. May 12, 1965, Winnipeg Tribune

The school and its students were received positively.

Field trips and special events were often covered by local media. Police Chief Robert Taft, who sometimes visited, once told a reporter: "It's humbling to come here and see the courage (of the children)."

In 1967, Princess Alexandra visited Kildonan Park for a Centennial celebration. A relay team made up of students from Ellen Douglas School wound its way through the park to present the Royal with the Manitoba coat of arms.

The building was also home to the Child Guidance Clinic of Greater Winnipeg, which opened on the second floor in January 1961.

The clinic was created in 1951 through the amalgamation of a number of existing services, including a child guidance department run by Winnipeg School Division No. 1 and child psychiatric and counselling services offered through the healthcare system. Its goal was to be able to assess, monitor and treat "problem children" through a single entity.

The services of the new clinic were available to all 105,000 students from all of the school divisions in Greater Winnipeg. Similar to Ellen Douglass School, it was funded jointly by the Winnipeg School Division and the province's Department of Health and Social Services.

November 4, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

The pairing of these two institutions in one building was first proposed in 1958 and considered a "win - win" relationship.

Prior to this, the clinic was housed in the annex of Victoria Albert School but needed a permanent home as close to the Children's Hospital as possible. As this site was adjacent to hospital land, it was able to be connected by tunnel.

For the school portion, it is unlikely that the school division would have paid for the construction of a custom building for such a small number of students. So, not only did Ellen Douglass students get a new building, they also had immediate access to the many professional services offered by the clinic staff upstairs.

Top: May 6, 1967, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: June 13, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

By 1963, the clinic had 70 staff serving about 8,500 children in the school system and needed more space. In 1969, they expanded into the building's basement, but soon found themselves tight on space again.

By the late 1960s, Ellen Douglass School was also overcrowded. More disabled children were entering the school system and there was a growing movement to have them attend community schools rather than specialized institutions.

During the 1977 - 78 school year, fifteen Ellen Douglass students were transferred to a renovated portion of Lord Roberts School. The trial run was deemed a success and the following year the remaining 45 students were transferred.

In September 1979, much of 700 Elgin Avenue's main floor was leased out to the International Centre primarily to provide English language classes for new immigrants.

May 6, 2015, Winnipeg Free Press

By the spring of 2015 the clinic had been renamed Clinical Support Services and was no longer located at 700 Elgin. In March of that year the school division put the building up for sale.             

In January 2017 it was announced that the WRHA, who are completing the new Women's Hospital adjacent to the school, offered to purchase 700 Elgin for $1.35 million, pending approval of the health minister. They did not specify what they intended to use the land for.

Also see:
My Flickr photo album of Ellen Douglass school.

700 Elgin Avenue - Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

1 comment:

  1. The Winnipeg School Division (WSD) turned 150 years on October 30, 2021. A committee is planning a variety of learning experiences to celebrate the anniversary. One project is the research, study and publication of a WSD 150 book featuring past and present schools, students and programs within the division. We are writing a page about Ellen Douglass School and would like to use photos from this page. Do I have your permission do do so? I look forward to hearing from you.
    With thanks and appreciation,
    Joyce Wong
    Director of Transitional Planning
    Winnipeg School Division