The history of occupational cancer research in Ontario (1950-2010)


This project will provide a comprehensive analysis, from a historical perspective, of the development of occupational cancer research in Ontario.  It will provide insights into the role Ontario has played in occupational cancer research and how, as a result of its long and rich history, the province is strategically placed to be a leader in the research field in the future.


The purpose of this project is to provide an overview of the major developments in occupational cancer research in Ontario.  In particular, it chronicles the development of occupational cancer as a research field, focusing on the period between 1950 and 2010.  It will include discussions of the advent of record linkage techniques, changes in epidemiological studies, and the emergence of research departments focused on occupational health.  The project also aims to place the development of occupational cancer research within the social and political context of the period.  This will involve examining the attitudes and support of organized labour and industry towards occupational cancer research, issues regarding workers’ compensation, and changing attitudes towards the effect of the environment on cancer.


Interviews will be conducted with scientists, and individuals involved in organized labour, industry, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Ministry of Labour.  There will also be an extensive review of relevant scientific literature, newspapers articles, and secondary sources.


The direction of occupational cancer research in Ontario was intrinsically tied to the province’s industrial base.  As the changing economy has introduced new hazards into the workplace, it will be of benefit to look to the past to ensure that mistakes are not repeated.  The experience of miners, asbestos-exposed workers, and workers exposed to others occupational carcinogens reveals the high cost of hazardous exposures if left unregulated.  The struggle of these workers demonstrates the need for cooperation between agencies, for enforcement of regulations, and for continual research on hazardous substances.

Current status:

A final draft of the report is now being externally reviewed.


Patricia Liu (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Paul Demers (Occupational Cancer Research Centre and Cancer Care Ontario)