Halifax School for the Blind.

This is a photo of the Halifax School for the Blind where Cammie went to school in the 1950’s.

My mum was about fifteen at the time this next photo was taken. I believe it was manual training class. (She’s the girl on the right.) Like Cammie, my mother left a small rural community in Nova Scotia to attend the Halifax School for the Blind. She was nine years old. She says what sticks out in her memory, of the day she arrived, was the strong smell of tar in the air.

My Mum was born the year before Cammie.  This year she will turn eighty. I guess that means Cammie will be turning seventy-nine on December 3rd. Oh wow!

Mum still speaks about her time at the school with great fondness. Some of the stories I wrote about in Cammie Takes Flight such as the boys sneaking out of the school and calling the girls at the pay phone in the lobby, and tossing notes back and forth during class time, really did happen when she was at the school. The children at the school might have thought they were fooling the adults around them, it became obvious one day during morning assembly when Mr. Allen gave them a lecture on what he called “Telephonitis,” that they were a lot smarter than the kids thought. Now my mum claims she never broke any of the rules, and she probably didn’t, my stepfather has a different story to tell about his experiences at the school. In fact, he inspired the scene where Cammie sneaks into the dining room to look for food in the middle of the night. Apparently the boys often went out on these nightly strolls. Cammie is a feisty girl and I wrote with the thought that if the boys could do it, somehow Cammie could too! The boys were given a lot more freedom than the girls and they learned how to take advantage of it. As Cammie liked to say, she had “ingenuity.” I say the boys at the school did too.

It is true that the boys and the girls were segregated. The common belief  was that if two people with vision problems eventually got married any children they might have stood a greater chance of having vision problems as well. Despite the schools strict rules some of the students at the school did marry later in life. I guess this goes to show if there’s a will there’s a way.

What some of you might not know is that I even wrote my mother as a character in the book. How could I NOT put her in? She went to the school the same time as Cammie. For anyone interested,  she was the “pint-size girl” girl known as Mary Louise who shows Cammie how to open her locker door by hitting it with her fist. This “locker story” was another memory that came from Mum. She was also in another scene at the Christmas dance. And yes, my mother’s name is Mary Louise.

Braille is mentioned several time in Cammie Takes Flight. Cammie was a sight-saving student and read from Large Print Books.  FYI: I bet you didn’t know that Large Print version of Cammie Takes Flight is available by contacting Nimbus.ca.

Below is a Braille Alphabet card. Braille was invented in the 1800’s by Louis Braille. Louis Braille was a teacher of blind students and he lived in France. He became blind at the age of three. He created a system of patterns of raised dots that are arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3 X 2 configuration. Each cell represents a letter, number, or punctuation mark.

When my mum went to the school, she said the sighted teachers would read Braille with their eyes.     Some of the teachers at the school were former students and some were totally blind just like Mrs. Christi in Cammie Takes Flight.  My stepfather learned to read Braille as a child. He tells me he used to read from Braille books long into the night after lights out. Isn’t that every kid’s dream?

Did you know that on the left hand side of our Canadian bills there are numerations in Braille so that blind and visually impaired individuals can easily identify them? Pretty cool!

I’ve been asked why I decided to make Cammie visually impaired and it’s really quite simple. I find people are more understanding of what it means to be blind than they are when it comes to someone who is visually impaired. Blindness is something that people actually get–you can’t see. But being visually impaired seems to put a whole other spin on it. I saw this for myself growing up, all the times my mum felt that she needed to apologize for making mistakes simply because she couldn’t see well or people not fully understanding that, while someone who is visually impaired might navigate quite well in familiar surrounding, they can be completely lost when placed in a situation that is totally unfamiliar to them. Above all that, I also wanted readers to understand that kids are kids/ people are people, regardless of whether they can see or not. The kids growing up at the school, were like other kids with likes and dislikes, dreams and yes, even schemes. I also wanted readers to understand that people with sight disabilities can do some pretty remarkable things. Some of the students who went to school with my mother went on to become lawyers and computer programers. One was a crown prosecutor. Others used the skills they learned at the school and became piano tuners, upholsterers. One student was a concert pianist. My stepfather had a catering business and a piano tuner for many years, his twin brother, also visually impaired, is an ordained minister and my mum raised five children. A friend of hers, who eventually lost her sight completely, married someone from the school, and together they were the first blind couple in Canada to adopt a child. It made the news.

I hope this gives you a bit of insight into Cammie’s world. Perhaps you’ll come away with a better understanding of people with sight disabilities.

Check back from time to time as I’m hoping to update this page as new thoughts/information comes to me.

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