Information collected and submitted by Heather Gardiner and Bay Centre staff
Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been at the forefront of women’s health and education since it opened and has continued its legacy of championing equitable access to care throughout the decades, including being a leader in sexual and reproductive health since the 1970s. After contraception was legalized in Canada, WCH once again took up the call to provide safe and timely access to this integral care and opened up the Bay Centre for Birth Control on March 19, 1973.
This year, Bay Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary and in the last fifty years, the centre has amassed many milestones and achievements. To celebrate this anniversary, take a trip through the decades and see the Bay Centre’s humble roots and how far they’ve come.
WCH Family Planning Program
After the legalization of contraception in Canada in 1969, Dr. John Taylor helps to establish a Family Planning Program at WCH.
Dr. Jadwiga Iwanowska is hired as the project director and tasked with writing a grant proposal to fund a community-based birth control clinic. The project receives funding from the Department of National Health and Welfare (now knows as Health Canada).
March 19, 1973
Bay Centre for Birth Control Opens
Bay Centre for Birth Control opens its doors as Toronto’s first hospital-supported walk-in birth control clinic, located at 901 Bay Street in a small house. The space is shared with WCH’s Cancer Detection Clinic.
Dr. Jadwiga Iwanowska is appointed as Bay Centre’s first medical director. Its staff consists of one public health nurse, two counsellors, four physicians, and six volunteer workers.
In its first year, Bay Centre sees 2,216 patients – with 70% of its patients under the age of 20 years old.
Bay Centre also establishes itself as a teaching site, accepting nursing, medical, social work and pharmacy students.
Bay Centre begins promotion
Early on, Bay Centre finds non-traditional ways to promote its services.
Bay Centre begins to operate a Monday afternoon clinic out of the Don Vale Community Centre in Toronto’s east end. Bay Centre workers go door-to-door in 40 neighbourhood apartment buildings to promote the clinic.
Bay Centre also advertises its services in the Hydro and Manulife employee newsletters.
Bay Centre narrowly avoids closing
After its initial funding from Health Canada ends, it appears that the Bay Centre might have to close its doors. However, it remains open thanks to volunteer physicians at WCH who staff the clinic for almost one month. Funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Health is secured by the end of November 1974.
Bay Centre reaches over 5,000 patients per year
Bay Centre’s Joyce Kennedy becomes WCH’s first nurse practitioner
Planned Parenthood Volunteer Counsellors join Bay Centre
Trained volunteer counsellors from Planned Parenthood Toronto start working eight half-day shifts per week at the Bay Centre after an agreement between the two organizations is reached. According to WCH, “the enterprise has been judged to be extremely successful by patients, Planned Parenthood and the Bay Centre staff alike.”
Dr. Marion Powell is appointed as the Medical Director of Bay Centre
Dr. Powell joined the staff of Bay Centre in July 1973 as a staff physician. For the next 20+ year she conducts numerous research studies out of Bay Centre in the areas of sexual and reproductive health. She also becomes a trusted advisor to the Canadian and Ontario governments on issues related to reproductive rights. Dr. Powell later retires as Bay Centre’s Medical Director in 1988 but remains on its staff until her death in 1997.
Bay Centre reaches over 10,000 patients per year
February 12 – 18, 1984
Birth Control Week
Bay Centre takes centre stage at “Birth Control Week” as Toronto’s busiest and only full-time birth control clinic.
Bay Centre’s Dr. Marion Powell is awarded Toronto’s YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for health and education
Bay Centre Education
Bay Centre reaches over 1,000 students from Toronto and Peel Region with its High School Education Program.
An AIDS educator joins Bay Centre staff and helps to initiate programs for staff and public education
Women’s Health Centre
Bay Centre is incorporated into Ontario’s first Regional Women’s Health Centre located at WCH and later moves into 790 Bay Street.
Bay Centre Moves
In 1990, Bay Centre moves from 901 Bay St. into an office building at 790 Bay St.
Bay Centre begins a free Hepatitis B immunization program for high-risk women
Bay Centre reaches over 25,000 patients per year
Ministry of Health Designation for HIV Testing
As of April 3, 1995, Ontario’s Ministry of Health designates the Bay Centre as an Anonymous HIV Testing site. This new service allows the Bay Centre to have a comprehensive STD service.
MVA Program Opens
The Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) Program is piloted to provide necessary care to women who suffer miscarriages or other fetal loss without the need for general anesthetic. The program is administered and staffed onsite by Bay Centre.
Bay Centre participates in one-day workshop for practitioners called “Conception and Menopause in the ’90s” at WCH
Bay Centre begins providing support to the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre with two 3-hour monthly clinics
Women’s Health Matters Forum & Expo
Between 1997 – 2009, Bay Centre participates in the annual Women’s Health Matters Forum & Expo to promote its services and provide sexual health information.
Expanding birth control eligibility
Bay Centre expands the provision of emergency contraception to those using barrier method, abstinence and those starting a new method of contraception.
Dr. Sheila Dunn Receives Dr. Marion Powell Award
Dr. Sheila Dunn, Medical Director of Bay Centre, is awarded the Dr. Marion Powell Award – an award established by WCH to recognize individuals who exemplify Dr. Powell’s legacy of leadership, commitment, and dedication to the advocacy of women’s health.
Bay Centre Moves, Again
Bay Centre moves into WCH’s main hospital building at 76 Grenville St.
Virtual Reproductive Care
In June of 2020, Bay Centre launches one of Ontario’s first virtual ‘no-touch’ abortion program to deliver safe and timely access to Mifegymiso for medication abortion. By integrating virtual care into its services, the Bay Centre is able to provide contraceptive counselling and virtual no-touch abortion care for people living in remote areas of Ontario where access to clinics is limited and patients would otherwise need to travel long distances to access reproductive healthcare.
The launch was fast-tracked to accommodate the barriers to access exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic, including quarantine restrictions, stay-at-home orders or the threat of domestic violence.
T2 Abortion access
In the summer of 2022, Bay Centre becomes one of few hospitals in Ontario to offer surgical abortions up to 24 weeks gestational age.