The Arthritis Society is the only registered nonprofit agency in Canada devoted solely to funding and promoting arthritis research, patient care and public education. The Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society, as the society was called until 1977, was founded on 14 October 1947. Its first volunteer president was Dr Wallace Graham. In 1949 Edward A. Dunlop, the society's first executive director, helped create "Arthritis - Plan for Attack," a keystone document that would be the first in a series of 5-year plans which called for the establishment of Rheumatic Disease Units (RDUs) in each of Canada's university medical schools, as well as the funding of scholarships and professional bursaries in order to attract and educate the necessary medical personnel to cope with arthritis in Canada. The groundwork was also laid for programs that would financially support clinical and basic-science research projects. The society launched the first of its annual fund-raising campaigns in 1949, eventually declaring September as National Arthritis Month in Canada.
The society has since played a major part in increasing the number of arthritis specialists, called rheumatologists, from 4 in 1949 to nearly 300 by the 1990s. There are 16 RDUs now operating in Canadian university medical schools, which serve as focal points for a nationwide network for patient care and education, as well as ongoing clinical and scientific research. The Arthritis Society has a national administrative office in Toronto, division offices in each province and nearly 1000 community branches throughout Canada. It allocates more than $5 million per year in donations to its research, medical workforce and public-education programs.