Moving Forward Through Partnerships

Our History

Distress and Crisis Centres across Ontario are community based organizations which receive the majority of their funding from the communities they serve. Over 2,300 volunteers staff these organizations and they work to provide a free, anonymous and confidential telephone, text and chat service, providing emotional support, crisis intervention, suicide prevention and linkages to emergency help when necessary.


  • Gordon Winch, along with Jim Fisk, Bill Kilbourne, and several others, started the first Distress Centre in Toronto. Gordon Winch, working as a minister in area pubs, recognized the desperate need of people for a caring listener, and how this type of support facilitated healing.
  • Based on the model of listening started by Britain’s Samaritans organization in 1953, the ‘befriending’ style of telephone service staffed by volunteers took hold throughout the province.


  • The Ontario Association of Telephone Distress Centres was formed by five Ontario Distress Centres. They came together to share information and discuss ways to enhance their services. 


  • The Ontario Association of Distress Centres began the tradition of holding annual training conferences for staff and volunteers of Member Centres. Over the years these conferences were held at various locations throughout the province.


  • March 28-30 1980 The Third National Conference of Canadian Crisis Centres and the Spring Conference of The Ontario Association of Distress Centres were held in Toronto. 18 Ontario centres were represented.
  • The fifteen members of the Association understood the value of best practices.
  • An Accreditation Standards Program was developed in the areas of administration, training, ethics, service delivery and community integration. The Program was revised over the 1990’s and was funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
  • Ten Ontario distress centres were presented with the first Certificates of Accreditation.


  • The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care recognized the importance of distress centres and Distress Centres Ontario by providing the Association with operational funding.


  • The Ontario Association of Distress Centres was incorporated as a charitable organization.


  • The organization began to be known as Distress Centres Ontario or DCO but continued to keep its original name for legal purposes.
  • The membership of the organization included twenty-one member centres throughout the province.


  • The Association had a membership of 25 community based distress centres throughout Ontario.
  • Member centres logged over 110,000 volunteer hours engaged with callers while answering over 250,000 calls in that year alone.
  • The DCO Management Information Systems Program continued to capture caller trends and changes, providing a basis for applied research.


  • September 10 – First Annual World Suicide Prevention Day held, jointly organized by the World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). This day focused attention on the problem of suicide and was a call to action across the world. Many distress centres use this commemorative day to raise community awareness throughout the province.


  • Distress Centres Ontario’s membership reviewed its organizational structure and developed a long term Strategic Plan (to 2008), revising its Mission, Vision and Values statements.


  • In November, DCO hosted a 2-day Educational Conference for its member centres with a variety of speakers


  • The inaugural sessions of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT series of Educational Forums was held in Niagara Falls. This semi-annual gathering of member centres and partner groups and agencies provided an excellent forum for networking and educating staff, volunteers and community members about issues related to mental health, volunteers and telephone support services.
  • The first issue of the electronic newsletter DCO eNews + Views hit the electronic airwaves. Distributed monthly, the newsletter includes profiles of the services of member centres, information of interest to members, partners and volunteers and notices of upcoming events.


  • The DCO website at received a facelift. The modernized format provided valuable information regarding services and easy access with the GET HELP section.
  • Two sessions of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT, in London and Markham, ON were very well attended by staff, volunteers and community partners.
  • The Education Committee began reviewing various methods of providing training and learning opportunities to the membership.
  • Suicide prevention and intervention training, ASIST, sponsored by DCO, was provided to volunteers and staff at six member centres in various regions of the province.


  • Association members participated in Visioning Exercises and Strategic Planning to direct the distress line movement’s future and prepare Strategic Priorities to 2011.
  • The Volunteer Management Committee conducted and reported on several volunteer management surveys, travelled throughout the province to conduct volunteer focus groups with centre volunteers, and provided analysis and suggestions regarding the state of volunteerism in this sector.
  • The Accreditation Working Group completed a detailed review of various accreditation partners and explored funding opportunities to support sector wide accreditation.
  • The Statistics, Information and Outcome Measures Working Group, reviewed the reporting, information gathering and sharing abilities of the association memberships and supported efforts to coordinate reporting at the provincial level.


  • DCO adopted the tag line “Moving Forward Through Partnership”
  • Developed Mission, Vision and Strategic Priorities.
  • Began the process for Accreditation for DCO member centres
  • A Partnership Educational Forum was held in Niagara Falls, ON
  • SIOM (Statistics, Information, Outcome Measures) project kicks-off to capture province-wide data
  • Began looking into a 1-800-suicide Ontario line to provide access for suicide prevention, intervention and crisis telephone support across the province.


  • Learning Forums, an innovative website and in-service training tool, came on-line and the first offerings were learning vignettes on Limits and Boundaries, Mood Disorders, and Schizophrenia.
  • Best Practices-Benchmarking Initiative underway
  • DCO main office moved from Toronto to Kitchener
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series entitled “How to Work More Effectively with Challenging Callers, Using Motivational Interviewing” in partnership with the Sudbury office of CAMH
  • DCO hosted a conference:
  • March 29-30 – Networking Days
    • Stream #1 – Speed Networking was for Volunteer Management, and Stream #2 was Learn, Meet and Network


  • Association members participated in Visioning Exercises and Strategic Planning to direct the DCO’s future and prepare Strategic Priorities for 2012-2016.
  • ASIST training session held for South Western Ontario.
  • DCO offered on-line Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Accessibility Standards for Customer Service
    • To Tweet or Not to Tweet: A Social Media Tug of War
  • Steering Committee was stuck to guide the development of the 1800suicideONTARIO initiative.


  • DCO and it’s member centres began the process of bringing online crisis services to Ontario.
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Welcome to Retention: Keeping Volunteers Engaged in partnership with
    • Online Crisis Services: A new opportunity for Crisis Centres in Ontario presented by DCO contract staff
    • Journey to Accreditation presented by DCO Staff
    • DCO Transition to the Not-for-profit Act 2010 presented by Victoria Prince
    • Tips for Writing an SOV Nomination presented by Distress Centre Oakville
  • DCO hosted the 2012 Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) held in Niagara Falls, Ontario in October. Almost 400 people attended the various sessions, events, and workshops.
    • The Hon Bob Rae was keynote speaker at a DCO Crisis/Distress Line Conference held in conjunction with the 2012 CASP conference.
    • Two days of pre-conference workshops included:
      • Kevin Quinn - Project Management for Suicide Prevention Councils. He has led projects in the public and private sectors and has taught a version of the workshop – “Practical Project Management” to over 2,000 leaders
      • Jack Jordan – Grief After Suicide - John (Jack) Jordan, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA, specializes in work with survivors of suicide and other traumatic losses
    • Conference opened with two keynote speakers:
      • Andre Picard - Uncomfortably Mum: The Public, Public Policy and Media Response to Suicide - is a reporter at The Globe and Mail, specializing in health policy. As a scholar-in-residence at the Conference Board of Canada, he wrote a book about health reform.
      • Mary Bartram - Suicide Prevention and the National Mental Health Strategy Director of the Mental Health Strategy with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and a lead author of Changing Directions, Changing Lives.
    • In conjunction with the 2012 CASP conference, a day of programming was held for educators in the Niagara area with Dr. Stephen Roggenbaum from the University of Florida offering the workshop titled “Suicide Intervention, Prevention and Postvention: A Resource Guide for High Schools”.
  • Distress Centre North Halton became the first member centre to be CARF Accredited.
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series on “Understanding Mood Disorders”, in partnership with Homewood Health Centre


  • Strategic priorities for 2013-2016 were developed and shared with the membership.
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Stress” - in partnership with 1800Suicide and 310Mental Health Support and Distress Centre Ottawa and Region
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Easy and Useful Websites to Make Your Work Easier presented by DCO staff and contract personnel
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
    • May 15-16, 2013 – DCO Networking Days
      • Day One was a full-day interactive workshop, “Exploring Aboriginal Issues and Becoming an Ally” in partnership with Lorrie Simunovic and Alison Benedict from CAMH in Toronto
      • Day Two was a full-day session of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT for senior leaders and volunteers
    • September 19-20, 2013 – QA: Questions and Answers about Quality Assurance
      • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers: Alan Strong was Keynote Speaker on Day One presenting “Getting On with the Business of Living”, and Day Two began with a Quality Improvement Workshop with Paula Blackstein-Hirsch and concluded with sessions for member centres in the afternoon


  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series “Moving Your Understanding on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Supporting the LGBTQ Community” in partnership with Rainbow Health Ontario, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, PFLAG Durham, Distress Centre Durham
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series “Focus on Bullying” in partnership with Essex County Diversion Program
  • On March 28th, DCO received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for a 2-year pilot project developing on-line text and chat services for individuals in crisis, distress, or suicidal.
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Preparing for Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation partnering with Carters Professional Corp.
    • The “How to” of Developing a Community Access Line partnering with Distress Centre Niagara
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
    • April 24-25, 2014 – Trauma Informed Support
      • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers. Karen Letofsky, Distress Centre Toronto was keynote speaker on Day One presenting “The Aftermath of Sudden Violent Death”, and Melissa McCormick was keynote speaker on Day Two who shared her experience with “The Aftermath of Trauma – Telling it Like It Is
    • October 2-3, 2014 – “Making the Pieces Fit: Enhancing Organizational Effectiveness
      • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers with Lynn Keane, author, former broadcaster, and suicide survivor as a keynote speaker presenting “Give Sorrow Words – A Survivor’s Story


  • To adapt to the changing environment, and to be inclusive of crisis services as well as traditional distress services, DCO changed their operating name to Distress and Crisis Ontario. The organizational colours and logo were also changed to reflect the new name.
  • DCO’s website,, received a refresh with new colours, name and logo
  • ONTX Online Text and Chat Program began their pilot program with four DCO member organizations participating: Distress Centre Durham; Distress Centres Toronto; Spectra Helpline; and Community Torchlight.
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series, “Neurological Disorders”, in partnership with Epilepsy Ontario, Alzheimer Society of Ontario, University of Toronto, and Neurological Health Charities Canada.
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Insurance: Needs and Concerns for Not-for-Profit Organizations, partnering with HUB International/HKMB Limited
    • Obligations to Volunteers, partnering with the firm, Smith Valeroite
    • Managing Performance and Best Practices from an HR Perspective, partnering with RLB Chartered Accountants
    • Senior Telecheck Program, partnering with Spectra Helpline
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
    • March 26-27, 2015 – “Making the Pieces Fit: Enhancing Organizational Effectiveness Part 2
      • Day One, in partnership with Canadian Society of Association Executives Trillium Chapter and Debbie Yip of Human Resources and Diversity, DCO hosted a workshop on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005 that was open to community members.
      • Day Two of the conference offered sessions for DCO member organizations.
    • September 24-25, 2015 – Reaching Out to New Partners, Realizing New Opportunities- Making the Pieces Fit
      • Day One was open to community members and featured Dr. Jenn Brasch, McMaster Health Centre, as keynote speaker presenting “The Suicidal Patient and the Hospital System
      • Day Two was for DCO member organizations with Laura Williams, Williams HR Law and HR Consulting, as keynote speaker presenting “Saving Your Culture after a Workplace Event