Historical and Archival Notes November 2010

• Atlantic Canada was a leader in early Canadian occupational therapy through the development of the Grenfell Mission in Newfoundland and Labrador, and World War I Veteran’s Services in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick

• Occupational therapy started in Atlantic Canada at the turn of the 20th century, exemplified in the work of Jessie Luther (1960-1952) who worked with the Grenfell Mission on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and the Labrador Coast.

• Atlantic Canada occupational therapy pioneers include a celebrated Nova Scotian, Mary Black (1895-1988), author of Key to Weaving, 1945, who is honoured in naming the Mary E. Black Gallery at Pier 21 on the Halifax Waterfront.

• Evalyn (Robb) Fleiger (1921-1987), a pioneer in New Brunswick, was married in her occupational therapy uniform and worked as an occupational therapist with the Medical Corp of the Canadian Army.

• Joyce McKinnon (retired) was a Prince Edward Island pioneer who returned ‘home’ to the Island to establish the first Rehabilitation Centre Occupational Therapy service with ‘carte blanche’ to name the space and other resources she needed.

• Occupational therapists have been active in Atlantic Canada since the turn of the 20th century in establishing provincial mental asylums, tuberculosis sanatoria, occupational workshops to enable veterans’ to return to work, children’s and adult rehabilitation centres, worker’s compensation programs, and more.

• Dalhousie’s School of Occupational Therapy opened in 1982 after initial approval by the Dalhousie Senate in the 1960s and subsequent lobbying by occupational therapists in Atlantic Canada.

Invitation to Graduate Students, and to New and Experienced Researchers:

Inquiries about historical research possibilities are very welcome.

Oral history and other historical research on occupational therapy in Atlantic Canada is ongoing yet slow and in need of interested ‘champions’ who have a research mandate (such as graduate students) or expertise as new or experienced researchers.

There is an open invitation to graduate students – to Masters, PhD or post-doctoral researchers in any field. You will find Atlantic Canada has rich historical materials and opportunities to apply for research funds with the support of local occupational therapy researchers and historians.

The invitation is open to anthropologists, architects, economics, educators, engineers, feminist scholars, health researchers, political scientists, sociologists, occupational therapists and other researchers who will discover that the profession of occupational therapy is an almost invisible, under-researched, female dominated profession of great interest.

In summary, occupational therapy developed from what today would be called an integrated, interdisciplinary, political interest to return wounded soldiers to economic productivity. The origins of occupational therapy start with Pinel (France) and Tuke (England) who introduced Occupational Workers to mental asylums when they recognized that people improved when they were engaged in meaningful occupations, broadly defined. Occupational therapy became a profession that follows the old adage that: If I give people a fish, they eat for a day. If I teach people to fish, they can sustain themselves for a lifetime. The educational ideas of learning through doing that were advanced by John Dewey are a major foundation for occupational therapy which emphasizes engagement as a form of therapy with individuals, families, groups, communities, populations and organizations as ‘clients’. The practice of using occupations for therapy expanded through connections with Arts and Crafts Movement, the Garden City Movement, the Moral Treatment Movement, the Mental Hygiene Movement, incorporating ideas about experiential learning, human development and social development in Britain and elsewhere. Other connections that fostered the evolution of occupational therapy were with physicians and nurses who recognized that in hospitals, people improved through engagement in occupations of interest to them.

Occupational therapy became known as a profession that recognized how to enable people to develop abilities, such as children with disabilities. Occupational therapists also enabled people to regain their abilities to participate in life when someone enabled them to learn to adapt, devise and otherwise invent new ways to live with a chronic illness such as tuberculosis or a disabling situation such as a paralysis or amputation. With medical sponsorship to develop within hospitals, occupational therapy has been highly medicalized and subject to scientific influences to develop technical practices despite having a much more holistic and context-based philosophy. During World War I, occupational therapy took a major leap forward by engaging people in doing something meaningful in asylums, tuberculosis sanatoria, veteran’s hospitals, rehabilitation centres and more. Governments supported occupational therapy to return wounded and disabled World War I soldiers to economically productive living.

Because women were available to offer therapy during and after the war, and women were adept at using arts and crafts in confined hospital spaces, occupational therapy became known as and took on characteristics of women’s work.

Throughout the 20th century, occupational therapy slowly developed in the challenging economic context of the Maritimes and later Atlantic Canada. The profession was unable to flourish without the stimulus of an occupational therapy educational program until the Atlantic Regional School of Occupational Therapy opened at Dalhousie in 1982.

For further information see the Dalhousie School of Occupational Therapy website on the History of Occupational Therapy in Atlantic Canada: http://history.occupationaltherapy.dal.ca/index.php


Introductory References on Occupational Therapy History and the Context for Development in Atlantic Canada:

Bockoven, J. S. (1971). Legacy of moral treatment - 1800's to 1900's. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 25, 223-226.

Coburn, L. (2005). Canadian occupational therapists' contributions to prisoners of war in world war II. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 183-187.

Colman, W. (1992). Maintaining autonomy: The struggle between occupational therapy and physical medicine. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 63-70.

Dalhousie University's School of Occupational Therapy (February 7 2007). Transition Times (First Issue).

Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association (1999). Medical History Walking Tour. Retrieved November 26, 2006 from http://alumni.medicine.dal.ca/virtual.html#Forrest_BuildingMedical.

Driver, M. (1968). A philosophic view of the history of occupational therapy in Canada. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 35, 53-60.

Frank, G. (1992). Opening feminist histories of occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 989-999.

Friedland, J. (2003). Why crafts? Influences on the development of occupational therapy in Canada from 1890 to 1930. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70, 204-213.

Friedland, J. Robinson, I. and Cardwell, T. (2001). In the beginning: CAOT from 1926-1939. Occupational Therapy Now, 3(1). Retrieved January 18, 2006 from www.caot.ca/otnow/jan01-eng/jan01.cfm.

Hunt, M. S. (1920). Nova Scotia's part in the great war. Halifax: Nova Scotia Veteran Pub. Co.

Johnson, S. (1920). Instruction in handicrafts and design for hospital patients. Modern Hospital, 15, 69-72.

Kidner, T. B. (1931). Occupational therapy: Its diagnosis, scope and possibilities. Archives of Occupational Therapy, 10, 1-11.

Maxwell, J. D., & Maxwell, M. P. (1983). Inner fraternity and outer sorority: Social structure and the professionalization of occupational therapy, in Wipper,A. (ed). The sociology of work: Papers in honour of Osward Hall. Carleton Library series number 129. Ottawa, ON: Carleton University Press.

McKay, Ian. (1994). "Mary Black and the invention of handcrafts" in The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia.(Chapter 3). Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

McLeod, E. (1999). In good hands: The women of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Meyer, A. (1922). The philosophy of occupational therapy. Archives of Occupational Therapy, 1, 1-10.

Peloquin, S. M. (1991). Occupational therapy service: Individual and collective understandings of the founders, part 2. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45(8), 733-744.

Rompkey, R. (2001). Jessie Luther at the Grenfell Mission. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press/Associated Medical Services (Hannah Institute).

Schwartz, K. B. (1992). Occupational therapy and education: A shared vision. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 12-18.

Twohig, Peter L. (2003). Once a therapist, always a therapist: The early career of Mary Black. Atlantis: A Women's Studies Journal, 28(1), 106-17.

Wilcock, A. A. (2001). Occupation for health: A journey from self-health to prescription, Vol. 1 (Vol. 1). London: British Association and College of Occupational Therapists.

Yerxa, E. J. (1992). Some implications of occupational therapy's history for its epistemology, values, and relation to medicine. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 79-83

Contact Information:

Those interested in social, economic, political, gender, historical or other research on occupational therapy in Atlantic Canada are encouraged to contact the School of Occupational Therapy at: occupational.therapy@dal.ca, or the School’s two former Directors at:

Dr. Barbara O’Shea, Professor Emerita, barbara.oshea@dal.ca

Dr. Elizabeth Townsend, Professor Emerita, liz.townsend@dal.ca

Notes prepared by Dr. Barbara O’Shea and Dr. Elizabeth Townsend
with support from Dr. Peter Twohig.
Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, November 19, 2010