A Brief History of Occupational Therapy

The profession of Occupational Therapy has a long-standing history, with roots originating in the support of the Canadian Military spanning more than 90 years (CAOT, 2009). Occupational Therapists (OT) were involved in addressing mental and physical needs of troops, providing “orthopedic, neurological and psychiatric services to assist Canadian soldiers and Department of Veterans Affairs” (CAOT, 2009). The focus of this therapy, conducted by “war-aides”, was developed through engagement with activity. Treatment targeted returning to roles (or occupations); focusing on new skill development with or without modification. These activities included tasks such as woodworking, knitting or basket-weaving to prevent idleness of the veterans during their recovery (Hoover, 1996; Hocking, 2007).

During the implementation of the ‘medical model’ to the health care system around the 1940’s and 1950’s, health care became focused on treating specific pathologies, using specific modalities for specific illnesses. Occupational therapy followed suit and began to match treatment approaches with specific injuries; however, the holistic perspective is still at the root of our profession.

In Manitoba, OTs were working in Brandon and Winnipeg by the 1920’s, marking the beginning of a society for occupational therapists. Between 1920 and 1922, there were 21 OTs working in Manitoba. In 1964, the Manitoba Society of Occupational Therapists (MSOT) was legally incorporated as a non-profit organization. Through the efforts of this newly incorporated organization, lobbying began in 1966 to have an Association of Occupational Therapists of Manitoba be created to have OTs in Manitoba become a licensed, regulated profession. The efforts of the organization were recognized – in1971, legislations were passed leading to the formation of the  Association of Occupational Therapists of Manitoba (AOTM). AOTM was renamed in 2005 to become the College of Occupational Therapists of Manitoba (COTM) as it is known today. In 1964, Manitoba hosted the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) national conference for the first time in the province; hosting again in 1989, 2003 and 2015. The 50th anniversary of COTM was celebrated in 2014 at the MSOT Occupational Therapy Celebration Night, recognizing the contribution MSOT has made to the profession throughout the years. Our history continues with ongoing advocacy efforts and support to the profession of Occupational Therapy in Manitoba.


To be a valued health and wellness resource for Manitobans.


To support the professional interests of occupational therapists.


Connect – Engaging through participation
Enable – Health and wellness through occupation
Grow – Success through continued learning


Please click here to view MSOT’s Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020


Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. (2009). Caring for Canadian Veterans: A tradition for occupational therapists. Retrieved from caot.ca/pdfs/CareVetsENG.pdf.

Hocking, C. (2007). Early perspective of patients, practice and the profession. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70(7), 284-291.

Hoover, J. (1996). Diversional occupational therapy in World War 1: A need for purpose in occupations. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 50(10), 881-884.