Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario Part III: Ontario’s contributions and legacies

In part III of this blog series, we will look at Ontario’s involvement in and contribution to physical activity efforts at a national and international level, including the legacies left for future generations.

As we wrote in the first blog post of this series, the province of Ontario has a rich history of physical activity promotion and, as such, has also been a major contributor to physical activity promotion in Canada, and internationally. Ontario, like all provinces and territories, has also benefited from and been influenced by a number of national and international efforts and events over the years. To review the contribution that Ontario governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) have made over the years, a brief re-reading of the first two blogs in this series – Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario and Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario Part II: The Contribution of NGOs to the Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario - is a good place to start.

As we reflect on Ontario’s contributions and legacies, a number of specific initiatives come to the forefront that, over the years, have impacted Ontarians, Canadians and our international colleagues, helping to shape physical activity promotion in Canada and world-wide.

Educating the World

Reuniting with the coordinating committees of the 1988 International Conference on Exercise, Fitness and Health and the 1992 International Conference on Physical Activity, Fitness, and Health, the Ontario government provided support and leadership to Health Canada and, in one case, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., to host several conferences that brought Canadian and international delegates together to share research and best practices. The first of these – Science into Practice: Communicating Physical Activity and Health Messages took place in 2001 in Whistler, BC. It was an interesting time as the original conference was scheduled to take place in September 2001, following a gathering of researchers at Hockley Valley in Ontario who discussed the evidence related to “dose-response” of physical activity and chronic disease (the effects of physical activity on chronic disease). The conference was meant to directly follow this meeting. However, given the events of September 11, 2001, the conference was postponed due to concern about and fear of air travel. The conference was re-scheduled to December and saw a healthy attendance from all over the world. Delegates shared learnings about the science and how messages were being developed and shared at a local, provincial/state, national and international level.

In 2007, The International Conference on Physical Activity and Obesity in Children, took place in Toronto, focusing on physical activity as an intervention in reducing obesity / maintaining a healthy weight in children. The final conference took place in 2010 – the 3rd International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health (ICPAPH). PARC had a seminal role in this conference, hosting an international stakeholder professional development and networking session. Most notably, it was at this conference that the Toronto Charter for Physical Activity: A Global Call for Action was released.

The Toronto Charter and its Legacy

National and international researchers, with an initial commitment of financial and human resources from the Government of Ontario, followed by additional support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the federal government, and corporate sponsors, prepared this consensus document outlining the public policy foundations that needed to be put in place in order for physical activity to have a public health impact. Over 1,700 people (world-wide) reviewed the document. It was endorsed by then Chief Medical Officer of Health, David Butler-Jones and 1,000 delegates at the last session of the ICPAPH conference. Members of the original committee who developed the Toronto Charter went on to write Non Communicable Disease Prevention: Investments that Work for Physical Activity. A complementary document to The Toronto Charter for Physical Activity: A Global Call to Action. Both documents have been used in the development of a number of physical activity strategies, including Active Canada 20/20. A Physical Activity Strategy and Change Agenda for Canada (next section).

Active Canada 20/20. A Physical Activity Strategy and Change Agenda for Canada

In February 2010, ParticipACTION’s Advisory Groups, made up of individuals from national, provincial and local organizations, recommended the development of a national physical activity policy/strategy in response to the release of the Toronto Charter and its first action area: “Implement a national policy and action plan”.1 ParticipACTION took the lead, assembling a steering committee, distributing a national online survey and completing cross-Canada consultations that, together, elicited feedback from 1,700 people representing every province and territory. PARC hosted the Ontario consultation that brought together over 60 organizations representing a number of different sectors, from all over the province. The result of all these efforts was Active Canada 20/20. A Physical Activity Strategy and Change Agenda for Canada2, a document that has been used by several provinces and territories in the development of their physical activity strategies, including the BC government’s Active People Active Places. British Columbia Physical Activity Strategy 2015. Along with A Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015. Pathways to Wellbeing3 and the Canadian Sport Policy4 (next section), it serves as a reference for the development of the Pan-Canadian Physical Activity Framework (this is a working title; the Framework was under development at the time of this writing).

A Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015. Pathways to Wellbeing

Though the development of the Framework for Recreation in Canada was a true pan-Canadian effort, the Government of Ontario played a lead role in its development by co-chairing a committee with the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) and the Federal-Provincial/Territorial (F-P/T) Committee to steer its development. Ontario has a long history in leading the Recreation movement in Canada. The primary authors of the 1987 National Recreation Statement (working with the Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council) were Mr. Bob Secord, Assistant Deputy Minister and Mr. Ray Wittenberg, Director of the Recreation Branch in the Ontario ministry responsible for sport and recreation at the time.

Ontario as the beneficiary

Ontario has been the beneficiary of many of the policies and frameworks noted above. Governments at all levels have benefited from the scientific evidence that provided the framework for the development of sport, physical activity and recreation public policies.

The Canadian and Fitness Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI) provides the federal and provincial/territorial governments, and the NGO community with essential surveillance and tracking data about physical activity levels provincially and nationally. They:

  • monitor change in physical activity, sport participation and health status of Canadians through the Physical Activity and Sport Monitoring Program;
  • provide the evidence necessary for governments to develop policies, set targets for increasing the physical activity and sport participation rates of the population and determine priorities for investment of public resources;
  • increase individual awareness of the benefits of an active lifestyle by synthesizing, interpreting and sharing research knowledge; and
  • identify research priorities and recommend strategies to increase physical activity levels.5

Another notable organization that has influenced the landscape of physical activity promotion in Ontario is the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF). As discussed in Part II of our Physical Activity Promotion in Ontario blog series, OTF is one of Canada’s largest granting organizations with an annual budget of over $136 million. It provides grants to approximately 1,000 projects each year.6 Prior to its establishment 30 years ago, Ontario provided funding to the arts and sport through its Wintario Lottery. Those funds supported both capital and non-capital projects (i.e. buildings, programs, equipment) to support physical activity and sport endeavours. In response to Ontario’s growing commitments to other services requiring funding, OTF was established as an agency of the Ontario government as a mechanism to continue funding physical activity, recreation and sport in Ontario.

Finally, we look to both recently past and future international events, hosted in Ontario, such as the 2015 Pan Am Games and Para Pan Am Games, Ontario 150 (2017), Canada 150 (2017), the North American Indigenous Games (2017) and the Invictus Games (2017). We are fortunate to be reaping the long-lasting benefits of these initiatives in the form of physical activity social and built infrastructure, capacity-building for sport and recreation staff and ongoing program initiatives. For example, as a result of the Pan Am Games being hosted in Toronto and other nearby cities, the “Building Legacies” youth engagement program taught youth about building community through sport and culture. A number of programs encouraging children and youth to learn about and participate in sport and physical activity were developed and implemented through schools and community groups, including enhancements to Ophea’s PlaySport resource, to inspire and motivate children and youth to be physically active leading up to and beyond the Games. A Commission Fund seeded innovative arts and arts-legacy projects. Legacy venues include the athletes’ village being turned into a mixed-use neighbourhood with affordable housing, new condominiums, a YMCA and a dormitory for George Brown College students while facilities in the Great Toronto Area were renovated (Etobicoke Olympium) or built (the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough College, home to two Olympic-sized swimming pools and a Dive Tank. The Invictus Games will also feature cultural and youth programming with the intent of engaging Canadians across the country. Ontario 150 and Canada 150 feature a number of physical activity, recreation and sport programs and events for Ontarians and Canadians to take part in all year and beyond.

Ontario, with a large population, a vast and varied geography and its need to support some of the biggest cities in Canada as well as a large rural and remote population, has its challenges. But it also has a large number of assets including a strong NGO community committed to physical activity (provincially and nationally), a public health system that mandates physical activity promotion, a strong research sector, a culturally diverse population, and a commitment to multi-sectoral collaboration since the early 90s that includes “non-traditional” partners committed to physical activity. Bringing it all together in a coordinated fashion should be its next priority to making physical activity a cultural norm in Ontario.


This blog, as with the others in this series, is grounded in evidence, personal experience and history of the writer and the vast experience, history and personal contribution to the sector by Dr. Art Salmon.

1Global Advocacy Council for Physical Activity, International Society for Physical Activity and Health. The Toronto Charter for Physical Activity: A Global Call to Action. (2010). Retrieved from

2Active Canada 20/20. (2012). Active Canada 20/20: A Physical Activity Strategy and Change Agenda for Canada. Retrieved from:

3Canadian Parks and Recreation Association/Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council. (2015). A Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015. Pathways to Wellbeing. Ottawa: Canadian Recreation and Parks Association. Retrieved from:

4Government of Canada. (2012). Canadian Sport Policy (2012). Retrieved from:

5CFLRI website. About us.

6Ontario Trillium Foundation. Who we are.