In the Beginning

Easter Seals kidsThe formation of Easter Seals Ontario can be traced back to November 28, 1922, when representatives from 10 Rotary Clubs met in Windsor, Ontario to discuss the inadequate resources and support available for the province’s children with physical disabilities. Recognizing a need for action, they formed the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, inspired by the American organization of the same name, which had been recently created by Ohio businessman, Edgar Allen.

Some of Easter Seals’ early goals were treatment for children with physical disabilities and public awareness. During “Health Week” in 1931, Easter Seals launched its first public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis. Easter Seals would continue to conduct public awareness campaigns on a variety of relevant topics in years to come.

In 1934, Easter Seals initiated its first public fundraising initiative, held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Although the organizers were highly enthusiastic, the 500 guests failed to meet the revenue target. Fortunately, enough money was raised to hire Easter Seals’ first full-time District Nurse, Gretta Ross. This allowed Easter Seals to expand its services and improve treatment of the children in its care.

The Ontario Government turned to Easter Seals in 1937 for expert assistance following a devastating poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak. In the same year, Easter Seals opened the first Canadian camp for children with physical disabilities. Fifty-five percent of the children who attended the camp that summer had polio.

In 1947, the first Easter Seals’ mail campaign was introduced in Ontario, with the goal of raising $150,000. The same year, the first March is Easter Seals Month campaign was launched including the annual presentation of official seals to the Prime Minister.

1989 Easter Seals TimmyLynn Berry was chosen as the first “Timmy” to represent all children with physical disabilities. The concept of “Timmy” was borrowed from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Timmy is depicted as child with a physical disability who has indomitable spirit. In 1979, Nadia de Franco of Toronto was chosen to be the first “Tammy.”

In 1952, Easter Seals fundraising efforts were given a lift thanks to several prominent Canadian sports figures. Champion wrestler “Whipper” Billy Watson began raising awareness and dollars through innovative fundraising activities that continue to this day such as Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids. This also marked the year that a group of sports writers introduced what is now know as the Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction.

In a plan to bring health and happiness to more children with physical disabilities, Easter Seals opened the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre, now known as Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, on May 16, 1962. It was considered the most outstanding treatment centre for children with physical disabilities in the world.

Easter Seals Camps

Easter Seals has provided fully accessible summer camping programs for children with physical disabilities since 1937. In 2002, Easter Seals launched the Recreational Choices Funding Program.

Gordon Leitch, a member of the Rotary Club of Toronto first suggested the idea of providing summer camping experiences for children with physical disabilities. After consultation with Collingwood’s grain elevator operator, Leitch purchased property that would soon become Blue Mountain Camp. Toronto Rotarians had the camp buildings erected and furnished. The first Easter Seals camp in Ontario was opened on July 4, 1937.

Easter Seals Camp WoodedenWith funds from the lean wartime years, Easter Seals acquired property in Komoka, near London in 1946 that would soon be known as Easter Seals Camp Woodeden, named for the former owner Frank Wood. In its early years, Woodeden would be the first residential treatment centre in Canada for children with cerebral palsy.

In 1948 Merrywood Camp, in eastern Ontario near Perth, began as a camp for kids with polio. Only six campers attended in the first year.

Two additional Easter Seals camps opened in 1954 – Northwood Camp near Kirkland Lake, as well as Lakewood Camp on Lake Erie.

Recreational Choices Funding Program

Responding to the needs of families, Easter Seals created the Recreational Choices Funding Program for children who, due to their medical condition, are unable to attend overnight camp, or for kids who are not yet ready for camp. Through the Recreational Choices Funding Program, parents, children and youth can choose the best recreational experience for them – either an Easter Seals camp, or a program such as art classes, swimming lesson or day camps in their community.

Edgar Allen

Ohio businessman, Edgar Allen, recognized the need for specialized care for children with disabilities in the early 1920s. Having lost his son in a car accident, Mr. Allen felt better resources could help prevent the deaths of other children. With the help of his Rotary Club, he built a special facility where children could receive medical assessment and treatment, but to his surprise, he soon found it was seldom used.

He discovered parents kept their children with disabilities at home because of the large expenses involved in treatment. This inspired him, with the help of other Rotary Clubs in nearby communities, to create the Ohio Society for Crippled Children. They forged relationships with hospitals and people with disabilities to ensure vital services went to those who needed it, regardless of their finances. In Canada, this pioneering organization became what is now known as Easter Seals Ontario.

Rotary Clubs

Easter Seals Ontario would not exist were it not for the dedication of Rotary ClubRotary members. Starting in Chicago in 1905 as a fraternal organization of businessmen (women were welcomed as members much later), Rotary required that its members devote their personal resources of time, energy and money to the betterment of their communities. When Edgar Allen heard about the lack of resources for children with physical disabilities in Ontario, he suggested the Rotary Clubs of South Western Ontario meet in Windsor to discuss the issue.

The members were able to use their business and professional skills to benefit Easter Seals. For example, members of the Rotary Club of Toronto spoke with leading physicians and surgeons at the Hospital for Sick Children to pave the way for Easter Seals kids to be admitted to clinics and services. This began a relationship of mutual respect and trust between Easter Seals and the hospital. By 1926, Easter Seals expanded to include Lions and Kiwanis clubs as members, followed in later years by Kinsmen, Optimist, Canadian Royal Legion branches and other community service organizations.

Public Awareness

Public awareness has always been an important goal for Easter Seals. During “Health Week” in 1931, Easter Seals launched a public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis, a major threat to children.

In 1977, Easter Seals joined with other organizations in a public awareness campaign to encourage Ontario residents to sign consent forms for the donation of specific organs at time of death. Print advertising was also created, urging women who were about to become pregnant to be checked for immunity against rubella, and to caution against the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco during pregnancy.

In 2002, Easter Seals sponsored a province-wide public awareness campaign targeted at women of childbearing years, communicating the importance of folic acid in preventing neural tube birth defects.

Easter Seals NursesNursing

Easter Seals was the first organization to employ nurses to carry services into the home. In 1934, a fundraiser was launched resulting in the first full-time district nurse, Miss Gretta Ross. Her first posting was to London where an office was provided in the War Memorial Children’s Hospital. During a devastating polio outbreak in 1937, many expenses fell on Easter Seals. At the request of the provincial Department of Health, Easter Seals employed six nurses temporarily for follow-up care. An office was provided in the polio hospital, where May McAdam of Easter Seals arranged transportation of children in and out of the hospital using service club volunteer drivers. After the epidemic, it became clear that Easter Seals had to expand its services and employ more nurses.


In 1904, a children’s hospital was needed in Copenhagen, Denmark. A local postal clerk wondered if postage stamps, which were designed to decorate Christmas letters and parcels, could be sold to finance building of the hospital. The Danish royal family loved the idea and that year, the first Christmas ‘seals’ were sold with remarkable success. A Danish social worker in New York received a package from home bearing the Christmas ‘seal’ and decided a similar label could be sold to raise funds in the U.S.


The ‘seals’ were adopted by a small tuberculosis hospital in Delaware and were used in 1907, raising $3,000. In the summer of 1933, The U.S. Easter Seal Society’s President, Paul H. King, suggested a similar campaign to raise funds for his growing organization.

Easter ‘seals’ were first used in the U.S. in 1934, and in 1947 were introduce in Ontario. The campaign proved to be a resounding success, resulting in $138,396 raised. Later that year, March was dubbed March is Easter Seals Month and included the annual presentation of official ‘seals’ to the Prime Minister. In 1962, sales of Easter ‘seals’ exceeded $1 million for the first time!


Easter Seals Ontario has been very fortunate to have the support of many Canadian sports and broadcast celebrities. One major contributor was hockey-legend Conn Smythe, who built Maple Leafs Gardens in 1931, and coached, managed and owned the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Conn SmytheConn Smythe

In 1947, Conn Smythe made Maple Leaf Gardens available for the Easter Parade of Stars, generating much awareness for the new Easter Seals’ direct mail campaign. The event played to a large live audience at the Gardens and reached a large listening audience through radio, and later television.

In 1952, Mr. Smythe created the annual Sports Celebrities Dinner to benefit Easter Seals, which has become one of the most successful events of its kind in North America. In 1976, the Conn Smythe Research Foundation (renamed Easter Seal Research Institute in 1985) was established. This was the first organization in Ontario devoted exclusively to research prevention, treatment and management of physical disabilities in children and young adults.


In 2003, Easter Seals formed a partnership with McMaster University’s CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research. Projects supported by Easter Seals grant include the development of a youth kit, and research on how to best assist parents whose children are waiting for therapy.

1981 Snowarama - Interview with Whipper Billy Watson“Whipper” Billy Watson

The history of Easter Seals would not be complete without mentioning the enormous support of “Whipper” Billy Watson, Canada’s leading wrestler from the 1940s to the 1960s. Watson was an essential figure in Easter Seals’ fundraising efforts, most notably establishing Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids in 1975, an event that involves snowmobile riding in local communities.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

In 1952, a report to Easter Seal’s Board of Directors suggested building an institution devoted to “bringing health and happiness” to children with physical disabilities. Ten years later, the most outstanding facility for treatment and rehabilitation was created. Originally, the centre was to be a department within Easter Seals but, to qualify for government health grants, it was necessary for it to be established as a separate medical institution with its own corporate structure, bylaws and Board of Trustees. However, the two organizations remained strongly linked.

Hugh MacMillan

In 1984, the centre became “The Hugh MacMillan Medical Centre”, as a tribute to the late Dr. Hugh MacMillan, Assistant Medical Director of the centre who was an important role model for others with physical disabilities. In 1996, the centre voluntarily merged with Bloorview Children’s Hospital, bringing together more than 130 years of combined experience in service to children and families. The centre is now called Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Timeline of Easter Seals Ontario

Year Event
1922 November 28, 1922, Windsor, ON, representatives from ten area Rotary Clubs form the Ontario Society for Crippled Children.
1928 Easter Seals hires its first employee, Reg Hopper, as Executive Secretary.
1930 The organization is incorporated as the Ontario Society for Crippled Children
1931 Easter Seals launches a public information campaign for the universal pasteurization of milk to help prevent tuberculosis.
1934 Easter Seals launched its first public fundraising appeal held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
1934 Easter Seals hires its first full-time District Nurse.
1937 Easter Seals opens the first Canadian camp for children with disabilities.
1946 Woodeden Camp opens, just outside of London.
1947 The first Easter Seals mail campaign was introduced in Ontario, with the goal of raising $150,000. March was dubbed March is Easter Seals Month.
1947 Easter Seals initiates an ambassador program, with Lynn Berry selected as the first provincial “Timmy” to represent all children with physical disabilities.
1948 Merrywood Camp opened in eastern Ontario near Perth.
1952 Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction, founded by the Ontario Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
1954 Northwood Camp near Kirkland Lake, and Lakewood Camp on Lake Erie opened.
1962 Ontario Centre for Crippled Children opens. Now part of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital.
1973 Easter Seals partnered with Hospital for Sick Children to launch “Track Three Skiing”, the first downhill skiing classes of kids with physical disabilities.
1975 Whipper Billy Watson hosts the first Snowarama events in 12 communities throughout Ontario, raising a total of $130,000 in its first year.
1978 Easter Seals is instrumental in establishing a network of children’s treatment centres throughout the province and creating a formal alliance, now known as Ontario Association of Children’s Rehabilitation Services (OACRS).
1979 Nadia de Franco selected as the first female child (“Tammy”) to represent Easter Seals kids.
1981 The Ontario Society for Crippled Children officially changed its name to the Easter Seal Society, Ontario.
1982 Easter Seals launched “Head First” and “Be Bike Smart” public awareness campaign, becoming the first organization to focus on bike safety and helmet use.
1984 Easter Seals adopts the annual naming of both a “Timmy” and a “Tammy” to represent children with physical disabilities.
2000 Timmy and Tammy” program renamed Easter Seals Provincial Ambassador Program.
2000 A network of grassroots volunteers known as District Councils is formed in communities across the province.
2001 On January 30, Easter Seals received the Conference Board of Canada/Spencer Stuart National Award in Governance for demonstrating innovative and successful application of leading private sector business practices to traditional charity governance.
2002 “Recreational Choices Funding Program” was implemented to offer funding for Easter Seals kids to attend other camps and recreation programs of their choice.
2002 Easter Seals sponsors a public education campaign promoting the importance of Folic Acid.
2003 Leaders of Tomorrow program initiated for youth and young adults to promote independence through leadership and community involvement.
2004 Easter Seals invests over $4 million to revitalize camper cabins and swimming facilities at Camp Woodeden and Camp Merrywood.
2005 GEAR UP program introduced to help young adults transition to adulthood.
2008 Easter Seals adopts “national” branding standards and changes name to Easter Seals Ontario
2008 Libro Challenge Course for Easter Seals Kids – The high ropes course expansion at Camp Woodeden added 8 new activities, including a zip line, doubling the activities specifically designed for kids with physical disabilities, and making it the largest in North America.
2011 The new Bruce Power Recreation Centre and indoor gymnasium opens at Camp Woodeden, which includes the Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson Performing Arts Centre, an indoor rock climbing wall, a life-skills kitchen and program rooms.
Thanks to our generous donors, Easter Seals Ontario continues to offer programs that allow children with physical disabilities kids to experience freedom, independence and a sense of accomplishment. For families, Easter Seals is somewhere to turn for help when they need it.