Canadian History

A History of Therapeutic Clowning in Canada

In 1986, Karen Ridd, a professional clown and child life therapist approached the Child Life Department at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre in character as Robo the Clown and presented a compelling and innovative approach to humour as the best medicine by using play as an integral component in helping sick children. With secured funding from the Winnipeg Foundation and the Children's Hospital Miracle telethon, the first Therapeutic Clown Project in Canada was founded.

Respect for the program spread and soon began to inspire others. In Toronto, Joan Barrington accessed Karen as a mentor and soon discovered her own clown persona as Bunky. Joan introduced a similar model to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and in 1993 the SickKids program was launched. As manager, trainer and fundraiser, Joan was able to expand the program to eleven therapeutic clowns.

In 1994, The Doc Willikers program began at the Children's Hospital in Vancouver. The Director of the program trained with the clown doctors of the Big Apple Circus's 'Clown Care Unit' in New York but launched this program as a solo model.


Discussions with key players in therapeutic clowning nationally led Joan Barrington and Mary Hirst to found Therapeutic Clowns Canada (TCC) in 1999. TCC was created as a non-profit foundation to help bring therapeutic clowning to all major pediatric facilities across Canada through the provision of seed funding and training of therapeutic clown practitioners.

Over the next 7 years, TCC was able to support a range of start-up solo model therapeutic clown programs including Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Children's Hospital London, Trillium Toronto/Mississauga, St Bonaface General Hospital in Winnipeg, Alberta's Childrens Hospital in Calgary and IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax.

In Montreal the first Canadian Dr. Clown model was founded in the year 2000 and currently operates in 26 facilities in Ontario and Quebec, with an equal number of clown practitioners delivering their services to pediatric and elder care facilities. For more information on the Dr Clown model visit

2005 saw the inception of the Canadian Association of Therapeutic Clowns/L'Association Canadienne des Clowns Therapeutiques (CATC/ACCT) with 27 charter members.

In 2007, Therapeutic Clowns Canada disbanded, having met their mandate to found therapeutic clown Programs nationally. All TCC resources were transferred to CATC/ACCT.

By 2011 there was growing interest and opportunities to expand the scope of Joan’s work to include other countries. Joan’s transition from the groundwork she had laid at SickKids set the tone for what became the journey of Therapeutic Clowns International (TCI) which soon began in Cuba.

See the Early Days of TCI