History of the People First Movement

    Here are some of the important dates in the history of the development of People First across Canada:

  • 1973 For the first time, people labeled as mentally handicapped come together at a conference in Canada.
  • 1974 Inspired by the British Columbia conference, a conference of self advocates is held in Oregon. The name “People First” is chosen as a name for the self advocacy movement.
  • 1974 The first People First group in Canada begins in British Columbia.
  • 1978 A local People First group forms in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Groups are active in British Columbia and forming in Alberta.
  • 1979 People First groups form in Brantford and Oakville, Ontario.
  • 1980 Self advocates in Ontario hold a conference at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario and decide to form a provincial People First organization. People First groups began to form in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
  • 1981 Provincial conference of People First in Ontario held in Toronto, Ontario. About 650 people attend. International People First Conference in Oregon.
  • 1982 Meeting of self advocates organized at the 1982 World Congress of the International League of Societies for Persons with Mental Handicap in Nairobi, Kenya. Barb Goode represents Canada.
  • 1983 People First of Ontario formed. People First groups have formed in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Alberta.
  • 1984 National Self Advocacy Development Project begins. Project soon becomes known as the National People First Project. First issue of the newsletter of the project (“The National Organizer”) comes out in July. International Self Advocacy Leadership Conference in Tacoma, Washington. People First leaders from British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, and the National People First Project attend.
  • 1985 British Columbia forms provincial People First organization. In Ontario, there are 34 known groups. First meeting of the Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia People First group.
  • 1986 Conference of People First leaders from Canada and the United States held in Bolton, Ontario. Self Advocates organize a “Workers Council” in a sheltered workshop in Nova Scotia.
  • 1989 There are 19 People First chapters in British Columbia. Nova Scotia provincial People First group begins. Saskatchewan and Manitoba also have provincial organizations by this time.
  • 1991 Founding Convention of People First of Canada. Provincial organizations alive and well in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
  • 1993 People First of Canada and People First of Ontario host the Third International People First Conference in Toronto. About 1,500 delegates from 34 countries attend the conference.Today, People First groups from all ten provinces and two territories are represented on the Board of Directors of People First of Canada.*

*Thanks to People First of Ontario for the use of the above.

In 1996, a history of People First in Canada was published. It is a chapter in a book called New Voices: Self Advocacy by People with Disabilities. The book was edited by Gunnar Dybwad and Hank Bersani, Jr. It is published by Brookline Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bruce Kappel, a volunteer Advisor with People First of Canada wrote the history with a lot of help from Peter Park, Beth French, and Patrick Worth.