7 min

The Toronto PWA Foundation

25 years of heart

Some of the PWA staff and volunteers in the welcoming reception area at 200 Gerrard St, Toronto. Credit: Adam Coish
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