There are few stories forged out of the Great War as inspirational as that of Edwin Albert Baker, advocate for the visually impaired and charter member of the
Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Baker was born in 1893 in Ernesttown, Ontario and later went to Queen's University in Kingston, to become an electrical engineer. Fresh out of university in 1914, Baker qualified for the rank of Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Engineers. In April 1915, Baker, with the 6th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, embarked for England. Less than one month after arriving in France in September 1915, Baker was totally blinded by a sniper's bullet.
After his initial treatment, he was sent to St. Dunstan's Hospital for the War Blinded in London run by Sir Arthur Pearson. It was there that Baker learned various skills to facilitate his return to society, such as reading brail and typing. While at St. Dunstan's, Sir Arthur Pearson was amazed at the unprecedented recovery and ability that Baker had in coping with his visual impairment. The many letters to Baker's family from Pearson, along with Edwin Albert Baker's correspondence and photographs are found in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada.
Baker was a life-long advocate for the visually impaired. He help to found the
CNIB and through his role of Managing Director raised awareness of the challenges and triumphs of the blind throughout the world. For his efforts, Baker was bestowed honourary doctorates from Queen's University and the University of Toronto, he was a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), and a recipient of the French
Croix de Guerre. He received many awards for his work including the American Association for the Blind's Migel Medal and the Helen Keller Award for Distinguished Service to the Blind. Baker died, after an incredible life of service in 1968, in Parret's
Bay, Ontario, near Kingston.
Library and Archives Canada, MG 30 C 103, vol. 2, file "Casualty (E.A. Baker) -- Correspondence 1915-1917"
Telegram from Adjutant General to John W. Baker, 14 October 1915
It was through the tersely-worded medium of the telegram that Canadian families received messages regarding the well-being of loved ones at the Front. While the telegraphic message could relate exploits of valour and advancement of a soldier, more frequently they conveyed official regret over the injury, or loss of life in the line of duty.
Library and Archives Canada. MG 30 C 103, vol. 2, file "Casualty (E.A. Baker) -- Correspondence 1915-1917"
Letter from Sir Arthur Pearson, Director, St. Dunstan’s Hospital, to Edwin Baker’s Mother, 12 January 1916
Sir Arthur Pearson, himself having been blinded, was the Director of the famous St. Dunstan’s Hospital in Regent’s Park, London. Pearson wrote many times to Edwin Baker’s family in Canada, each time expressing an increasing amount of wonderment and pride in Baker’s ability to learn and adapt with his visual impairment.