Learn more about the WCB’s history of helping Manitobans.
Darren Oryniak: When I think about the history of the WCB in Manitoba, one of the names that comes to mind is Norman Elliott. He was the first rehabilitation officer at the Workers Compensation Board and a pioneer in what we call “Return to Work”. With two prosthetic legs and having lost parts of his hands and all fingers, he was recognized as Manitoba’s first surviving quadra amputee. Noreen Duncan: As a middle child of three, dad grew up near McCreary, Manitoba. His family were self-sufficient farmers at a small firm. As he was older, he got a job serving. And it was March 23rd, 1926 that he was coming home in the evening after serving and it was a stormy blizzardy day, and they have been doing some work on a local drainage ditch and he slipped in a loose gravel and fell into the water. And he knocked himself out. And so he laid there unconscious through most of the night. And when he came to, the ice had formed around his limbs and he had to chop the ice away in order to move. So with much difficulty, he was able to chop the ice away from his legs and his arms, and then he – there was a farm light – a farmyard light not too far away. And he dragged himself on his elbows to get to the farmyard. And the resident dogs heard him and began to bark and so woke up the owners. At the hospital, I believe there were four doctors. And they knew amputations were necessary. The one was just below knee and the other hand a slightly longer stump. And of course, that made a world of difference in his life. At that time though, he was not expected to live. There was very little hope but he would live and manage. Darren Oryniak: At the time your dad was injured, ideas about rehabilitation and permanent injury were a lot different than they are today. At the time, how did your dad’s life stay the same and how did it change? Noreen Duncan: Well, dad was only 22 when he was frozen. So, his life changed dramatically not only because of the amputations but because to have your life cut off like that when you’re 22, and you’ve got the world by the tail is a big change in itself. A big change for him was when he had to move to the city. He couldn’t pull his weight on the farm. There were high medical bills that had to be paid, and he needed to be near for prosthetics and medical care. The loss of his fingers and parts of his palms, especially on his right hand didn’t stop him at all. He had to change from being left-handed to right-handed. His writing were like – it’s like absolute script. He managed everything a normal person could. He you know, did all the wrapping in the family for Christmas and certainly used hand tools, he built me a bunked bed using scrap wood. He pieced all the pieces together with glue and dowels, not a screw, nail or nail in it. And of course, he also became a real expert in the prosthetics field. And I think that naturally led to his interest in the Compensation Board and no doubt, the WCB being interested in him. He was excited and glad to be there. I often heard him tell people that his hobby had become his profession and he couldn’t have a better job. And I think the board probably felt the same way because you don’t often find someone with that kind of background. I think the most important – the most important step for dad was to establish rapport, to empathize, to be compassionate, and empathetic and understanding, and a model for them. I guess on that note, except with dad who’s using a buttonhook to do up little buttons, or whether he’s using the single treadle machine to repair the harness that held his 50 pound of legs on, or when at Christmas when we taped his socks under his metal legs, there’s masking tape and we tape them on so he didn’t have to change his socks for the year. Those are probably the only times that I really thought about him being an amputee. And he was a hunter, a fisher, a camper, a carpenter, a father, a husband. He could do anything that he wanted to do and more than most men. And that’s who he was. He was just my dad.