Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists


Why are these women all dressed up?  

Each summer throughout the 1930s, supporters of the Occupational Therapy Society organized a weekend-long fundraising extravaganza. This was no small gathering. Anyone who was anyone could be seen at these annual outdoor public festivals, including Lieutenant governors, health officials, philanthropists, university presidents and various lords and ladies. Toronto newspapers wrote about the event annually, often with front page coverage.

What annual occupational therapy event caused such a stir?  

The Occupational Therapy Street Fair

Can you imagine city streets closed for an occupational therapy fair?

A search of The Toronto Globe (now The Globe and Mail) from the early part of the last century (1918-1940) reveals that occupational therapy was a cause célèbre. Articles on occupational therapists working with returning soldiers, community projects and curative workshops were featured frequently. Reference was often made to the Toronto Curative Workshop at 331 Bloor Street West, a valuable treatment centre for children and adults, including disabled soldiers and individuals coping with mental illness. Occupation was viewed as a treatment of choice by many leaders in the medical field. Annual notices of graduating occupational therapy classes and recruitment ads for potential OT students were also published in The Globe.

Most interestingly, the Occupational Therapy Society garnered regular publicity from their annual Occupational Therapy Street Fair, which raised money for important projects such as its curative workshop, community programs for the unemployed and bursaries for patients unable to pay for occupational therapy services. 

In 1936, The Globe had photos not only of the Street Fair, but also of an occupational therapy parade. Taking place the night before the weekend-long street festival, the parade featured participants, dressed up in multi-ethnic clothing, who drove around Toronto streets promoting the fair.

Street Fair attendees would gather at Devonshire Place grounds (now the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto) to hear live bands, sip afternoon tea, sample freshly baked goods, admire handicrafts made in occupational therapy workshops, partake in games and hopefully leave a few coins for the cause. The event was opened with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony by high-ranking officials including, Sir William Mulock, administrator for the province of Ontario, in 1932 and Dr. Henry John Cody, president of the University of Toronto, in 1938.

Is it time to close the streets again?

For more details about these historical occupational therapy events, view The Globe’s original newspaper articles by clicking on the following links: 

May 30, 1930
June 3, 1932
June 3, 1932 continued
April 22, 1933
June 10, 1936
June 12, 1936
June 3, 1938

If anyone has other stories to share about this annual event or similar occupational therapy historical events in your community, please let us know by e-mailing Sue Baptiste at baptiste@mcmaster.ca.

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