Our History

Over 50 Years of History & Still Counting…

Community Living Essex County was formed in 1961 by families who believed in and struggled for their sons and daughters to remain a part of their family life and their community. This Association is very much a grass roots organization formed by the community, in the community! Today – five and a half decades later – we continue to embrace our grass roots by providing family-directed supports to people of all ages with an intellectual disability.


On September 18th a group of 8 parents met with representatives of the Sandwich South School Board and community groups to begin the process of establishing and operating a school for their children.


The Sun Parlour School opened its doors on January 5th. Affectionately called “the little red school house” it had one room, one teacher, four students, a borrowed station wagon and lots of courage!


Incorporated as the Essex County Association for Retarded Children on September 11th, 1961 with operating bylaws, 37 students, and an operating budget of $35,537.


In November, Sun Parlour was relocated to a former doctor’s residence at 115 Talbot Street North in Essex. Its bus drivers would travel 450 miles daily to bring students to school.


April 1 - The County of Essex budget provided almost $60,000 in grants to various non-profit organizations with the largest grant of $23, 410 to Sun Parlour School.


A first adult "workshop" called Sun Parlour Training Centre was opened. It provided adult day supports to five people and was located in Maidstone.


Operation of Sun Parlour School was taken over by the Essex County Board of Education.


A 5,400 square foot building was constructed to house ARC (Adult Rehabilitation Centre) Industries, a sheltered workshop producing woodworking and light assembly for 55 adults – a real growth from the previous location serving 21 people.


On May 27, the pupils and staff on Sun Parlour School invited the public to the opening of their new building on Maidstone Avenue in Essex. At the time, it served 94 students and boasted 12 classrooms, a music room, home economics room and industrial arts workshop.


A 3,000 square foot addition to ARC was added to allow for a closed in woodworking shop. At the time of the addition there were 23 names on the waiting list. ARC Industries continued to operate until 1993.


The Sun Parlour Day Nursery School opened. It was a 5 room, $127,000 addition to the school to accommodate up to 30 children ranging in ages from 2 to 5 years old.


The Association was renamed the Essex County Association for the Mentally Retarded.


A group of volunteers from the community of Ruthven came together to start the very first farmers market and Ruthven Apple Festival. This event is still held every year at the end of September.


The first children’s residence in Essex County was opened. It became home to 5 children who had previously lived in an institution, also offering 2 additional beds for emergency respite services to families.


The former Michael’s Department Store located at 49 Talbot Street North in Essex became the new central administration office and housed 15 employees. The front of the building was used to display products of "Wood and What Knot".


Celebrated the 25th anniversary and grew to provide three workshops, nursery school program, four group living homes, transportation services, a work contract program, and recreation program. Employed 140 people, supported over 200 people, and had an operating budget of close to 3 million dollars.


Changed the name to Essex County Association for Community Living. The change resulted from people not wanting to be identified by a label.


Partnership with Ken Knapp Ford began, fostering the Jingle Bell Run, Walk & Wheel. This event is still held every November.


The Annual Golf Charity Tournament is born . This tradition is still carried on today, with the addition of a Municipal Cup Challenge where the municipalities across the county sign up to claim the cup – and bragging rights!


Celebrated our 30th anniversary with a week-long series of special events, including a dinner/dance, open houses and tours of offices, resource centers and homes across Essex County.


Joined a province wide lobby at Queens Park to convince the Minister of Community and Social Services to reconsider cutbacks in funding. Three busloads of supporters from Essex County joined thousands of people from across Ontario at a rally organized by the Ontario Association for Community Living.


A partnership with the Devonshire Mall for an Annual Gift Wrapping Booth begins.


The doors to a brand new, accessible, administrative/program office were opened. Located at 372 Talbot Street North in Essex, the former location of ARC industries.

Late 1990s

Thousands of people with an intellectual disability moved from smaller institutions to a life in their chosen community. This Association assisted many people to return from distant institutions to Essex County.


At the time of the 40th Anniversary, support provided for over 500 people and their families.


Changed the name to Community Living Essex County. This change aligned the organization with hundreds of other Community Living organizations in Canada.


The Annual Mayor’s Luncheon was born! This event celebrates Community Living Month in Ontario. In its early years, it was four separate events. Each event took place in a different community across Essex County. Held every May, the Mayor’s Luncheon is an annual event that brings together the communities and our leaders across Essex County.


Community Living Essex County undergoes a transformation and unveils new, more colourful logos. Still using the signature “starburst”, the single teal colour is replaced with a more vibrant green and blue, adding the tagline 'inspiring possibilities'. By March 31st all provincially operated institutions in Ontario were closed.


At Lakeside Pavillion and Park in Kingsville, a province-wide reflection was held on March 31st to remember the lives lived in institutions and to celebrate the move to community living.


At the AGM, the Ladies Auxiliary were honoured for their decades of assistance organizing events with a plaque that still hangs in the offices today.


In celebration of the 50th Anniversary, a dinner and gala event was held at the Ciociaro Club.


Registered with Focus Accreditation, and so the journey to reaching accreditation and continuous quality improvement began.


October - Provided assistance to over 100 former residents of Huronia Regional Centre, Southwest Regional Centre, and Rideau Regional to file submissions for compensation in a provincial Class Action Lawsuit.


May - Leapt into the world of Social Media. Social Media sites were launched in May (Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, followed by Instagram later in the year, and eventually Linkedin in May of 2015).


June 17 - Journey to reach Accreditation came to a successful awarding of a Certificate of Accreditation at our Annual General Meeting.


March 9th - One of 38 organizations across Ontario to receive a grant from the Ministry of Community and Social Services Employment and Modernization fund to develop a "First Choice - Employment" Program.


May - Received approval from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to move forward with "Real Change" to modernize and transform supports and services and to develop a Centre for Innovation and Quality Supports.

Did You Know...

Community Living Essex County continues to be at the forefront of our sector, leading the charge in finding innovative new ways to deliver quality supports and services to families and their loved ones.