Special Education

School for the Deaf and the Blind

The first school for visually and hearing impaired children in British Columbia was the privately-run “School for Deaf-Mutes and the Blind” which opened in Victoria in September 1888. The school closed a year later after the founder, John Ashcroft, failed to secure a grant-in-aid from the provincial government. The government also declined to fund a second school which opened in Victoria in 1900 despite representations made by Victoria City Council and the British Columbia Benevolent Society. Beginning in 1901, however, the government provided grants for British Columbia children attending approved schools for the deaf and the blind outside the province. Most of the children were sent the Manitoba School for the Deaf in Winnipeg.

In 1915 the Vancouver Board of School established a class for deaf children at Mount Pleasant School. As enrolment increased, new classes were established, and in 1920 these were taken over by the Department of Education. The Provincial Oral School, as the classes were collectively known, operated in several locations before moving in 1922 to a permanent site near Jericho Beach in Vancouver. In 1922 the Department of Education also assumed responsibility for classes for the blind, which the Vancouver School Board had organized in 1915. These classes were transferred to the Jericho Beach site in September 1922. Thereafter the facility was known as the British Columbia School for the Deaf and the Blind. It was renamed Jericho Hill School in 1955.

Samuel H. Lawrence, who had been in charge of the Provincial Oral School, was principal of the School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1922 to 1934. He was succeeded by Dr. Charles E. MacDonald, who held the post of Superintendent-Principal until his retirement in 1967.

For many years, Jericho Hill School enjoyed a good reputation, locally and nationally, and was regarded with pride by Education Department officials. But in the late 1970s, early 1980s, a number of disquietening stories began circulating about instances of abuse at the school. In response, the Ministry of Education initiated a number of reforms. Students who were known abusers were removed from the school, although no charges were filed. But in 1991, a Vancouver newspaper published stories about rampant abuse at the school. The stories caused a public outcry and in 1992 the provincial government closed the school. (It re-opened briefly under the auspices of the Vancouver School Board.)

In 1993 a report by the Ombudsman's Office raised concerns about the school's failure to protect students. The government asked former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Berger to investigate. His 1995 report confirmed that a "culture of abuse" had festered for decades. His recommendations included financial compensation, free therapy and funding for deaf-community resources. Subsequently, compensation awards of up to $60,000 were made to hundreds of former students. However, when the compensation program ended in 2001, a class-action law suit was filed by former students seeking redress claims of between $100,000 and $300,000 from the provincial government.

In 1995 the Ministry of Education adopted a new policy for education students with special needs. The policy report is available online and includes a section on the historical context of special education in British Columbia.


Patrick A. Dunae, The School Record (Victoria: British Columbia Archives and Records Service, 1992), pp. 78-79; Norah Lewis, "Physical Perfection for Spiritual Welfare: Health Care for the Urban Child, 1900-1939," in Patricia T. Rooke and R. L. Schnell (eds.), Studies in Childhood History. A Canadian Perspective, Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1982. C. E. MacDonald, Moments...In the History of Jericho Hill School, 1915-1967, (Vancouver: Jericho Hill School, 1969).