Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario Part II: The Contribution of NGOs to Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario

In part II of this blog series, we will look at the physical activity promotion efforts of the NGO Community (non-government organizations) as well as some agencies of government, noting some of their key accomplishments.


Established in 1921, Ophea, formerly the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association, was, and still is, dedicated to supporting the health and learning of children and youth in Ontario, led by the vision that all kids value and enjoy the lifelong benefits of healthy, active living. Ophea is one of the Provincial Subject Associations for Health and Physical Education and has worked extensively within the education and public health sectors.

Ophea offers a number of resources, programs and services:

  • A variety of Teaching Tools, in the form of lesson plans, supplements and activities, are intended to help teachers implement the Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum and provide support in building healthy, active schools and communities. Some of the topics addressed include Internet Safety, Inclusion, Injury Prevention and Asthma. Activities come in the form of ready-to-go activity cards and tools that support teaching specific skills and topics in a variety of settings. Examples of activities include First Nations Inspired Daily Physical Activity Cards, a Kids’ Run Club resource along with both Wallet Wellness and PlaySport activity cards and videos.
  • Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification recognizes and celebrates school communities for promoting and enhancing the health and well-being of students, school staff, and the broader community. Schools must complete a six-step process during the school year, earn points, and then apply to be certified as a Gold, Silver or Bronze-level Healthy School.
  • Designed to appeal to a variety of audiences, Professional Learning opportunities take the form of webinars, workshops and the Ophea annual conference.
  • Ophea is also involved in advocacy work and provides information to stakeholders and the public through its articles and blogs.

To its credit, Ophea, as a result of these different initiatives:

  • Communicates with and provides resources to educators and leaders in all of Ontario’s 72 French and English school boards, 5,000 schools, to health professionals in all 36 public health units, as well as to staff in community health centres, recreation departments, faculties of education, sport settings, child care facilities, workplaces and communities;
  • Boasts a strong digital presence with more than 150,000 visitors to and 1.2 million page views on annually; and over 25,000 subscribers to its eConnection newsletter;
  • Disseminates more than 40,000 hard copy and electronic resources annually;
  • Performs over 1,800 online and in-person consultations and workshops across Ontario annually;
  • Established the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC) in 2003 (see Blog I).
  • Promotes an integrated approach to school health by addressing multiple, inter-related health topics through its keystone Healthy Schools Approach. 

Ontario Trillium Foundation

Due to a decrease in government funding and private sector donations in the early 1980s, representatives from nine charitable organizations and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, met and developed the concept of a foundation funded through government lotteries. In November, 1982, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) was established and incorporated as an arms-length agency of government to fund social services. Its goal then, and now, is “to build healthy and vibrant communities throughout Ontario by strengthening the capacity of the voluntary sector through investments in community-based initiatives”. In 1983, just over $15 million was awarded. In 1999, the Ontario government increased OTF’s funding to $100 million annually and expanded its mandate to support arts and culture, sport and recreation, and environment, and include both rural communities and large centres. Today, OTF is one of Canada’s largest granting foundations with a budget of over $136 million, supporting 1,000 (out of 3,000 submitted) projects each year. In 2014, new programs, services and tools were developed including the identification of six Action Areas, the creation of new Priority Outcomes for each Action Area and the establishment of new funding streams (Seed, Grow and Collective Impact).

ParticipACTION Ontario1

In the late 1980s, a meeting between Ontario government officials, who wanted to leverage existing physical activity promotion assets to help reach an expansive geographic region, and then ParticipACTION president Russ Kisby, led to the formation of ParticipACTION Ontario. Given that the Ontario government was unable to support a national organization, this provincial affiliate was established as a separate, not-for-profit entity, with its own corporate support (50%), government support (50%) and a board of directors made up of ParticipACTION’s Ontario board members. The partnership resulted in the creation of a number of media campaigns and resources. However, one of the most noteworthy ParticipACTION Ontario initiatives was a unique program (at the time) called the Ontario Community Active Living Programme (OCALP). With six staff, including four “community animators” who were based throughout Ontario serving the entire province, active living coalitions were formed in communities bringing together key partners to discuss and act on physical activity initiatives. After successfully establishing the initiative, ParticipACTION Ontario stepped away from OCALP. It was assumed by Ophea and renamed the Active Living Community Action Project (ALCAP), using a similar model as OCALP. After several years, a transition phase was put in place which led to the formation of the Physical Activity Resource Centre, commonly known as PARC!

Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO)

Parks and Recreation Ontario is a non-profit association that advances the health, social and environmental benefits of quality recreation and parks through evidence-based practices, resources and collaborative partnerships. Formed in 1995 (having consolidated the organizations of the Parks and Recreation Federation of Ontario), PRO has over 6,200 members comprised of professionals, volunteers, educators, students, citizens, elected officials and industry. Through its membership, PRO reaches over 10,000 parks and recreation service providers. With its vision of “Healthy People – Vibrant Communities – Sustainable Environments”, PRO aims to:

  • Advance the development of government policy that ensures safe, affordable, accessible and quality recreation and parks opportunities and increase awareness of the importance and benefits of recreation and parks
  • Strengthen the capacity of sector stakeholders to help Ontarians to lead healthier lifestyles
  • Strengthen quality standards to facilitate continuous improvement in service delivery.

Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health (OSPAPPH)

Ontario public health units provide strong and influential leadership in physical activity promotion through their unit’s individual efforts, inter-sectoral community partnerships, province-wide collaborations and national efforts. In 2006, a group of physical activity promoters established OSPAPPH to give physical activity and physical activity promoters a stronger voice within their own health units and at the ministry level. In 2008, OSPAPPH was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. Today, the organization strives to be the provincial voice for physical activity promotion in public health, with its mission to “elevate physical activity as a public health priority through advocacy, capacity building, engagement and collaboration”. Over the years, OSPAPPH has worked with several provincial and national stakeholders and partners to keep physical activity on the agenda.

Public Health Ontario

As a result of a number of public health events in Ontario (e.g. Walkerton water E. Coli outbreak and SARS), public health in Ontario became an area of interest in the early 2000s. A key recommendation was the creation of a dedicated arm’s length scientific and technical organization, which came to fruition in 2008, as the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, known under its operating name of Public Health Ontario. Its tagline of “Partners for Health” illustrates its commitment to collaboration with partners to achieve shared goals. While its mandate is much broader than physical activity, many of its resources support the work done by physical activity promoters including the provision of scientific evidence and guidance in the areas of policies and practices for healthier Ontarians.

Provincial and National Organizations

There are many other provincial and national organizations that have contributed to and/or influenced the physical activity promotion landscape in Ontario, some of which include:

Further, a number of health charities (national, provincial, regional affiliates) have and still do play a role in promoting physical activity including:

Did we miss anyone? Physical activity promotion is a busy field in Ontario, there are a lot of organizations doing great work. Tell us about physical activity promoters (individuals or organizations) in your community via Twitter using #PARCblog!

While it is evident that Ontarians have benefited from organizations, initiatives and resources to get them more active, so too have their fellow Canadians. Ontario’s physical activity community has been instrumental in contributing to a number of seminal documents and policies including the Canadian Sport Policy,2 Active Canada 20/203 and The Framework for Recreation in Canada4 to name a few.

Stay tuned for Part III of this blog series on Ontario’s involvement in and contribution to national and international physical activity strategies and policies.

1Interview with Dr. Art Salmon, Government of Ontario (retired) and the author’s historical background

2Canadian Sport Policy - Government of Canada. “Canadian Sport Policy.” (2012), 1-22. Retrieved from:

3Active Canada 20/20. “About Active Canada 20/20.” Retrieved from:

4Canadian Parks and Recreation Association/Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council “A Framework for Recreation in Canada - 2015 - Pathways to Wellbeing.” Ottawa: Canadian Recreation and Parks Association, (February 2015), 1-40. Retrieved from: