Living longer, living healthier: health education in the curative age, 1921 to 1947  - Page Banner

Table of Contents


Letter In 1921, the Ontario government created the Division of Public Health Education, the first of its kind in Canada. By the 1920s, the focus of public health in Ontario had shifted from concerns about housing, sewers, and clean water to health education and the prevention of disease.

Certain diseases, such as smallpox and typhoid fever, were well controlled through vaccination efforts by the 1920s. Yet other diseases continued to claim lives. Tuberculosis - TB - proved to be the most virulent of these. Its devastation prompted the Provincial Board of Health to carry out a huge public awareness and prevention campaign, producing and distributing pamphlets, lectures, displays, and traveling exhibitions.

Photo: Tuberculosis exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), [ca. 1924]

Click to see a larger image (291K)
Tuberculosis exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), [ca. 1924]
Public Health Nursing Branch
Reference Code: RG 10-30-2, 2.4.8
Archives of Ontario, I0005217

Charts showing tuberculosis mortality by age and sex in Ontario, 1930–1956

Most Canadians think that tuberculosis is a disease of the past - while it hasn't been entirely eliminated, TB certainly is a rarity in 21st-century Ontario.

For decades, though, TB was an urban scourge. It claimed thousands of lives and touched families everywhere. In the 1920s and ’30s, TB seemed to affect every family. In 1908, regulations had been passed to try to control the spread of TB, including compulsory reporting of all known cases. But they had little effect.

Click to see a larger image (112K)
Charts showing tuberculosis mortality by age and
sex in Ontario, 1930–1956
Tuberculosis Prevention Branch Annual Report, 1956
Tuberculosis Reports
Reference Code: RG 10-97
Archives of Ontario, I0040132

In the Ontario Government film entitled “Her Own Fault”, “the girl who fails in life’s struggle” meets her downfall because of poor diet, late hours, and a penchant for fashion sales. She is soon hospitalized with tuberculosis, while her opposite, “the girl who succeeds,” is promoted to forewoman at the factory.

Her Own Fault
Miscellaneous Sound and Moving Image Collection
Ontario Board of Health
Reference Code: C 308-0-0-23-4
Archives of Ontario


In 1924, the provincial Health Department started the first traveling diagnostic clinic for TB. Free mass screenings at the chest clinics helped educate both doctors and the public about the prevalence and devastating effects of TB, taught people how to prevent the disease, and made everyone much more “tuberculosis-conscious.”

Photo: Woman being tested for tuberculosis on the Ontario Tuberculosis Association Chest X-Ray Train, [ca. 1950]

Click to see a larger image (128K)
Woman being tested for tuberculosis on the Ontario
Tuberculosis Association Chest X-Ray Train, [ca. 1950]
Canada Pictures Limited. Ministry of Health
Reference Code: RG 10-145
Archives of Ontario, I0005205

Photo: Man being tested for tuberculosis, [ca. 1950]

Click to see a larger image (126K)
Man being tested for tuberculosis, [ca. 1950]
Ministry of Health
Reference Code: RG 10-145
Archives of Ontario, I0005202

Although there had been TB sanatoria in Ontario since the late 1890s, more isolation and treatment centres were set up across the province. And public health officials went into both workplaces and schools across the province, testing for TB and distributing educational materials.

Tuberculosis information booths were also set up at fall fairs such as the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and in community halls in smaller centres.

Tuberculosis exhibit at the Canadian
National Exhibition (CNE), 1928
Public Health Nursing Branch
Reference Code: RG 10-30-2, 2.5.30
Archives of Ontario, I0005220

Photo: Tuberculosis exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), 1928
Photo: People standing in front of an Ontario Department of Health Mobile Tuberculosis Testing Clinic, [ca. 1960]

People standing in front of an Ontario Department of Health Mobile
Tuberculosis Testing Clinic, [ca. 1960]
Ministry of Health
Reference Code: RG 10-145
Archives of Ontario, I0005213

Pages from The Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Sanatorium pamphlet Kingston, Ont. : British Whig Publishing Co., [192-?], Pages 6-7

Click to see a larger image (168K)

Pages from The Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Sanatorium pamphlet Kingston, Ont. : British Whig Publishing Co., [192-?], Pages 10-11

Click to see a larger image (167K)

Pages from The Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Sanatorium pamphlet
Kingston, Ont. : British Whig Publishing Co., [192-?]
Reference Code: PAMPH N.D. “K” No. 4
Archives of Ontario

Newspaper advertisement, Timmins, 1944

Click to see a larger image (403K)
Newspaper advertisement, Timmins, 1944
Scrapbook re mass x-ray surveys
Reference Code: RG 10-145-2-2
Archives of Ontario, I0040192

Chart showing increasing number of mass TB surveys, 1942-1948. Tuberculosis Prevention Branch Annual Report, 1948

Click to see a larger image (99K)
Chart showing increasing number of mass TB surveys, 1942-1948. Tuberculosis Prevention Branch Annual Report, 1948
Tuberculosis Reports
Reference Code: RG 10-97
Archives of Ontario, I0040130

Photo: Exterior view of the Ontario Tuberculosis Association Chest X-Ray Train, [ca. 1950]

Exterior view of the Ontario Tuberculosis Association Chest X-Ray Train, [ca. 1950]
Gordon W. Powley
Ministry of Health 
Reference Code: RG 10-145
Archives of Ontario, I0005204

Photo: Tuberculosis testing clinic, [ca. 1960]

Tuberculosis testing clinic, [ca. 1960]
Ministry of Health
Reference Code: RG 10-145
Archives of Ontario, I0005210


Video clip of students being tested
for tuberculosis, Toronto, 1946
Jarvis [Collegiate Institute] dental and TB services
Walter Moorhouse fonds
Reference Code: C 231-18-0-8
Archives of Ontario


Like the impetus provided by the health challenges faced by veterans after World War One, in the ’20s and ’30s the threat of tuberculosis brought health education and promotion to a new level. And Ontarians responded. The Dominion Council of Health, at its 1939 annual meeting, took note of the public enthusiasm for health education:

The public response to appeals to write to the government for free health literature is tremendous.… There is no sign of a let-up in the demand and we are puzzled, particularly at this time of necessary economy in operations, as to the means of providing for the flood of requests.…During the past year to cope with the general public demand for such material, the Division has produced a number of new books which have proven most popular.

We have added to the so-called “National Health Publication Series” books on “Middle Age - Your Arteries and Hearth,” The Common Cold,” Hay Fever and Asthma,” “Infantile Paralysis,” “Typhoid Fever,” “Sleep,” “Posture” and “Prevention of Diphtheria”.… Then again the national health notes we have been using on the radio were edited and published in a volume entitled “Health Axioms”.… we have done everything possible to cope with the demand we have created for health education material.

Pamphlet: What Everyone Should Know About Cancer Pamphlet: The Prevention of Cancer
Pamphlet: The Prevention of Cancer

What Everyone Should Know About Cancer
Ontario Dept. of Health, 1933
Reference Code: PAMPH 1933 #18
Archives of Ontario

The Prevention of Cancer
Ontario Dept. of Health, 1933
Reference Code: PAMPH 1933 #18
Archives of Ontario

Important Facts for Women About Tumours
Ontario Dept. of Health, 1933
Reference Code: PAMPH 1933 #18
Archives of Ontario, I0040266

Advances in treatment helped Canadians become healthier too—new drugs and other medical advances began to prolong many people’s lives.

Photo: Two men viewing a chest x-ray at a Board of Health laboratory, [ca. 1928]

Two men viewing a chest x-ray at a Board of Health laboratory, [ca. 1928]
Ministry of Health
Reference Code: RG 10-30-2, 1.4.27
Archives of Ontario, I0005238


Previous | Home | Next
Sanitation, public hygiene, and the fight against disease: 1882 to 1921
Public health nurses: bringing health home
Living longer, living healthier: health education in the curative age, 1921 to 1947
Mass marketing and social change: the postwar era | Health promotion in the modern era: 1974 and beyond
The promotion of healthy living in Ontario: timeline