Winnifred Stewart was born on June 26, 1908 in Fernie, British Columbia, and moved to Edmonton in 1911. After high school, she entered nurse’s training and graduated from Edmonton General Hospital as a Registered Nurse.
The name Winnifred Stewart is synonymous with helping mentally handicapped children. For thousands of families she helped turn despair, frustration and social stigma into hope, understanding and community acceptance.
Motivated by a desire to help her son Parker Stewart, who was born with severe disabilities, she devoted 20 years to experimental research work into new teaching methods. Under her methods, Parker Stewart achieved a level of development that was previously considered impossible. Dr. Stewart became convinced that schools for the mentally handicapped were both practical and essential.
In 1953, she met with other parents and formed what is now known as the Winnifred Stewart Association for the Mentally Handicapped. It was the first school of its kind in Canada.
In 1954, Dr. Stewart was the first woman to address the Alberta Legislature from the floor of the House. This resulted in the first recognition by a government in Canada to provide financial aid to schools for mentally handicapped children. The following year she became the driving force in establishing Canada’s first association for teachers of the mentally handicapped, and was instrumental in founding an Alberta association for mentally handicapped children.
During the period from 1954 to 1970, Winnifred Stewart organized and founded schools in 19 communities across Western Canada. All these schools use the curriculum and teaching methods developed by Dr. Stewart for which she is internationally recognized. She sent information to interested groups as far away as Moscow, Russia.
In 1956, Dr. Stewart was chosen by the Mental Health Association as the one person who had contributed the most to child welfare and health in Alberta, and in 1956, she was named Edmonton’s Citizen of the Year.
The year 1968 saw the opening of the Western Industrial Research Training Centre, a multi-million dollar institution serving the mentally handicapped. This centre was unique in North America and was inspired by Winnifred Stewart.
Dr. Stewart worked closely with the University of Alberta, providing a practical workshop for research projects. She also established a working relationship with 45 school divisions within the province with children attending the Winnifred Stewart School. Persevering in urging the Edmonton Association to establish a Vocational Training Sheltered Workshop for the mentally handicapped, Dr. Stewart saw the realization of that dream with the opening of Cerwood Industries in 1979.
In 1972, Winnifred Stewart was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in the same year received an Honourary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from the University of Alberta.