Religion and Education

On this page, I have outlined the basic information concerning Ontario’s education system. From my American perspective looking in at the educational system of Ontario, there is much to be confused about. In short, Ontario has two different types of publicly-funded schools. First, there are the typical, secular public schools that are present throughout the United States. Ontario, however, also has Catholic schools which are publicly funded and have public school boards, in a system that is essentially bifurcated into two entirely different types of schools.

As was often typical of early schools, the first schools in what is now Canada were entirely religious. For those not aware, what is today modern Canada was colonized both by the British (who were primarily Protestant) and the French (who were primarily Catholic). The British eventually took control of all of what is today Canada, but the legacy of the French empire is still strong in many areas and various forms of Canadian French (Québécois French in Quebec, for instance, or the language of the Franco-Ontarians who today primarily live in Northern Ontario). There is also a very large Catholic presence in Southern Ontario, where Halton is located, due to a large Irish-Catholic population in the area (while not particularly related to the case at hand, the large population of Irish-Catholics were also divided by the Fenian Raids from the U.S. into Canada by Irish-Americans hoping to cause the British to withdraw from Ireland, which is certainly worth looking up) (“The Day the Irish Invaded Canada”).

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Under the Protestant British, only Protestant schools initially received state recognition and funding, which caused quite a bit of resentment among the Catholic minority of Canada (Brennan). Independent Catholic schools were primarily concerned with preserving their own religious and cultural traditions from being overwhelmed from the Anglo-Protestant majority. Catholic schools first received state recognition in 1841 with the passage of the School Act for the United Province of Canada, with the right of Roman Catholics to educate their children in their religion finally being recognized in 1867 (Brennan). This being said, colonial Canada was still mired in conflicts over the level of control that the British crown could exert over its people.

It was in this conflicting time that Egerton Ryerson became the first Superintendent of Education in Canada (Brennan). Ryerson was a Protestant minister, and took a predictably hard line against Catholic schools, spending his entire tenure doing everything he could to exclude and villainize what he saw as the “evil and subversive” Catholics, who were supposedly propagandizing their children against the dominant Protestant society (Brennan). At this point, Ryerson’s dominant public schools were heavily biased toward a Protestant curriculum, and Ryerson did everything he could to make sure Canada stayed the way he wanted it (Brennan).

Click on the image above to be taken to a Google Map, so that you can move yourself around Halton and better understand the Catholic school district and the region!

The foundations of the modern dual school systems of Ontario and other areas of Canada were founded with an increasing willingness to accept both systems with the post-World War I economic boom, but the real change happened after World War II (Brennan). After the Second World War, Canadian society became increasingly inclusive and egalitarian and thus more accepting of the autonomy of its Roman Catholic minority (Brennan). Throughout the 1960s, Catholic schools fought for equal funding, which occurred simultaneously with an increasing secularization of “normal” public schools, such as the end of compulsory religious education in public schools in 1969 (Brennan). Throughout the 1970s Catholic schools were being constructed at increasingly high rates, with enrollment exploding in the early 1980s, especially in large cities (Brennan). In 1984, in a surprise move, the government of the province of Ontario moved to provide equal funding for Catholic schools, which was put into effect on June 12, 1984 (Brennan). Since this time, Roman Catholic schooling has been supported as an equal and legitimate form of schooling throughout the province of Ontario (Brennan).


Sources cited:

Brennan, Terri-Lynn Kay. “Roman Catholic Schooling in Ontario: Past Struggles, Present Challenges, Future Direction?” Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne De L’éducation, vol. 34, no. 4, 2011. JSTOR, doi:10.1107/s0108270113015370/sk3488sup1.cif.

“The Day the Irish Invaded Canada.” Irish America, 27 Apr. 2012,