Services to teens, adults, and seniors.
As early as 1914, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Hastings identified a gap in the Department of Public Health’s services for adults, noting the need for free dental clinics for all ages. In 1916, he warned of a rise in “the wasting and degenerative diseases of middle life,” such as kidney and heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and cancer. He also discerned a rise in mental illnesses caused by the “strain and stress” of the modern age.



His successor, Dr. G.P. Jackson, observed the necessity of extending mental health care to teenagers, who “must struggle alone with complexities, physical, psychic and mental, the heritage of adolescence.” Dr. Jackson further noted that seniors were a growing part of the population, and must have programs catering to their special needs. However, in the face of the volume of work to which the department was already committed, programs for adults and teens remained small and few.
A nurse sits with an elderly woman wearing an apron, and an elderly man who seems to be doing some sort of woodworking with a block of wood in his lap.
Public health nurse visits seniors in their home
November 1942
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 917


A nurse in a white lab coat and a teenage girl wearing a plaid skirt talk at a desk while the nurse takes notes.
Public health nurse interviews high school student
November 1942
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 913
A dentist looks in a teenage girl's mouth, while a line of teenagers stands beside a woman in a lab coat taking notes at a desk.
Dental services to high school students
November 1942
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 921


By the 1960s, however, some of the department’s long-standing services were less in demand. The development of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan meant that all families could afford to see a doctor. Clean drinking water, almost universal vaccination against common diseases, and the discovery of antibiotics made formerly fatal diseases uncommon and treatable. The department could turn its attention to groups that had previously been underserviced.


A young woman in a hat and an elderly woman in a patterned dress look together at a photograph.
Public health nurse Miss Trueman visits senior in her Yorkville home
June 1964
Photographer: Unknown
Series 474, Subseries 3, File 1, Item 17


Two dentists in white lab coats examine an elderly man's teeth.
Senior’s health exam
ca. 1970
Photographer: Peter Mykusz
Series 831, File 5
An optometrist examines an elderly man's eyes using a machine while other people watch.
York mayor Phil White visits glaucoma testing at Eagle Manor seniors’ apartments
ca. 1970
Photographer: Alexandra Studios
Series 1057, Item 4600


By the 1960s, expectations of good public health services were changing. The sexual revolution brought birth control and sexuality into the public consciousness like never before, and the department responded with bold initiatives that wouldn’t have even been considered previously.


In 1965, the department sponsored its first family planning clinic, open one night a week at Toronto General Hospital. At the time, birth control was technically illegal under the Criminal Code, and it remained so until 1969. However, no one providing birth control information had been prosecuted since Ottawa nurse Dorothea Palmer won a landmark court case in 1937.

The department’s first Birth Control Week was held in 1974, and included “keynote speakers and contemporary music” at booths set up in Nathan Phillips Square, parks, and malls.

The 1978 Public Health annual report called family planning “an integral part of the more general concept of preventive health.”

Bookmark with phone number and a cartoon of a stork using the phone.
Bookmark to advertise family planning hotline
Series 476, File 299


A man and woman stand in a booth that displays informational posters and brochures about birth control.
Department of Public Health booth, Birth Control Week
ca. 1981
Photographer: Unknown
Series 474, Subseries 3, File 2, Item 68a


The department’s plan to distribute condoms free to high school students during 1984’s Birth Control Week provoked national headlines over parental worries about rampant teenage sex. As Medical Officer of Health Dr. A.S. Macpherson said later, “Anything that brings safe, responsible contraception out in the open is welcome.”


Notes and screen shots of a TV commercial about parents talking to their children about birth control.
Department of Public Health television commercial
Series 476, File 306


Increased immigration and a social reaction against the perceived paternalism of experts also led the department to find fresh ways to bring health information and care to new generations of Torontonians.

Efforts were made to reach out to specific cultural communities, and the department funded several non-profit clinics, including the mobile clinic shown below.

A woman tests a man's blood pressure using a cuff.
South Asian Festival of Health, City Hall
November 1, 1986
Photographer: Peter Goodwin
Series 1281, File 1986-246, Item 4


Women of colour and of different ethnicities stand in front of a trailer that is painted with Hello in various languages.
The Immigrant Women’s Centre mobile health unit
Photographer: Pamela Harris
Series 829, Item 18


Since the 1960s, other areas of focus for the Department of Public Health have been anti-smoking, anti-drinking, and anti-drug campaigns. New insights into the damaging effects of old habits prompted the department to take its services in different directions.

The “ecolizer” shown in use here tested carbon monoxide levels in the exhaled air of City employees and visitors. The ecolizer was pioneered in Scarborough’s 1974 anti-smoking campaign.


A man shakes a girl's hand in front of a poster display. She is pointing to a poster with drawings of a sun and flowers. It says Don’t smoke it's bad for you.
Councillor Howard Moscoe with one of the winners in the National Non-Smoking Week poster contest
January 17, 1989
Photographer: Jocelyn Richards
Series 1281, File 1989-24, Item 1
In front of a display of anti-smoking posters and brochures, a young man breathes into a device while people watch.
Scarborough Department of Health booth for National Non-Smoking Week, Scarborough Civic Centre
January 1984
Photographer: Unknown
Series 831, File 2, Item 3


Poster that explains why teenagers should not start smoking.
Anti-smoking transit shelter ad
February 14, 1994
Photographer: Jocelyn Richards
Series 1281, File 1994-27, Item 22


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