#PTHistory: The Beginning 1917-1919

physical therapy students in a clinic in the 1940's. Black and white photo.In celebration of our 100th anniversary, we are reflecting on the historic developments that helped shape our program.

By: Brittany Wade, MScPT 1st year student

In 1917, World War I was coming to a close, and thousands upon thousands of injured soldiers were in need of rehabilitation treatment with no where to turn.

To facilitate the recovery of wounded soldiers, the University of Toronto’s Hart House was temporarily transformed into the Military School of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiotherapy.

While today’s Physical Therapy program includes 12 units over 24 months designed to integrate systems including research and clinical experience, the six-month course in 1917 was divided into three sections: massage and electrotherapy, muscle function training and gymnastics.

The students were taught by notable scholars, including Professor E. F. Burton, who later became the physicist responsible for developing the electron microscope. However, it is the work of some of the first graduating students that helped to shape what the profession is today. Florence Perrins Woodcock became the Educational Secretary of physiotherapy’s first professional association, the Canadian Association of Massage and Remedial Gymnastics (CAMRG), which would soon become the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) in 1935.

In mid 1919, the Military School of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiotherapy had to relocate in order to allow Hart House to finish construction on its student activity building. Courses were moved into tents outside of a Toronto area hospital. Unfortunately, this new setup was not successful and the program closed in 1919. However, this would not be the end of physiotherapy at the University of Toronto.