Special Series: Fast Forward
By Victoria Fenner
For the Ontario Ministry of Social Services, Camphill Ontario is an institution providing supportive housing for disabled adults. For the people who live and work there, it’s home, community and a way of life.
Camphill’s driving principle: People grow when they focus on their abilities, not their disabilities. It starts with the assumption that all people have the inner wisdom to learn, understand and develop in ways that work for them. Disabled people need some extra help to realize their potential. This is Camphill’s reason for being.
The first Camphill community was launched in 1939 in Aberdeen, Scotland, by Dr. Karl Konig, an Austrian pediatrician and educator who had left his home country after Hitler’s invasion. Konig was inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, a 19th century Austrian philosopher best known as the founder of Waldorf schools and a belief system called anthroposophy, which he defined as “a way of knowledge — a cognitive path — that leads the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”
Based on Steiner’s ideas, Konig created a community which helped people with special needs realize their potential in an atmosphere of equality and respect.
There are now one hundred Camphill communities in twenty-two countries around the world. In Canada there are two communities in B.C., one in North Vancouver and another in Duncan. Camphill Ontario has two locations: a 290-acre farm near the village of Angus (“The Village”), about twenty kilometers west of Barrie, and, for those who prefer urban life, a location in the city of Barrie.
Camphill Ontario was co-founded by Chuck Kyd, Diane Kyd and Dorothy Swanson in the early 1980s, based on Dr. Konig’s European model, where people live and work together, sharing their lives.
Camphill activities include agriculture, therapeutic arts, the performing arts and crafts – for the elderly, the mentally ill, and people of all levels of disability. “It’s a community that tries to include people in a three-fold way – in the cultural, in the social and as valued members of an economic life within community,” says Diane Kyd.
Angus village is a busy place. There are shops for woodworking and pottery, an organic vegetable garden, a herbery and twenty-five Highland cattle to look after. Trees on the property provide wood for a carpentry shop. Maple syrup is produced in late winter. There are walking trails throughout the property and lots of spots for meditation.
The jewel in the crown is Novalis Hall, a community arts centre where festivals, concerts, events and other gatherings take place. Many are open to the public, providing a way for Camphill residents to interact with others in the community, and vice versa.
The residents live in five large houses, all of them bright, cheery and well maintained. Furniture is modern, with none of the shabbiness so commonly seen at other facilities for disabled adults.
Residents (they are called “companions” at Camphill) have their own rooms. There are separate apartments in some of the houses for people who can live more independently. Each house has round-the-clock staff to make sure everything works well and that the companions’ needs are looked after.
Recognizing that not everyone is suited to rural life, Camphill Ontario also has residential facilities in nearby Barrie. There are also day programs for companions who are living on their own or with their families. A store in downtown Barrie sells Camphill craft work, along with creations by other local artists.
Diane and Chuck have seen many changes since they first established Camphill Ontario. “I think that people with disabilities are better understood than they were thirty years ago,” Diane says. “There’s a lot more opportunity for relationship, for work, for cultural experiences in the world for people that we’re supporting … We want to support them as they move further and further out into full citizenship.”
Fast Forward: Stories of Challenge & Change is produced with the generous support of the Government of Canada and the Social Justice Fund of Unifor. Guitar and recorder by Edward St. Moritz. Thanks to Roger Dumas for his wonderful human brain ‘sonifications’, one of which appears in Fast Forward intros/extros. For more information about Roger’s Pieces of Mind CD, go here.