In 1958, Dalhousie University Senate approved the process of establishing a School of Occupational Therapy at Dalhousie University.2 This plan lay dormant until 1981 when Barbara O'Shea was appointed as the founding Director of this School within the Faculty of Health Professions.2

The appointment of Barbara O'Shea as the school's first Director did not go unnoticed in regional, Atlantic papers. Most likely from the "Daily Gleaner" published in Fredericton, New Brunswick,3 the following article describes the opening of the school and its new Director:

"Dalhousie University names first therapy director

At the time of her appointment, Miss Barbara J. O'Shea was an Associate Professor in occupational therapy at Queen's University, a Department Assistant to the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Kingston General Hospital, each in Kingston, Ontario and a research consultant to the bio-engineering institute at the University of New Brunswick.

The new School of Occupational Therapy will serve the Atlantic provinces, with a four-year program (one year arts and science and three years professional program) leasing to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy. The new school will open in September 1982 and admit 25 students who have completed the required arts and science course work, to the second year of the program, the first professional year of study. The School of Occupational Therapy will be a constituent part of the Faculty of Health Professions of which Dr. Robert S. Tonks is Dean. Professor O'Shea has taken an active role in local, provincial and national professional organization of occupational therapists, having held the positions of secretary-treasurer of the New Brunswick Society of Occupational Therapists, director of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists and president of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. Professor O'Shea takes up her appointment at Dalhousie University on January 1 1981" 3

The School was established as an Atlantic School to serve the needs of the four Atlantic Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador).2 In September 1982, the first class of 25 students selected from the four provinces was enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Occupational Therapy) program.  In 1985, twenty-three students were awarded BSc(OT) degrees.2

Admission to the honours program in occupational therapy was based on successful completion of a minimum of one year university comprised of required prerequisite courses.  The program curriculum required three years of professional study, including 23 weeks of fieldwork integrated with academic study.2  Fieldwork was completed on a full-time basis under the guidance of preceptors in accredited fieldwork facilities throughout Atlantic Canada, with a requirement for completion of six weeks of fieldwork elsewhere in Canada.2 Since 1985, the permanent location of the School has been the original Forrest Building on the current Dalhousie campus - a building which had previously been home to the university's medical school.4

In 1998, the School began offering a Master of Science (Occupational Therapy) program through distance education.2 This was a thesis program open to qualified occupational therapists.  The first MSc(OT) degree was awarded in 2001.2 Subsequently, a coursework option was added to this program.

In 2006, a new entry-level MSc(OT) program was introduced when the educational requirements for Canadian occupational therapists were changed to require completion of a Masters program as entry to the profession.2  The last class of the BSc(OT) program will graduate in May 2007 to join over 600 alumni who have completed their degrees at the school.5, 6

For a virtual tour of the School as it is today, please visit the School of Occupational Therapy's website and click on "Virtual Tour", located on the homepage, to download the tour (depending on your connection speed, the virtual tour, which is an 8.03MB Microsoft PowerPoint file, may take some time to download).


1. Contributed and written by Judy Brodie through personal correspondence September 17, 2006.

2. Contributed and written by Barbara O'Shea through personal correspondence June 21, 2006.

3. The original clipping of this article was submitted by Kate Coffman courtesy of NBAOT Archives.

4. The Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association (1999).  Medical History Walking Tour. Retrieved November 26, 2006 from  

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

6. School of Occupational Therapy Alumni Association (2006). Alumni and friends. Retrieved February 19, 2007 from


Retrieved from Dalhousie University website