As she enters her 30th year working in brain injury rehabilitation, Brainworks founder and executive director Arden McGregor has received the province’s highest honour of being appointed to the Order of Ontario.
Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell announced the 2019 and 2020 appointees to the Order of Ontario on Jan. 1, honouring 47 individuals from various fields whose “exceptional achievements” have left a lasting impact on the province, the country and beyond. Dowdeswell will honour the new appointees during a ceremony at Queen’s Park once pandemic restrictions are lifted and the Chief Medical Officer of Health deems gatherings safe again. The Huntsville-based brain injury specialist is one of 798 people that have been appointed to the Order of Ontario since it was established in 1986.
“Arden McGregor is a compassionate humanitarian and a recognized leader in the brain injury community,” said a statement from the province. “She is known for her career in community-based rehabilitation as well as her extensive efforts in injury prevention, awareness and advocacy. She is dedicated to helping those with serious injuries recover and live better lives.”
McGregor had no idea she had even been nominated, and at first, she couldn’t believe the news that she was one of the appointees. She thought it was a prank when she found out over the phone and it didn’t fully sink in until she received an official government email with more information.
“I’m honoured,” she said. “Seriously, I get this award for doing what I love, day in and day out, every day for the past 30 years… it just doesn’t get much better than that.”
McGregor’s inspiration for working in rehabilitation goes back over 30 years to the time when she worked as a swim instructor in her teens. She helped Anne, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, learn how to dive and though it took nearly a year of hard work, it was well worth it when McGregor saw the joy on Anne’s face after her first successful plunge into the water.
“Being a part of that and being able to witness that and contribute to that was something that really did change my life, and that’s a feeling I haven’t forgotten,” McGregor said. “In the line of work that I have right now, it’s a feeling that I get routinely by seeing people achieve their goals, no matter how small they may seem to an outsider.”
Years after working with Anne, McGregor went to school for psychology and gained experience in rehab while working at places like Humber Memorial Hospital and Parkwood Hospital. She founded Brainworks in 2003 and brought their services to Muskoka in 2008.
In addition to providing brain injury support, Brainworks offers services to people with psychological disorders as well as other traumas or injuries while also working to build up assessment and treatment for mental health and brain injuries in areas that are underserved or completely unserviced. In addition, their team works on a provincial and national scale to aid in injury prevention, awareness and advocacy.
Though it took five years to bring her company to cottage country, McGregor said it felt like bringing Brainworks back to where it belongs. Muskoka has been her happy place since she started cottaging in the region at the age of three and moving up to Huntsville achieved her and her husband’s dream of living in the area.
“I first thought of Brainworks, actually, and daydreamed about it when I was out on the boat in the middle of Mary Lake,” she said. “I would just go and drift and think, alone with my thoughts, and that’s where I planned and dreamed about what a rehab company would look like if I got my goal, so even though it officially started in London, Ontario, in 2008 it was kind of like bringing Brainworks home here to Huntsville.”
Along with her appointment to the Order of Ontario, McGregor has received a number of honours during her time at Brainworks. In 2014, she was recognized as a YWCA Muskoka Woman of Distinction while also being named Professional of the Year by the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA). She was named Health Care Provider of the Year by the OBIA and the Personal Injury Alliance in 2017 as well.
McGregor wants to thank the community for all the love and support Brainworks has received over the years, and she’s blown away by the number of people from near and far that wrote letters of support. She’s excited to continue on in her work and she’s deeply grateful to the clients who have trusted Brainworks to help them along, often at the most difficult times of their lives.
“We get to work with people who are struggling, and I thank them for the courage that they demonstrate and they show us and the vulnerability that they’re willing to go through to allow us in and tell us what’s really going on,” McGregor said. “Just a huge thank you. We couldn’t do anything that we do without that.”