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Once upon a Time...

        ...CIRA Ontario was Born

Dr. John Byl

April 26, 2018

Once upon a time, well, actually in 1969 (49 years ago – next year is her 50th birthday), a living being was born into this world – in the same place we stand today, Geneva Park. Her name was OIRA. Actually, her full name was Ontario Intramural Recreation Association, but we called her OIRA for short. She was birthed when some Ontario post-secondary intramural folks wanted to support each other in their work. Raising a child is not easy and people like Jean Kennedy, Brian Cressman, Dave Schlei, John Catterick, Fred Wannamaker, Sue Walker… and many others, nurtured her. A company called Labatt’s Ontario Breweries, interested in the fun activity of university students, provided funds to nurture this infant along.


In 1989 OIRA officially joined a national family under the umbrella of CIRA. Actually, CIRA’s full name was Canadian Intramural Recreation Association, but we called this family CIRA for short. So OIRA officially became CIRA Ontario. The government liked this child and paid for its nurturing; some nominal dues from CIRA Ontario members helped support CIRA Ontario. Michelle Harkness was hired in 1991 to provide administrative support to CIRA Ontario. She gave great service for a little over a decade. She succumbed to an untimely death from cancer this past fall, and we mourn her loss.

In the early Nineties, the Ontario government started running out of money and stopped funding CIRA Ontario. At a meeting in May of 1995 in Waterloo, a few people met to consider CIRA Ontario’s meagre bank account, the lack of support from the government or any other businesses, and consideration was given to fold the organization or to plan a new direction. Perhaps CIRA would succumb to an untimely death as an infant.

Under the inspired leadership of Pat Doyle, CIRA Ontario began a new direction. The new direction was to write a resource and sell it and make money to keep CIRA Ontario alive. The first book was Active Playgrounds, which is still a best seller for CIRA Ontario. Sales from this book, and soon other books, helped equip people in the field, and also gave CIRA Ontario some monies to do its important work and keep her alive. A Trillium grant was received in 2002 to fund the promotion of Active Playgrounds, and in 2004, the company Nestle Canada, came aboard and supported the Active Playgrounds work as well. Pat and Michelle were hired to implement the activities around the Active Playgrounds grant.


The government further tightened its finances, and stopped funding CIRA as well. Though CIRA existed for a couple more years, her death was imminent and so she died giving her inheritance to the Canadian Association for Physical Health Education, Recreation, and Dance, we called her CAPHERD for short—she later changed her name to PHE Canada. With CIRA’s death, most of her provincial children died with her. The lone exception was CIRA Ontario, who, with its new way of doing business, was still alive and kicking and having fun. Although the Active Playgrounds Trillium monies focused on Ontario, the Nestle monies helped CIRA Ontario fill a void across Canada, with the death of CIRA.


CIRA Ontario had survived infancy and was now moving on into adolescence. Pat stepped down as president in 2002, and John Byl took over to help this adolescent child live and grow.

It takes a village to bring up a child, and CIRA Ontario is not a one-person show. I would love to talk about the unique and powerful contributions of each of the past and current board members, but permit me to say a couple words about two of the board members that have been on as long or longer than I have.

Wig Baldauf, was always ready to lead a workshop. We sometimes joked that if he was asked to lead three workshops at a conference, he would do the exact same games but would flip the order. Sure, Wig had his go-to games, but he had a lot of them, and people love his engaging workshops. One of Wig’s stories, that I often use, is the story of Goldilocks. You know how she goes to Grannie’s house and sees three bowls of porridge, one too hot, one too cold, and one just perfect. Goldilocks only eats one bowl of porridge. But if she would have cooled down the hot one and heated up the cold one she could have had three bowls of porridge. The same can be said for games, “just ideas” as Wig says. Games can all be heated up and they can all be cooled down. So, if you go to a CIRA Ontario workshop and the leader goes through 12 games, you need to leave with 36 games that you can use the next time you are with young people. Goldilocks is the main reason we do not have age descriptions for most of the CIRA Ontario games and books.

Andy Raithby joined CIRA Ontario the same year as John Byl. Actually, we both applied to join the CIRA Ontario board family earlier but neither of us were elected the first-time round. Andy and I have often been confused at workshops for each other. Andy does great workshops and has a great knack for seeing needs in the educational and recreational communities. His books have been carefully crafted and have sold well. His book, World’s Best Dodgeball Games, is one of CIRA Ontario’s all time top three sellers.

One other person who made a significant contribution to CIRA Ontario is Marie Burland. It was following a CIRA Ontario conference in 2004, that she called me and said she wanted to help CIRA Ontario produce a book on dance and in-classroom activities. I first said no because we were busy with a couple other resources at the time. A week or two later she called again, and persisted. I agreed. I encouraged her to get three people and I would get three people and we would gather together to write this resource. The eventual resource, Everybody Move, came out in 2005, with a DVD and CD (a resource that was the most complex in its form for CIRA Ontario). It came out the same time that the Ontario Ministry of Education launched Daily Physical Activity, DPA as we call it for short. The Ministry of Culture and Recreation recognized the importance of this resource and helped pay for CIRA Ontario to roll out this resource, and a couple years later to roll it out in French. In 2010 Human Kinetics took it over and added polish to the resource and they are now caregivers of Everybody Move. Now 13 years later, we have just launched a book on DPA the CIRA Way, written by Chris Wilson, at a time when the Ontario government is again giving revived importance to DPA.

CIRA Ontario moved out of it’s childhood house to live on its own in 2010. CIRA Ontario has been living in the Ancaster location since. In 2009 Anna Bishop, our current office administrator, joined CIRA Ontario to positively help CIRA Ontario in her interactions with others. She is positive, when a conference attendee asked her about the quality of the mattresses at Geneva park, she simply replied, “we have never had a complaint.” I suggested to her that she could have said after the wine and beer social no one really cares. To another person who asked if his unknown rooming partner snored or not. I believe she replied, “she was not sure if he did or not.” This person changed to a single room. Perhaps we need to add snoring or no snoring to our registration form for those wanting a shared room. One other crafty person noticed on the conference page that people can apply with five people and pay for four. He wondered if there were four other people from his board who were coming and he could come for free then. She replied professionally and said, “maybe the five people should have all read the website earlier.” To lots of inquiries she could say a lot of different things, but she stays professional and positive, and is totally committed to the cause of CIRA Ontario. Please email her sometime and thank her for her work around the conference and everything else she does for CIRA Ontario ( )

It does take money to feed a person and CIRA Ontario is no different. Active Playgrounds, World’s Greatest Dodgeballs, and Everybody Moves have been important life supports for CIRA Ontario.

CIRA Ontario is not interested in a sprint to the finish or a short life—CIRA Ontario is already 49 years old. I have been thinking about CIRA Ontario as a marathon runner. Marathons are often run with thousands of others, with feeding stations along the way. Such things as membership fees, government grants, corporate support, and resource sales help keep CIRA Ontario alive and running.

Marathon running takes a long time. And we tend to run with people of a similar pace (sometimes they go a little faster and sometimes a little slower), but we all encourage each other to enjoy and to continue. CIRA Ontario board members surround CIRA Ontario and help her to continue to run the good race. People who come to the CIRA Ontario conferences help her run a good race. Then there are fellow runners who help us get there as well. Often with a shared purpose. Again, it takes a village to bring up a child, or a team to help people run a marathon well. I would love to talk about the unique and powerful contributions of each of the fellow racers. Permit me to say a couple words about eight of these runners.

First of all, Apple and The Scoreboard Man, Rick Ramsey and Paul Leskew, have always been there for CIRA Ontario. Their wine and cheese, but especially their friendship, has always been appreciated by CIRA Ontario. Ophea, a close relative to CIRA Ontario, has not only been a close relative, but a close friend. We hope this relationship is nurtured for many years to come. Michelle with Groove Edgeucation, and Amy with movingedgeucation, share so much with what CIRA Ontario is about. Giving birth to Teaching Groove for Understanding is a demonstration of how we are kindred spirits. Thompson Publishing, through Ted  Temertzoglou, has promoted his love for children’s fitness through incorporating CIRA Ontario spirited activities. Gopher Sport has come along side us and given us equipment for CIRA Ontario to better run her race. And more recently there was a marriage of sorts, with OASPHE, as we call her for short.


Pat Doyle once said, “the bottom line for CIRA Ontario is always the kids.” He is correct. Helping CIRA Ontario promote fun active participation for all is an important goal to keep striving for.

I have loved helping CIRA Ontario for the last 22 years, but I am getting tired. It is good for others who are younger, have more energy, have more great ideas, to take more of a lead roll. I am not going far though. I will stand on the sidelines, and I will always cheer for CIRA Ontario.

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