Information from the NLAOT website:

Occupational Therapy has an early history in this province that coincides with the early history of the profession in both Canada and the United States. References in the Grenfell Mission records refer to occupational therapy, at the beginning of the 1900's. A recent publication by Dr. Ronald Rompkey, titled Jessie Luther at the Grenfell Mission gives us a first hand look at early Occupational Therapy in Newfoundland. The book is based on a travel diary that the occupational therapist, Jessie Luther, wrote from 1906-1910 when she worked with the Grenfell mission in St. Anthony.

Prior to coming to Newfoundland, Luther had established herself as a respected member of the Arts and Crafts Society in New England, and in 1903 joined with Dr. Herbert Hall to develop programs which challenged the rest-cure approach to illness and favoured one which used occupation. In 1905 while touring a sanatorium where Luther worked, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell recruited Jessie Luther to work with people on the northern Newfoundland coast, meeting the needs of the local communities. What interested Dr. Grenfell was the non-medical application of occupation. Jessie Luther was now working full time as an occupational therapist at Butler Hospital in Rhode Island. She worked on a seasonal basis in Newfoundland, laying down our early roots. The Grenfell records may hold clues for the later development of the profession as well. We know little about our history period from 1910 to the 1940's.

In the mid-1940's St. John’s was the site, for what we had up until recently thought was, the birth of occupational therapy in this province. It was just following the Second World War when two Canadian occupational therapists came to the “Dominion of Newfoundland and Labrador “to work at the Orthopaedic Hospital in St. John’s”. This facility was near the site of the present day Dr. L.A. Miller Centre. Very shortly afterwards other occupational therapists were employed at the Tuberculosis Sanatorium, on Topsail Road near the School for the Deaf, and the Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases, a facility that we know today as the Waterford Hospital. Several of these pioneers made Newfoundland their permanent home, although they no longer continued to practice occupational therapy today.

In the 1950's the Sunshine Camp for Crippled Children, the site of the present day Rotary Park, was founded to treat children with physical disabilities resulting from the Polio Epidemics of the 50's. Occupational therapists were employed at the Sunshine Camp and were instrumental in developing an inter-disciplinary treatment team. The Sunshine Camp expanded and moved to the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre in the 60's, a more permanent location, occupational therapists continued to be a central part of the programs at the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre and it was here that occupational therapy really took root. Occupational Therapy Services were now available in many of the St John’s hospitals.

The 1960's - Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Occupational Therapists is founded.

The formation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Occupational Therapists (NLAOT) was the first big milestone in the development of the profession in this province. It happened in the mid-1960's, thanks to a core group of occupational therapists working in the St. John’s area. The NLAOT has represented occupational therapists on a consistent basis since that time and has been a central force in the development of the profession. In the 60's NLAOT members presented briefs in support of a proposal for a School of Occupational Therapy in the Atlantic Region. The establishment of Dalhousie University School of Occupational Therapy in Halifax, Nova Scotia is due in some part to these efforts. The same NLAOT members initiated Newfoundland fieldwork placements for occupational therapy students in Canadian university programs. They were among the first therapists to have their departments accredited by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT).

The 1970's - Growth and Consolidation

The 1970's were a time of change, expansion, re-organization and consolidation for occupational therapy in this province and in this country. The NLAOT developed a constitution, and formed a committee that worked for over a decade to have occupational therapy a licensed profession. At the beginning of the 1970's there were four occupational therapists in this province and by the end of the decade our numbers totalled 23, with Occupational therapy departments throughout the province. Technology assisted occupational therapists in achieving a province-wide network, when the new teleconference system become available for NLAOT meetings, we were one of the first regular users. The 1970's also highlighted the beginning of the Annual Occupational Therapy Atlantic Conference, bringing together occupational therapists from all four Atlantic Provinces: Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Newfoundland & Labrador has hosted many OT Atlantic Conferences and continues to support this initiative. On a national level, Newfoundland & Labrador representation on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists began in the mid-70's. The NLAOT maintains affiliate status with the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists and the NLAOT President represents the province at national levels via Professional Alliance of Canada, coordinated by CAOT.

In terms of re-organization, it was during this period that the Association of Allied Health Professions (AAHP) had its early beginnings. The AAHP served to bring together health professionals that included occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech language pathologists, psychologists, and others. The formation of the AAHP and its role in negotiating collective agreements between the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador and its members was seen as a significant milestone for occupational therapy practice in the 70's. One of the early presidents of the AAHP was an occupational therapist.
The 80's were a time of community occupational therapy, the growth of private practice and a legislated profession. It is said that occupational therapy in Newfoundland came of age in the 80's, even though 60% of the membership of NLAOT at that time, were under the age of 25. Membership numbers fluctuated from a low of 18 in 1981 to a high of 50 in 1989, but even with these small numbers the NLAOT established permanent committees such as the Education Committee, Public Relations Committee and a Fund Raising /Social Committee. In 1987 the Legislation Committee was dissolved after a term of over 15 years, when Bill 8, an Act Respecting Occupational Therapists received royal assent. This Act allowed for direct access of clients to occupational therapists and was seen as a milestone for its time. The Newfoundland and Labrador Occupational Therapy Board (NLOTB) is responsible for the licensed practice of occupational therapy in this province.

The Provincial Health Care System during this period was working on a community-oriented model for service delivery and occupational therapists were involved in many facets of this process. During this decade the NLAOT established an on-going relationship with the Provincial Department of Health and advocated for the expansion of occupational therapy practice into the community. Our profession was no longer institutionalized but was reaching out, practising in school based programs, community outreach programs, technical aid programs, consultant visits, work hardening, work preparation and community health initiatives. This era also saw the opening of private practice in occupational therapy. These innovative therapists identified other sources for occupational therapy practice.

In the 1980's the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador entered into a formal agreement with Dalhousie University, School of Occupational Therapy and purchased a number of seats at the School reserved specifically for students of Newfoundland & Labrador. Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Programs were part of the normal routine of Occupational Therapy Departments in the Province and also acted as an important source of recruitment for therapists. Prior to the establishment of the Occupational Therapy Program at Dalhousie University, 85% of occupational therapists in this province were foreign educated, mainly from the England and Ireland. By the end of the 1980's the number of Canadian educated therapists had steadily increased and by 1989, 70% of therapists practising in this province were educated in Canada. In 1987 we saw the first Newfoundland graduates from the School of Occupational Therapy at Dalhousie University. Three Newfoundland & Labrador students graduated from the program in that first year, and continue to practice in the province today.

The 1990's- A Mature Occupational Therapy Community

We are a unique professional group in this province, due in part to the demographics of our membership, age, gender and place of origin. It is for these reasons, that occupational therapists in this province retain the energy, the spirit and the confidence of youth, although the profession has been in existence for over a century. It is this energy that enabled the NLAOT to host the 1992 Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. Hosting the National Conference was a significant milestone in our development and allowed us to demonstrate to the country our abilities and achievements.

Other achievements in this decade include: the College of the North Atlantic graduated its first students from the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, occupational therapy assistants play a vital role in the delivery of Occupational therapy services, the long term care sector embraced occupational therapy as a vital member of their team, and some expansion in the provision of community based services.

During the 90's we saw incredible growth in this province with occupational therapists working in all regional health care facilities in the province. The number of private clinics in the province expanded to meet the demand for service from private payers.
The 90's were a period when occupational therapists became recognized as experts in the field of occupation. It was during this period that occupational therapists began to give expert testimony in terms of individuals functional independence and occupational therapy assessments were requested on a more consistent basis for individuals requiring home support, modified employment and adaptive equipment.

This was also a time of learning old things in new ways, regionalization, rationalisation and amalgamation of services saw occupational therapy move from a department based structure to a program-based model of service delivery, where formerly occupational therapists had largely practiced within the relatively structured and predictable environment of departments. A shift in thinking and role definition was required as we moved to work with new partners.

The New Millennium

Occupational Therapists in Newfoundland & Labrador today number 135, with 20% of occupational therapists being employed in private practice. Occupational Therapy practice today is increasingly concerned with evidence-based outcomes, a focus on occupation, and clinical research. Many of our discussions are focusing on a more social model of care rather than a medical model of care and efforts to expand and build new partnerships abound. The NLAOT is actively leading the profession in new directions.

Purpose of NLAOT

(NLAOT, Constitution Amended May 2006)

  • To provide an organization of and for the Occupational Therapists practicing or residing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • To operate a registry of members in the Association.
  • To represent the members of the Association in their relationships with provincial and national organizations representing government, education and health, and any other groups with which Occupational Therapists in the Province may have dealings.
  • To promote and develop an understanding of Occupational Therapy among consumer groups and the general public
  • To support and encourage training, continuing professional education and research in Occupational Therapy.
  • To facilitate the exchange of information in publications in Occupational Therapy.
  • To raise monies for carrying out the objectives of the Association through membership fees, public subscriptions, receiving bequests, donations and/or grants or by any other manner that is not contrary to the provincial or federal laws of Canada.