Retrieved from the OSOT website.

1900s - 1920s

Occupational Therapy (OT) stemmed from the arts and crafts movement and the moral treatment movement. Originally, there was no specific training for Occupational Therapists. However, the focus of OT practice was on the holistic point of view and looked beyond just medicine to find a sense of mental achievement and being productive.

The influence from the arts and crafts movement was to increase leisure and productivity through "hand and mind = health". The moral treatment movement helped facilitate the holistic point of view by actively involving the patients into the treatment.

In Canada, like in other parts of the world, occupational therapy had its early beginnings when doctors started to prescribe moral treatment for patients in the late 1800's in TB sanatoriums and mental hospitals. Later, in fear of exploiting patients, activity was moved away from realistic work to classes in occupational rooms led by occupational workers.

During World War I, 1914 - 1918, vast numbers of wounded men required activity to assist them to resume their daily living roles and at first volunteers assisted them. When the need for training was realized, the University of Toronto established first a 6 week, then a 3 month long course. From 1918 - 1919, 356 "suitable young ladies" graduated as occupational aides qualified to instruct in bedside occupation. These women worked in military hospitals.


When the war was over, the Ward Aids were demobilized and were moved into mental health facilities, tuberculosis sanatoriums, and workshops in the community settings.

Early occupational therapists recognized the need to establish an identity and some cohesion amongst themselves. They organized to promote occupational therapy to the medical profession and to the public. The Ontario Society of Occupational Therapy was inaugurated in October 1920. It was incorporated under Letters Patent in 1921 as the first professional association of occupational therapists in Canada. The head office of the Society was in Toronto, with branches in Hamilton, Kingston, London and Ottawa. His Honour the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario consented to act as the Honourary President. The Objects of the first Society were outlined at the first Drawing Room Meeting on October 4, 1921 at which there were 300 delegates. The objects were;

  1. To study occupations for various forms of handicaps

  2. To advance occupation as a therapeutic measure

  3. To disseminate knowledge on the subject

A second Drawing Room Meeting of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapy was held in 1925. Two hundred and fifty occupational therapists and guests attended. An urgent need for more therapists was discussed and as a result the first university program at the University of Toronto was initiated in 1926.


The Society continued to represent occupational therapists in the province and In October 1968 the name of the Society was changed to the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists.

In the late sixties work began towards the goal of self regulation of the profession in Ontario. In 1968 the Society's first brief to government was submitted.

In 1984, Ontario occupational therapists engaged a voluntary college, the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario as a separate bylaw of the OSOT in an effort to demonstrate the profession's commitment to self regulation. Ontario's health professions regulation review commenced in the mid-80's and provided a policy environment in which OSOT could position the profession's merits for self regulation.

OSOT launched its membership newsletter, The LINK in April 1990, originally as a quarterly update and professional resource but quickly becoming a bi-monthly publication.

The profession was regulated in Ontario in 1991 under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 which enacted a transitional council of the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario which formally registered occupational therapists in 1994.

During the 1990s, there was an increase in the number of self-employed OTs, a continuing shift away from departmental organization in hospitals to program management/matrix management models, hospital restructuring across the province and increasing privatization of health care services including the divestment of therapy services from Home Care Programs. Ontario's auto insurance sector saw 3 reforms over this decade and private occupational therapy services targeted for this sector saw tremendous growth.

Technology had a huge impact on the development of OT. OSOT launched OSOT Online in 1999 and has continued to build web based practice resources, policy updates and monthly email updates as effective means to apprise members of information in a timely manner.

2000 and beyond

Early in the new millennium Ontario occupational therapists participating in an OSOT visioning workshop identified the following 5 critical priorities to address to assure a vibrant future for the profession in Ontario;

  • Assuring access to occupational therapy services - particularly accessing extended health coverage of OT services and defining a role for occupational therapy in primary care

  • Supporting and assisting members to integrate evidence into practice - fostering knowledge transfer

  • Transitioning to master level entry education

  • Promoting & facilitating professional networking - a must!

  • Promoting the profession of occupational therapy - assuring a strong future

  • Promoting a focus and recognition of OT in work practice.
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Cockburn, L (2001.) "The greater the barrier, the greater the success CAOT during the 1940's". Occupational Therapy Now on-line version, 3, (2). Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

Cockburn, L (2001.) "The professional era CAOT during the 1950's and 1960's". Occupational Therapy Now on-line version, 3, (3). Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

Friedland, J., Robinson, I, and Cardwell, T. (2001.) "In the beginning CAOT from 1926-1929." Occupational Therapy Now on-line version, 3, (1). Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

Green, M.C., Letrvilai, M, and Bribriesco, K. (2001). "Prospering through change CAOT from 1991 to 2001". Occupational Therapy Now on-line version, 3, (6). Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

McColl, M., Law, M., Stewart, D., Doubt, L., Pollock, N., and Krupa, T. (2003.) Theroetical Basis of Occupational Therapy Second Edition. Thorofore, NJ: Slack Incorporated.

Trentham, B. (2001.) "Diffident no longer: building structures for a proud profession CAOT during the 1980's". Occupational Therapy Now on-line version, 3, (5). Retrieved October 10, 2004 from