Our history begins with Jessie Luther, a travelling occupational therapist from the US who worked with the Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony on a seasonal basis.

Annie Baike Watts, resident of Labrador, trains in the US and returns to work in Indian Harbour to become the first occupational therapist in Labrador.

As the Second World War comes to an end, 2 Canadian trained occupational therapists, Ramsey Murray and Betty Baird, come back to the Dominion of NL to work at the Orthopedic Hospital of St. John’s.

Occupational therapist Pat McLeod organized three new graduates: Joanne Porter, Sue Lebans, Rose Hickey and the retired Betty Baird, Ramsey Murray and Lila Sellars to form a provincial association – NLAOT.

The Association of Allied Health Professionals is established in this year, bringing occupational therapists together with other health professionals.

Gaye Walsh takes on the role of President with the Association of Allied Health Professionals.

NLAOT begins using teleconferencing to connect with therapists throughout the province.

Dalhousie University opens an occupational therapist school in Halifax, NS. Prior to this time, most therapists in Newfoundland and Labrador were foreign educated.

St. John’s Home Care occupational therapist position created; this is the beginning of community occupational therapist in the province.

First private practice begins with Peter Bowman, who worked out of an Orthopaedic Clinic run by Dr. David Peddle on LeMarchant Road. The demand came from a busy department at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital who were unable to recruit extra staff to keep up with the workload.

A Needs Study: occupational therapist in St. John’s School System completed by Paula Bouchier and Anne Connor Sheppard. This resulted in a pilot for a therapist within the schools but was not continued. Therapists (and community groups) continue to advocate for services within the school system within the province. Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province without this service.

NLOTB is formed. The first directors of the board were Mary Manojlovich, Brenda Head and Sandy Delaney.

Sandy Delaney, Margaret Collingwood and Sharon Horan were the first DAL trained therapists that graduated in Newfoundland and Labrador this year.

NLAOT hosts its first CAOT Annual Conference.

College of North Atlantic graduates their first assistants from their OTA program.

First occupational therapist in Newfoundland and Labrador to take on the role of CAOT President – Mary Manojlovich

NLAOT celebrates 50 years growing the profession in the province with a total of 204 registrants in 2017, up from 4 at its inception in 1967.


Helping the People of Our Province For Over a Century

The History of NLAOT

The Beginning

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 firsthand 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.

Please click here to read the rest of the history of OT in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A sincere thank you to Brenda Head, who wrote the 1900-2000 history, and to Mary Manojlovich and Margie Collingwood who wrote the 2000-2020 history. This was undertaken by the NLAOT Archives Committee in honour of NLAOT’s 50th anniversary. 

Photo: The CAOT & OT Atlantic conference was held in St. John’s for the first time in 1992. This photo was taken in the lobby of the Delta Hotel, OTs pictured from left to right: Ramsay Murray, Betty Baird, Brenda Head, Anne Curtis, Pat Leader, Henriette Brandts-Buys, and Barbara O’Shea.

Historical Language Advisory:

Certain parts of the above timeline may contain historical language and content that some may consider offensive (e.g. ableist language in historical facility names). The names of facilities and events are included to ensure that they are not erased from the historical record. Wherever possible, we will provide additional descriptive information to give context. Please reach out if there is language that you would like us to review or provide supporting information for.