Our History

Our History

On the afternoon of October 8, 1908, Mary Agnes Snively was talking with a colleague about the difficulty of the process of giving life to a new national organization. She encouraged her friend, saying, “Do not forget that we are making history.” Representatives of 16 organized nursing bodies then met in Ottawa to form the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses (CNATN). By 1911, CNATN comprised 28 affiliated member societies, including alumni associations of hospital schools of nursing as well as local and regional groups of nurses. By 1924, each of the nine provinces had a provincial nurse’s organization with membership in CNATN, and in that year, the national group changed its name to the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA).

One hundred years later, CNA took the opportunity to talk with colleagues and nurses across the country on October 12, 2008, about the challenges we still face, and CNA’s direction going forward. But rather than gathering face-to-face with a handful of colleagues, we connected electronically with thousands of nurses across the country on that historic day; it was our first national podcast. CNA was once again “making history.”


CNA’s commitment to preserving our history:

  • Canadian Nurses Association: One Hundred Years of Service is a chronicle of the history and achievements of CNA since its inception in 1908. The main narrative is supported by an extensive collection of documents that record CNA’s history and other major nursing, health and societal events taking place in the world around CNA. Please note: CNA was created on October 8, 1908. This publication contains an incorrect date.
  • CNA wrote its first organizational history, The Leaf and the Lamp [PDF, 11.7 MB], in 1968. Since then, it has recorded key milestones by publishing The Seventh Decade [PDF, 5.1 MB] (1969-1980), The Eighth Decade [PDF, 224 KB] (1981-1989) and Strengthening the Voice — The Ninth Decade of the Canadian Nurses Association [PDF, 3.1 MB] (1990-1999).
  • The Tenth Decade: Into A New Century, the latest in the series, highlights CNA’s leadership and achievements from 2000 to 2009. Included in the document are major themes of CNA’s work, its successes, areas of growth and challenge, and key messages for the organization’s future evolution.
  • In 2000, CNA signed a historic agreement with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian War Museum and the National Archives of Canada to establish a national nursing history collection. Materials originally held at CNA House form the core collection, a rich repository that tells the story of the nursing profession in Canada.
  • In 2008, CNA celebrated 100 years of leadership. Many activities took place during CNA’s centennial year to mark how the organization had become the national voice of registered nurses in Canada.
  • CNA continues to advance the preservation and interpretation of nursing history by endorsing and supporting the Museum of Health Care at Kingston, housed in the Ann Baillie Building, a national historic site commemorating the history of nursing in Canada. The museum strives to connect visitors with the experiences of people in past times. It provides context and perspective on nursing, other health-care disciplines and on today’s health issues.
  • In 2018, CNA marked its 110th anniversary at its annual meeting and biennial convention. It was a historic meeting, with members voting in favour of expanding CNA’s membership to include licensed practical nurses (known as registered practical nurses in Ontario) and registered psychiatric nurses.

With the experience of working entirely remotely for more than a year behind us, the Canadian Nurses Association is looking forward with excitement to the benefits of working, meeting, and learning remotely on a permanent basis. Far from reducing our productivity, we believe we are more productive than ever despite the added pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only has the recent pandemic provided evidence that we can work differently, but the world around us has changed over the years. Our building in Ottawa was designed well for the needs of the 1960s, with an addition in the 1980s. But it has been vastly under-used for years and no longer meets our needs. Furthermore, maintaining a building for a staff of 35 that can accommodate nearly triple that number is not prudent stewardship of members’ fees. After careful consideration over several years, we have reached the sound business decision to explore the sale of our headquarters building in downtown Ottawa.

Working remotely means we can easily work with team members who may live anywhere in Canada, and it untethers the organization from a single geographic anchor. Of course, some gatherings may still take place in person after the pandemic is under control, and as we have always done, we will rent temporary meeting spaces for those as needed.

Stay tuned as we will provide updates on the building going forward!

Coat of Arms

The armorial bearings consist of a coat of arms, a badge and a flag.

Coat of Arms logo

The coat of arms and flag

Arms: Above a lamp, the most widely recognized symbol of nursing since Florence Nightingale’s service in the Crimea, three triangles symbolize the founding communities of First Nations/Inuit, francophones and anglophones. Gold represents the generosity and long duration of the profession; red represents fortitude, strength, magnanimity and life.

Crest: The lion emphasizes CNA’s role as a defender of the profession and of the principles of the Canada Health Act. The scroll represents the Act itself and, more broadly, the association’s advocacy role.

bottom of coat of arms logoMotto: The Latin motto, “Knowledge, wisdom, humanity,” reflects the enduring values and virtues of CNA and its members.

Supports: The white harts, whose grace and swiftness exemplify the nurse’s work, are also a pun, alluding to the emblematic white heart of the International Council of Nurses. Positioned on either side of the shield, the harts reflect the support of nurses for CNA. Their black antlers are a reference to the bands on nurses’ caps. The diamonds on their collars symbolize the five domains of nursing, while the wavy band suggests the sashes worn by First Nations people. The medallion, new to Canadian heraldry, refers to incorporated bodies whose Patron is Her Majesty The Queen. The compartment of maple leaves – one for each province and territory – symbolizes the communities served by nurses across Canada and represents new life, new beginnings and new knowledge for patients and nurses

The badge in Coat of Arms logo

The badge

The badge uses the national colours of red and white. The three flames indicate the tripartite character of nursing: the union of mind (knowledge), heart (compassion and caring) and hands (physical skill in work and touch).