In November 2001, the Institute of Aging of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) issued a Request for Applications (RFA) to develop a protocol for a new initiative, the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

The RFA was officially launched at a planning workshop held in November 2001 in Aylmer, Québec. As a result of that workshop, a research team headed by three principal investigators – Dr. Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University, Dr. Parminder Raina of McMaster University, and Dr. Christina Wolfson of McGill University – submitted a joint application and were awarded CIHR funding to undertake the development of the proposal for this initiative over an 18-month period, beginning in October 2002.

The protocol was developed and submitted for international review in January 2004. A feasibility phase was funded by CIHR to March 31, 2006. In 2008, the CLSA team was successful in an infrastructure application to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to establish the infrastructure to carry out a national study.

In collaboration with Statistics Canada, the CLSA launched the recruitment of the first 20,000 participants for the telephone-interview portion of the study in 2009. In March 2010, four Computer-Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) sites became fully operational at the University of Victoria, the University of Manitoba, the University of Sherbrooke and Dalhousie University.

In 2010, the CLSA embarked on a coordinated ethics review process with 11 ethics boards from across Canada. Conditional approval of the CLSA protocol was received in December 2010. Final approval was granted in June 2011.

A pilot study to assess the feasibility of the in-home interview was held in Montreal and Hamilton in spring 2011. In December 2011, the CLSA welcomed its first group of participants for a pilot study at the Data Collection Site (DCS) at McMaster University. An additional pilot took place at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal in early 2012 with French-speaking participants.

In 2011, the CLSA launched its next cycle of recruitment for the telephone-interview portion of the study in partnership with provincial ministries of health and via random digit dialing.

Recruitment of the 30,000 participants, who took part in the at-home interviews and Data Collection Site visits, began in early 2012.

In 2015, the CLSA completed recruitment of 51,388 participants. At baseline, 21,241 participants were enrolled in the Tracking (telephone interview) cohort and 30,097 participants in the Comprehensive (in-person) cohort. CLSA participants are followed every three years. Follow-up 1 was completed in 2018 and the Follow-up 2 was completed in 2021.

Since the first data release in 2015, more than 400 research teams in Canada and around the world have accessed the CLSA research platform.