The Toronto PWA Foundation

25 years of heart

The PWA mission: We engage people living with HIV/AIDS in enhancing their health and well-being through practical and therapeutic support services and broader social change, and we inspire them to live into their dreams and discoveries.

In 1987, a support group of people living with HIV (PHA) formed the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA). For 25 years PWA has provided critical services to more than 8,000 individual clients, delivered more than a quarter of a million meals, distributed more than $3.7 million to clients. The PWA Speakers Bureau volunteers have shared their personal stories with approximately 285,000 individuals in an effort to reduce stigma and transmission rates. Volunteers have provided more than 750,000 hours, and more than 50,000 individual donors have supported PWA. The numbers are large, the accomplishments are astounding and the individual stories, a sampling of which follow, are important as we move into yet another year with no end to the epidemic in sight.


A timeline

HIV/AIDS and Toronto People With AIDS Foundation


The Toronto People with AIDS Coalition is formed: “We Stand and Fight”

Toronto becomes the first Canadian city to develop an AIDS strategy, which includes funding for community organizations

The Ontario AIDS Network is formed

The second Canadian AIDS Conference is held in Toronto

The Canadian AIDS Society holds its first AGM

Good Shepherd opens Barrett House, a five-bed AIDS hospice, in Toronto

It’s determined that people with HIV/AIDS are protected against discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario legislature amends the Ontario Human Rights Code to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation

In Toronto, AIDS becomes the leading killer of men aged 35 to 44


The first anti-HIV drug (AZT) is released

The PWA Coalition meets in a room at the not-yet-opened Casey House

PWA incorporates as a not-for-profit and becomes the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation

PWA’s first three directors are Jim St James, Rodney Polich and Ray Barnard

PWA’s first AGM is held in September

PWA distributes $13,524 in financial assistance to PHAs from October 1987 to March 1988

PWA pauses operations after the death of 16 (of 20) staff members in October


Casey House Hospice, founded by June Callwood, opens

Several ethnocultural AIDS organizations are formed in Toronto

AIDS Action Now! (AAN!) forms in Toronto. AAN!’s first news conference attacks the federal government for lack of action on treatment access and drug trials


Jake Epp, federal minister of health and welfare, is burned in effigy at an AAN! demonstration, held during a national AIDS conference in Toronto, to protest treatment issues and a lack of overall policy commitment on AIDS

The Canadian AIDS Society releases its report on safer sex guidelines

The first World AIDS Day is held Dec 1

PWA becomes a registered charity

PWA’s first benefits and assistance coordinator is hired and sees an average of 15 new clients a day

The Toronto premiere of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart raises funds for PWA

One of PWA’s founding members is Chuck Grochmal. Chuck’s Xtra column on living with AIDS runs from April 5, 1988 to Jan 24, 1990


Activists take over the opening stage of the fifth International AIDS Conference, in Montreal, demanding that governments take more action and that the voices of people with AIDS be heard

The Montreal Manifesto, an international bill of rights for PHAs, is published

The first national Aboriginal Conference on HIV/AIDS is held

PWA receives core funding from the Ontario AIDS Bureau and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

The PWA drop-in centre begins providing info sessions, yoga, massage and haircuts

The PWA Speakers Bureau is founded


After 2,282 Canadians have died of AIDS, the federal health minister, Perrin Beatty, announces the first National AIDS Strategy

The Canadian HIV Trials Network is established

AAN! organizes a major demonstration to protest the call to quarantine sexually active poz people by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Richard Schabas. Plans are blocked, and every community AIDS organization in Ontario calls for Schabas’s resignation

Charles K (Chuck) Grochmal dies of AIDS at Casey House.

AAN! sets up the Treatment Information Exchange (TIE) to increase access to information about cutting-edge treatments


TIE becomes the Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE), an independent charitable organization

The Red Ribbon, which will develop into an international symbol of AIDS awareness, makes its debut at the 45th Tony Awards

The Ontario AIDS Bureau is established within the Ontario government

Black CAP, initiated in the late 1980s, is incorporated

The Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support and Action Network is formed as a grassroots response to the emerging AIDS crisis in the Canadian prison system


The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is established

Ontario’s Ministry of Health establishes anonymous HIV-testing sites

PWA supports and administers funds for Voices of Positive Women (until 1994)

The PWA Food Bank is established

PWA establishes the Treatment Resources Program


PWA and ACT move to offices at 399 Church St

PWA supports and administers funds for Positive Straight Men

The AIDS Memorial opens in Cawthra Park

The Krever Commission is established to investigate HIV in the Canadian blood supply

PWA receives the first grant to a Canadian HIV/AIDS organization from the MAC AIDS Fund

The Good Samaritan Dinner is held for volunteers (most of whom are PHAs) and becomes PWA’s Annual Holiday Dinner


The Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV (GIPA) Principle is formalized at the Paris AIDS Summit, with 42 countries signing on to “stimulate the creation of supportive political, legal and social environments” for PHAs

After years of pressure from AAN! the Ontario government announces that a catastrophic drug program will be implemented in 1995

On World AIDS Day, three AIDS groups serving Toronto’s Southeast Asian communities join forces to form a new coalition agency: Asian Community AIDS Services

PWA receives an award for its participation in the education of U of T medical students

PWA supports and administers funds for Positive Youth Outreach (now an ACT community program)


A new family of antiretroviral drugs, protease inhibitors, is approved in the US


The success of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is the big news at the 11th International AIDS Conference in Vancouver

HAART becomes standard treatment

Ontario begins viral load testing

The AIDS programs of various UN agencies combine to form UNAIDS

PHAs establish the Canadian Treatment Action Council

Sutherland Chan partners with PWA to provide the first student massage clinic for PHAs


The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network is established


PHAs become eligible for ODSP (the Ontario Disability Support Program) as a result of efforts by PWA and other groups

Canadian Blood Services assumes full responsibility for Canada’s blood supply system, supplanting the Canadian Red Cross

The Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation is formed

PWA starts the first needle exchange specifically for PHAs

PWA partners with the College of Naturopathic Medicine to offer a naturopathic clinic (now offered at the Sherbourne Health Centre)


The Ontario HIV Treatment Network launches, with Anne Phillips and Murray Jose as co-chairs

The first Friends for Life Bike Rally raises $44,498

ACT and PWA develop the Employment Action Program, which helps PHAs update their skills and provides help with resumés and job placement

HIV treatment is effective in reducing mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy

The Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment, with representation from the legal, health, settlement and HIV/AIDS sectors, forms to improve treatment and service access for marginalized people with HIV/AIDS

PWA adopts a provocative position in support of medicinal marijuana


More than 40 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, half of them women; nearly 25 million have died


The Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV (GIPA) Principle is endorsed by 189 United Nations member countries as part of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS


HIV becomes the leading cause of death worldwide for people aged 15 to 59

PWA launches the Food for Life meal-delivery program

PWA launches the Pie in the Sky fundraiser


InSite, North America’s first supervised injection site, opens for drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

PWA partners with the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment to develop the HIV Medication Access Project for marginalized people, which becomes a formal PWA program within a year


The proposal to amalgamate PWA and ACT fails to receive the required support from PWA members

Amalgamation discussions help to identify PWA and ACT partnership opportunities and to clarify PWA’s work as a separate agency


PWA participates in the AIDS Bureau’s regional planning process, which leads to a strategic plan for Toronto HIV services

PWA becomes a trustee and host of the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network, with Murray Jose as co-chair


The 15th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2006) is held in Toronto

AIDS deaths fall, but health complications emerge

Ontario introduces point-of-care rapid HIV tests

PWA leads the creation and coordination of the PHA Lounge at AIDS 2006

PWA begins a long relationship as the beneficiary of the Home + Style studio tour and furniture sale


Concerns about the criminalization of HIV and a lack of rationale for charges grow

PWA provides early leadership as part of the new Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law and HIV Exposure

PWA holds first Tighty Whitey Car Wash


The 10th Friends for Life Bike Rally raises $1,214,627; the 10-year total passes $5 million; more than 300 cyclists participate, supported by 100 crew members

PWA moves to a larger space at 200 Gerrard St E to meet service needs and create “a welcoming space”


The groundbreaking Poz Prevention resource materials, developed in partnership with the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance, are recognized internationally


PWA presents a poster at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna highlighting Poz Prevention

PWA launches the Love Ball bowling fundraiser

The Collaboration for HIV Medical Education research study, whose goal is to educate medical students, receives funding, with PWA as a co-principle investigator and community partner


The Friends for Life Bike Rally raises $1.26 million; overall total is $9.1 million

PWA reveals a new strategic plan: Engaging, Building Capacity, Empowering Dreams


The City of Toronto threatens service cuts to its budget, including AIDS programs; council saves services by two votes

PWA now supports the following programs as trustee: the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment, the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network, the Circle of Care, Latinos Positivos

PWA marks its 25th anniversary

See also:

The essentials: The Food Bank

Tony Di Pede – Treasurer, Chair, Executive Director

Greg Downer – Service access manager

Murray Jose – Executive director

Shane Patey – Therapeutic care coordinator

Richard Dalton – Client and volunteer

Anonymous staff member

The merger that never was

The bike rally — a first timer prepares


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Read More About:
Power, Health, News, HIV/AIDS, Toronto

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