In 1914, the local community came together to offer support at Christmas time to the families of those called to war. The following year the Christmas Exchange was created giving an opportunity for individuals and organizations to provide Christmas cheer to needy families. From 1915, through the great depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and up to present day, the Christmas Exchange has been bringing together those in need with those who wished to help.

How Christmas Exchange Got Its Name

In 1915, The Ottawa Welfare Bureau (OWB) created in 1914 set up a Confidential Index, later called the Social Services Exchange, to coordinate relief to families affected by the First World War. In 1915 this included a master list for Christmas aid, described by the OWB as “a Christmas Exchange for the use of all charitable organizations and individuals in the city.” The purpose of the Christmas Exchange was to co-ordinate distribution of food and gifts by faith and other community groups, through crosschecking names on their respective lists and notifying them of duplications.

Christmas Exchange Carried On

In 1929, Montreal, Toronto, and New York stock markets suffered the worst economic crash in history triggering the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1930, Christmas Exchange received the first unsolicited gift of $5, which activated a Christmas Exchange fund that snowballed from then on. In 1931, Christmas Exchange had its busiest year to date. In 1934, The Christmas Exchange together with Social Services Exchange was transferred to the new Ottawa Council of Social Agencies.

When the Christmas Exchange Began Giving Gift Certificates

In 1936, in the depths of the Depression,the demand was so great that despite combined efforts by individuals, service clubs, churches, and women’s institutes, 289 families were left without help. In 1942, Christmas Exchange received donations of $1,061. In 1943, for the first time the Exchange gave out gift certificates to 634 families because it now had the funding from continued unsolicited funds to do so and because wartime rationing called a halt to food gift baskets.

Times Changed

In 1957, the economy entered a serious recession. The Social Services Exchange closed but the work of the Christmas Exchange carried on through its committee. In 1963, more ‘working poor’ families began asking directly for help, and became a focus of the Exchange. In 1969, a temporary staff of two was hired for the campaign period of October to January. In 1973, the Social Planning Council proposed setting up an independent, incorporated agency, with a volunteer board representing consumers, referring agencies, donors, faith communities, and service clubs. In 1974, the incorporation was complete.

CFMO Radiothon Brought Home the Bacon

In 1976, CFMO Radio and The Ottawa Citizen agreed to co-sponsor a broadcast on the first Sunday of December each year. It was very successful and brought in hundreds of new supporters and thousands of dollars. The West Lions Club raised the necessary funds to pack and distribute hampers for Christmas Exchange throughout the 1980s into the 1990s. In 1980, St. Vincent de Paul acted as custodian of the Exchange’s files and records. The referrals continued to be manually processed.

The Era of Reduced Social Benefits

In 1988, a new record number of 7,054 families were helped thanks to the $230,000 raised. In 1989 consideration was given to creating a computer program to assist in sorting the names of clients. In 1990, a severe recession occurred. In 1991, CFMO moved to Smith Falls and were no longer able to continue the broadcasts. In 1994, The Board of Christmas Exchange decided the office needed to operate year-round with a permanent staff of two and volunteers to raise the required funds.

Honorary Campaign Chairs

In 1996, The Exchange went on-line. In 1997, Rod Bryden, Owner of the Ottawa Senators served as first Honorary Chair until 1998. In 1999, Jean Piggott, former MP took on this role until 2000, after which Jim Watson, former Mayor of Ottawa assumed this position until 2002. In 2003, Wayne Rostad, host of CBC’s “On the Road Again” took on this role until 2005. In 2006 the Campaign Co-Chairs were Ottawa Renegade player Pat Woodcock and his wife Melanie Reid-Woodcock, followed by /A\ TV News Anchor Sandra Blaikie in 2007. For both the 2008–2009 season the Campaign Chair was Adrian Harewood, Host, ‘All In A Day’, CBC Radio One.


In 1999, CFRA Radio, The Ottawa Citizen and the Westin Hotel, which had jointly sponsored the Christmas Cheer Broadcast and Breakfast for several years, decided to give all proceeds to the Exchange. In 2002, the cost of living rose while incomes did not and as a result, former donors became clients. In 2003, CE helped close to 8,000 households. Since 1999, the Exchange estimates that it has saved participating community groups more than half a million dollars in food assistance as a result of the duplication check. In 2005, the Christmas Exchange marked its 90th anniversary! The Exchange estimates that volunteers have collectively invested at least 150,000 hours of their time and skills over the past nine decades!


In 2007 CFRA Radio and the Westin Hotel that ran both the Christmas Cheer Broadcast and Breakfast started proceedings to form the Christmas Cheer Foundation, and added the Ottawa Food Bank as a beneficiary of the two events. By 2009 the Christmas Cheer Foundation was fully incorporated and The Ottawa Senators Foundation joined the group of recipient charities, with Christmas Exchange than receiving less than 25% of the proceeds from the events.

To help compensate for the lost income resulting from no longer receiving 100% of the Christmas Cheer proceeds, the Caring and Sharing Charity Auction was started in 2008 by partnering with the Huntington Society.

In 2006 a partnership was formed with the Salvation Army Toy Centre whereby the Exchange provided co-ordination services for the Toy Centre (Toy Mountain) program. This allowed the Toy Centre registration process to expand from one point of in-take to 114 without a cost increase, making the process easier for the clients, as well as Toy Centre staff. The total cost savings realized by the elimination of duplicates for both food and toys was now over $700,000 per year. In 2010 the co-ordination services were expanded further when a partnership was formed with Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa (CAYFO) on the Tools 4 School Program.