Goldwin Howland was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1875 into a prominent family involved in both business and politics. Howland’s grandfather, Sir William Pearce Howland, was the 2nd Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and a Father of Confederation. Howland’s father, William Holmes Howland, was a mayor of Toronto and through his mission of social reform helped Toronto acquire its nickname of “Toronto the Good”. Goldwin Howland’s wife, Margaret Carrington, was also involved in social reform efforts and volunteered with several charitable organizations. Howland’s family was likely an influence on his interest in helping those less fortunate.

In 1900, Howland graduated with his bachelor of medicine from the University of Toronto, and later studied in London and Berlin in the field of neurology. He became a prominent neurologist in Toronto, and eventually had the distinction of being named the first consulting neurologist in Canada.

Howland’s beginning interest in occupational therapy was likely sparked during his medical service in the First World War, where he was exposed to the rehabilitation of soldiers provided by occupational therapists, at that time called “ward aides” or “occupation aides”. Howland must have found the therapy particularly useful, as he created an occupational therapy department at the Toronto General Hospital after the war in 1919. It was the first hospital in Canada to provide such service.

During the 1920’s, Howland became a crucial force in the advancement and development of the profession of occupational therapy in Canada. He sat on the advisory board of the Ontario Society for Occupational Therapy (OSOT), and was the chairman of their first Educational Committee. He helped to establish the occupational therapy course at the University of Toronto in 1926. With the creation of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) also in 1926, he became its first president and remained in this position until 1948. Perhaps his most important contribution while President was the establishment of the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy in 1933. His goal for the journal was to unite the efforts of therapists across Canada, as well as to promote the benefits of the profession to others.

Howland believed in the benefits of occupation for the mind and body. He saw occupation as a therapeutic medium, and frequently spoke of the value of diversional occupations for the mind. He also believed in the value of productive occupations and the importance of getting people back to work. In his own life, Howland engaged in many meaningful activities, such as fishing, camping and gardening, that may have influenced his perspective on the benefits of fostering a balance of occupations. Howland promoted occupational therapy as a valuable service that should be accessible to everyone. He was heavily involved in establishing curative workshops, and along with practicing therapists and philanthropical groups, helped to develop a bursary system for those that needed therapy but could not afford the service.

Howland’s message of helping the less fortunate, “those who have fallen aside in life’s current”, is reflected through his contributions to occupational therapy. This message still resonates with occupational therapy today, and can be witnessed through the profession’s emerging focus on occupational justice. As with Howland’s message, occupational justice advocates that everyone has the right to occupational engagement.

In LeVesconte’s memorial address published in the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy in 1950, she described Howland as “a dynamic personality [who] radiated a drive for action, and an anticipation for the future which will continue to live in the heart and spirit of occupational therapy…his footsteps are still ahead of us in the trail he blazed”.