Our History

Child in a wheelchair

Ongwanada was founded on August 8, 1948 by Dr. Bruce Holmes Hopkins, a persevering and dedicated physician who campaigned for over twenty years to establish a Kingston Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Dr. Hopkins went to great lengths to transform the makeshift structure into “Ongwanada,” the Ojibwa word for “our home.”

The 1950s were peak years for the Ongwanada Sanatorium, however, as improved drug treatments made months and years of bed rest unnecessary, Ongwanada experienced a crisis of empty beds.

A new direction emerged in 1967 with the gradual transfer of 100 children with severe developmental disabilities from large and overcrowded facilities. In April 1968, Ongwanada further extended its services to chronic care patients with the opening of a 30-bed unit. The tuberculosis work continued through a combined TB and respiratory disease unit.

In the 1970s, in response to parental demands, the children’s unit experienced a shift from custodial nursing care to developmental programming. People with developmental disabilities were no longer to be considered patients requiring medical care, but as people capable of living in the community with support.

In April 1977, Ongwanada merged with the L.S. Penrose Centre, a King Street facility housing 120 adults with developmental disabilities. The two buildings were renamed the Hopkins and Penrose divisions of Ongwanada, under a new executive director, Robert Seaby. With the merger came a period of intense public controversy over Ongwanada’s future role. The debate resulted in a positive plan for “redevelopment,” which involved the creation of a range of community services and the eventual closing of both facilities.

In the 1980s, all the children living at the Hopkins site were transferred to communities near their families or relocated to 17 new community residences operated by Ongwanada in the Kingston area. The chronic care and respiratory disease units were transferred in November 1990 to Providence Manor under the administration of St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital. Professional and administrative staff moved from Hopkins to the newly constructed Ongwanada Resource Centre on Portsmouth Avenue, and the Hopkins building was demolished.

During the late 1990s, redevelopment focused on the adults living at Penrose. The majority of adults chose, in consultation with their families and staff, to move into 11 new community residences located along the Napanee-Gananoque corridor. The Home Share program (now Host Family), in which people live with a family other than their own with support from Ongwanada staff, was developed as an important option.

The last decade has brought more change to Ongwanada. We have been working closely with the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services to further transform developmental services.