a nurse who single-handedly changed care
The name Winnifred Stewart
is synonymous with helping mentally handicapped children. For thousands of
families with mentally handicapped children, she helped turn despair, frustration
and social stigma into hope, understanding and community acceptance.
Stewart's family moved to Edmonton from British Columbia when she was a small
child and, after finishing high school, she took her training as a Registered
nurse at Edmonton General Hospital. Motivated by a desire to help her son Parker,
who was born severely mentally handicapped, she devoted twenty years to experimental
research into the methods of teaching the mentally handicapped. Observing the
level of development that Parker obtained, Stewart became convinced that schools
for the mentally handicapped were not only possible, but essential.
In the 1950s, Winnifred Stewart managed to arouse the interest of the provincial
government in providing financial aid to schools for these children and then
put her efforts into establishing the first association for teachers of the
mentally handicapped. In 1954, she was the first woman to address the Alberta
Legislature from the floor of the House. This resulted in the first recognition
by a government in Canada to provide financial aid to schools for mentally
During the period from
1954 to 1970, Winnifred Stewart organized and founded schools for the mentally
handicapped in nineteen communities across Western Canada. All these schools
use the curriculum and teaching methods developed by Stewart for which she
is internationally recognized.
Stewart worked closely
with the University of Alberta regarding the mentally handicapped, providing
a practical workshop for research projects. She also established a working
relationship with forty-five school divisions within the province that have
children attending the Winnifred Stewart School. Persevering in urging the
Edmonton Association to establish a Vocational Training Sheltered Workshop
for the mentally handicapped, Stewart saw the realization of that dream with
the opening of Cerwood Industries in 1979.
In 1972, Winnifred Stewart
was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in the same year received
an Honourary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from the University of Alberta.