(excerpts taken with permission from “Deaf Heritage in Canada”, Clifton Carbin, 1996)
Ernest Charles Drury (ECD) is a name and school steeped in history. Concerned with the overcrowding at the Ontario School for the Deaf (OSD) in Belleville (now Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf) in the 1950”s, educational officials in the province decided a second residential school was needed. The 97-acre “Old Kingdom Farm” in the town of Milton was selected as the site for the new provincial school for the deaf. The property was purchased in March 1958. Construction started in the summer of 1961. Known at the time as the Ontario School for the Deaf, Milton, the first classes were held on April 23, 1963 and with an enrolment of 545 making it the third largest school for the deaf in North America. By January 1975, the school was renamed in honour of Ernest C Drury, a hearing farmer, politician, writer, local historian and premier of the province (1919-1923). Construction on the Junior (elementary) school was completed in 1963 and classes began on April 23 for 84 students and 10 teachers, most of who had transferred from the Ontario School for the Deaf: Belleville.
The first issue of the school’s newsletter the OSD Beaver was published in 1964 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the school’s opening.
The initial method of instruction used at the school was strictly oral. Visible English (Oralism supported by fingerspelling) became the school’s preferred approach for teaching deaf children in 1971. However, by 1973 signs were being used in more and classrooms as well as in the home-visiting program. In 1977, as a result of the Total Communication philosophy in North America, Visible English was replaced by Signed English. This was changed again in 1990 when American Sign Language (ASL) was introduced as the language of instruction and ECD became the first site under provincial Schools to pilot the bilingual/bicultural project (September 1991). The pilot project has now developed into an official bilingual/bicultural emphasis throughout the entire school program.
“All children deserve to learn the history of their language and its people, the richness of its expression, the beauty of its poetry. And they deserve to learn it in their native language, be it English, French or ASL.” That is the philosophy that inspired Heather Gibson to lead the development and implementation of North America’s first curriculum based on American Sign Language (ASL) which was implemented initially at ECD elementary. In 1999 Gibson wrote, “If we want our ASL-bilingual students to be prepared for the 21st century, we need to provide a curriculum that will equip them with high ASL literacy to access deep knowledge and understanding of the world around them. The ASL curriculum is this golden key.” Now 10 years later, that key has opened a door for many ECD students.