Word of Knowles’ generosity spread. Soon more boys showed up on his doorstep until the small apartment was bursting at the seams. By November, Knowles resigned his job to open the Knowles Home in a larger house at 738 Broadway. The growing number of residents necessitated moves to 557 Bannatyne Avenue and later to 582 McDermot Avenue within a year.
The orphanage incorporated in 1910 and its new board of directors purchased 40 acres for a permanent facility in North Kildonan a year later. The board raised $50,000 and secured a $20,000 mortgage to build a new dormitory that would accommodate up to 70 boys. The building, opened in 1912, would stand for 47 year until destroyed by fire in 1959.
Even before Wilfred Knowles’ departure in 1914, the Home had began to shift from its focus as strictly an orphanage. It was believed that up to 70 percent of the boys came from Winnipeg’s juvenile court. Many other boys still had a living parent but could not be cared for at home.
The boys were educated by teachers paid by the Winnipeg School Board. Older boys were sent to work in the city or on farms for half the day, a situation not always in the best interest of the boys. Even at the Home, the boys were assigned chores outlined on a work list including cleaning, yard work, kitchen duty, and more. This work ethic had been established earlier while Knowles was superintendent. He believed a child had to be encouraged to work by giving him a reward.
Still, the Home’s sprawling grounds offered opportunity for play. The boys played Tarzan in the trees, swam in the Red River and Bunn’s Creek in the summer and jumped ice floes in the winter.
“The Boss,” as he was privately nicknamed by the boys, was described as a “spit and polish” superintendent known for his disciplined, military-like management of the school. He was also known for his fairness and gentleness, which earned the respect of the boys.
By 1940, there were 50 to 60 boys at the School. Almost one-third of the boys were sons of men in active service and were placed by mothers who could not handle raising their children alone. As well, a number of boys evacuated from the blitzing of England were to join the School.
Wear and tear was taking its toll on the 30-year old dormitory. A campaign was launched to fund a new building; the first wing was completed in early 1950 only to be swamped later that spring by the historic Winnipeg Flood. By the end of year, Hawkins fell ill and had to be hospitalized. He never fully recovered and, on April 10, 1951, Hawkins passed away, ending another era in Knowles’ history.
Around this time, legislation was changed to allow single mothers to collect government allowances. As a result, single mothers no longer sent their sons to Knowles because of financial hardships. The School fully adopted a shift in its focus to a treatment centre for boys with emotional and behavioural issues and staffing was restructured to reflect the change in mandate. Black was the first leader not to live on site; cottage house parents were replaced with professional child care workers. Not everyone was pleased with the massive changes at Knowles. Nevertheless, the School continued to implement modifications to reflect the changing face of child care in North America.
As if to summarize the changes it had seen in the past decade, the School officially changed its name to Knowles Centre Inc. in October 1979. Two years after it changed its name, the Centre officially became co-ed in October 1981.
If the decade of the 1970s was one of massive structural change, the 1980s proved to be the decade of new programs. Knowles Centre began many new treatment programs at this time, the first of which was the Day Treatment Program in conjunction with the River East Transcona School Division. The Centre also took part in a pilot project for a Professional Parenting Program in 1987. Then, in 1988, Knowles Centre began its comprehensive Sexual Abuse Treatment Program.
Dr. Rudy Ambtman joined Knowles Centre as Executive Director in 1992 and brought with him a strong community-orientation. Under his direction, community treatment homes were opened in 1995 and 1996 to replace the open units on the grounds.
In 1998, the River East Transcona School Division opened the John G. Stewart School on Knowles Centre’s grounds. It has the distinction of being the only publicly funded school on private property in Manitoba.
The Treatment Foster Care Program was launched in 2006 to offer another option in the continuum of care at Knowles Centre. The program brings together the professional treatment services for children and youth with strength of a caring family from the community.
Most recently Knowles Centre established the SAIL Program (Supported Advancement to Independent Living) to help youth gain the skills and competencies they need to gradually transition to living independently in the community as young adults.
Today, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Burdz, Knowles Centre is moving ahead in a new century. It is continuing to explore other services that meet the needs of an ever-changing community and the children, youth and their families.
Superintendents, Executive Directors and Chief Executive Officers
This abridged history of Knowles Centre Inc. is based on information researched and compiled by Kristine Betker, a former volunteer and staff member.
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