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Members of the Ontario Veterinary College class of 1899
Ontario Veterinary College founder Dr. Andrew Smith
Ontario Veterinary College founder, Dr. Andrew Smith, is pictured (third from the left) in this photo of members of the OVC class of 1899.

The veterinary profession in Ontario has come a long way from September 24, 1874, when 27 pioneering veterinarians met in Toronto to form the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA).

From simple beginnings serving Upper Canada's Loyalist agricultural community, to a modern, multifaceted science, today’s veterinarians can be found serving the public through an array of practice specialties, education, research, and food safety sectors.

The foundation of the OVMA launched a new era of organized veterinary medicine in Canada and the association was incorporated by statute in 1879 as the Ontario Veterinary Association. This date marks the beginning of a long struggle to attain "true professional status" and the privilege of self-governance the veterinary profession enjoys today.

Organized veterinary medicine came about early in Ontario’s history. Veterinary organizations were in fledgling stages in the United States, and Queen Victoria had approved the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons only 35 years earlier. Veterinary work in Ontario has its roots in the agricultural community, tending to settlers’ livestock. By the 1860's, the advent of steamship and railway travel created a need for improved animal care as livestock became more vulnerable to European diseases. Hog cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax, and other serious animal diseases were causing heavy losses across the U.S. and threatened to infect Canadian stock.

Unease over this situation and the lack of scientific training to practice veterinary medicine prompted the establishment of a veterinary teaching college for Canada. Andrew Smith was appointed to head the new college and in 1862, he began by lecturing on veterinary subjects to agricultural students in Toronto. Smith went on to form the private Upper Canada Veterinary School, and its successor, the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), which is the oldest veterinary school in North America. The first class, consisting of three young men, received their diplomas in 1866.

In 1871, the Agriculture and Arts Act of Ontario was amended to state no one should append their name to the title of veterinary surgeon unless certified by a veterinary college. The Veterinary Science Practice Act of 1931 broadened the scope of veterinary medicine by including domestic animals as well as livestock. The Ontario Veterinary Association, now the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, became a corporate body empowered to govern its members and issue licenses to practice. Veterinary medicine had grown from its origins in blacksmithing and horseshoeing.

Today, Ontario, "the cradle of veterinary science in America" has over 5,000 licensed veterinarians and over 1,500 practices.