Catholic Schools in Canada

  • October 18, 2007

A timeline of changes to Catholic education throughout Canada's history.

François de Laval, was the first Roman Catholic bishop of New France and founder of the Quebec Seminary

1608 The French colonial administration in Quebec relies on the church to set up and run schools for settlers and to evangelize the native population. Religious orders, particularly the Jesuits, do most of the missionary work.

1635 Jesuit College and Seminary founded in Quebec City, later to become the Université de Laval.

1658 St. Marguerite Bourgeoys opens her first school in Montreal. In 1659 and 1670 she travels to France to recruit teachers. The women who return with St. Marguerite to Montreal become the first Congregation of Notre Dame sisters.

1824 Parish Fabriques law gives pastors (whether Catholic or Anglican) control over parish elementary schools. The schools are not well attended, well equipped, well supported or well staffed.

1826 The Benevolent Irish Society in St. John's, Newfoundland, opens the interdenominational Orphan Asylum School. Arguing that the children were all Catholic anyway, St. John's Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming declared it a Catholic school in 1830. The Presentation Sisters began teaching at the school in 1833.

1829 Emancipation Act of the British Parliament grants Catholics the franchise in Canada.

1829 Syndics Act allows for the creation of public school boards in Quebec with commissioners elected by property owners.

1831 St. Andrew's College in Prince Edward Island is the first Catholic high school in English-speaking Canada.

1836 First Education Act in Newfoundland provides for non-sectarian schools in the colony, and grants support to church schools.

1841 Anglican bishop of Toronto John Strachan petitions the legislature of Upper Canada “that the education of the children of their own church be entrusted to their own pastors: and that an annual grant from the assessments be awarded for their instruction.” At the time almost all schools in Upper Canada were run by churches.

In 1859, the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland opened St. Clare’s Boarding School for girls at their Mercy Convent, St. John' s, NFLD
1842 The mainly Irish Sisters of Mercy begin to establish schools for girls in Newfoundland. They were followed by the Irish Franciscan Friars who came to teach boys in St. John's in 1848.

1842 First Catholic diocese in New Brunswick established, which then begins setting up schools.

1843 A new Schools Act in Newfoundland provides for separate Catholic and Protestant schools, putting an end to non-denominational schools.

1846 Education Act provides the basis for the education system in Quebec through to the end of the 20th century. The act provided for Catholic and Protestant school boards in Montreal and Quebec City, and the right of minorities (Catholic or Protestant) to dissent from the system of common schools outside the cities.

1851 First Catholic school established in Charlottetown, followed by Notre Dame Academy in 1857. The School Sisters of Notre Dame established six more schools in Prince Edward Island before 1882, then added one more in 1941.

Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly
1852 Charlottetown Bishop Thomas Connolly establishes the Sisters of Charity to educate Irish immigrant girls and “.... snatch them from the hands of the heretics.” He invites the Religious of the Sacred Heart into the diocese to educate “the daughters of the rich.”

1855 After closing in 1844, Prince Edward Island's St. Andrew's College reopens as St. Dunstan's College, which eventually becomes part of the University of Prince Edward Island in 1969.

1858 Sisters of St. Ann invited to establish schools in the colony of Victoria.

1860 Catholic school established at Ile a la Crosse, Saskatchewan.

1863 Separate Schools Act, with support from John A. MacDonald, passed in the Union Parliament, restores the rights of Catholic and Protestants to support their own church-run schools in what is now Quebec and Ontario.

1864 Nova Scotia passes an Act for the Encouragement for Education, providing for free public schools, county boards of commissioners and local school boards with elected trustees.

1865 Nova Scotia makes school taxes compulsory, which leads to the establishment of a provincial system of common, free schools.

Sir John A. MacDonald and the Fathers of Confederation
1867 The British North America Act creates a new country called Canada, gives provinces exclusive responsibility for education with the proviso (Section 93) that “Nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right of privilege with respect to denominational schools, which any class or persons have by law in the province at the Union.”

1867 In the Maritime provinces section 93 of the BNA rules out publicly supported Catholic schools since they had not been established “by law.” However, religious sisters and brothers taught in the public system, often wearing their habits, and delivering religious education where possible, often after school hours.

1869 Quebec establishes a Council of Public Instruction, divided into Catholic and Protestant committees, to guide the public education system. Disagreements hobbled the council and it was disbanded in 1875, when control over Catholic schools was handed back to bishops.

1870 Manitoba Act establishes new province with education rights for Catholics and Protestants. The population is about equally divided between French-speaking Catholics and English-speaking Protestants.

1871 Manitoba's Education Act provides for Catholic rate payers to support Catholic schools, Protestant rate payers to support Protestant schools, and provincial money to be divided proportionally between the two groups.

1871 The New Brunswick Common Schools Act provides for a public school system under a provincial board of education, to the exclusion of denominational schools.

1874 The Privy Council in Maher v. Town Council of Portland upholds the constitutionality of the New Brunswick Common Schools Act, shutting the door on public funding for Catholic schools in that province.

1876 A new Education Act in Newfoundland recognizes the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Methodist school systems. The Salvation Army was added in 1892 and Seventh Day Adventists in 1912. The Newfoundland House of Assembly granted education rights to the Pentecostal Assemblies in 1954, after the province joined Confederation in 1949.

1876 Christian Brothers take over the Benevolent Irish Society school in St. John's, Nfld., and go on to establish five other schools around the province.

1877 Prince Edward Island passes its own version of the New Brunswick Common Schools Act called the Davies Schools Act, ending a bid by Bishop Peter MacIntyre for equal funding for Catholic schools.

Three sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus from France began teaching in 1888 at St. Joachim Catholic School in Edmonton, North West Territories
1886, 1892, 1901 North West Territories ordinances guarantee minority school rights with the first school in any district to be public and the second school separate.

1890 A new Manitoba Public Schools Act seizes Catholic property for public schools, nullifies the guarantees of the 1867 BNA, and over-rides section 22 of the 1870 Manitoba Act. Catholic appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the matter is referred to the Privy Council in London, which upholds the provincial legislature's right to remove denominational school rights.

1895 A second appeal to the Privy Council finds that the Manitoba Public Schools Act of 1890 had prejudicially affected Catholics who previously had control of their own schools and now had to pay taxes to support public schools they did not deem appropriate for their children. On the strength of this finding by the Privy Council, the federal government ordered the Manitoba legislature to restore Catholic education rights. The provincial government refused. A federal bill was then introduced to do what the province refused to do, but Parliament dissolved for an election before it could receive third reading and it was never reintroduced.

Alexandre-Antonin Taché (1823-1894), Archbishop of St. Boniface was a central figure in the Manitoba School Question
1896 Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier strikes a deal with Manitoba Premier Thomas Greenway allowing for a set number of hours of religious instruction and employment of some Catholic teachers, plus the use of a language other than English under certain conditions. However, Catholic schools still did not receive public funds as they had before 1890, and Catholic ratepayers had to pay to support effectively Protestant public schools.

1898 The Yukon Act provides for full funding of Yukon Territory Catholic schools. The schools are operated by the Department of Education but the administration, teaching staff and program in Catholic schools must be approved by the bishop. There are two elementary Catholic schools and one Catholic high school in Whitehorse, and none outside the capital. The 1990 Yukon Education Act allowed for the creation of school boards, but all schools are financed by the Territory and the Catholic schools forego the boards and opt for elected school councils which review their school's objectives and programs.

1905 Province of Alberta established. Section 17 of Alberta Act provides for full rights for separate schools, whether Protestant or Catholic.

1905 Province of Saskatchewan established with minority education rights as guaranteed in the 1867 British North America Act.

1949 Newfoundland enters Canada as the 10th province. Term 17 of the Terms of Union allows churches to found, operate and govern their own schools and to receive provincial funding. No secular public school system existed at this point. Term 17 was absorbed into the Constitution of Canada in 1982 and fell under section 29 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

École St. Patrick High School, Yellowknife, NWT
1951 A Catholic school district is established in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The first school, St. Patrick's, starts teaching 89 students in 1953.

1957 Five British Columbia dioceses form charitable, tax exempt societies for schools.

1959 McPharlene Royal Commission in Manitoba recommends funding parochial schools up to 80 per cent of the public school grant, but the recommendation is never taken up.

1962 Jesuits found Gonzaga High School in St. John's, Nfld.

1965 Manitoba allows private schools some help with textbook purchases, transportation and allows Catholic schools access to home economics and shop classrooms in public schools if the local public board wishes to co-operate.

1970 Last Catholic school in Prince Edward Island closed.

1977 Bill 101 establishes the priority of French in law, public administration and education in Quebec. Access to English-language schools is limited to those who had at least one parent educated in English in Quebec, had a sibling who began schooling in English in Quebec, or those whose parents transferred into Quebec to work for less than three years.

1977 Independent Schools Support Act provides per student funding at 30 per cent of operating costs at public schools in British Columbia.

1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted. Section 29 guarantees, “Nothing in this Charter abrogates or derogates from any rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominations, separate or dissentient schools.”

Under the leadership of Premier William Davis, the province of Ontario extends funding to Catholic schools from Grade 10 through to the end of high school (Grade 13 at the time).
1984 Under threat of court rulings that the province's limits on funding to Catholic schools violate the British North America Act, Ontario extends funding to Catholic schools from Grade 10 through to the end of high school (Grade 13 at the time). Despite legal challenges to the full funding of Catholic schools the Supreme Court of Canada rules the new funding policy is constitutional.

1986 Manitoba's Catholic community launches Remedial Order Petition, demanding restoration of pre-1990 education rights.

1987 BC per pupil grant increased to 35 per cent of the costs per pupil in public system.

1988 Alberta's School Act declares the province has “one publicly funded system of education” with “two dimensions, the public school and the separate school.” The rights of Catholic school electors under the Constitution are recognized.

1989 British Columbia's new Independent School Act increases maximum per student grants to 50 per cent of per student operating costs in public school districts.

1989 A new Education Act in Quebec designated all school boards either English or French. The notwithstanding clause of the Constitution was invoked to protect the rights of Catholics and Protestants to confessional schools.

1990 Manitoba agrees to increase grants to independent religious schools to a maximum of 80 per cent of the grant to public schools, to be phased in over eight years. Grants for special needs children and for curricular materials would be equal those for public schools. Independent schools were entitled to enter shared service agreements with public school boards. In exchange, Catholics drop the 1986 Remedial Order Petition.

1993 Saskatchewan's Education Act creates eight French-language boards, which then amalgamate into a single board in 1999.

Supreme Court of Canada
1994 Alberta revises its School Act and funding is restructured through the Alberta School Foundation Fund so that funds are distributed on a per pupil basis, with more power given to school councils, and trustees left with little control over finances.

1995 Saskatchewan's new Education Act allows up to two-and-one-half hours per week of religious instruction in public schools if the board authorizes it.

1994 Supreme Court of Canada upholds Alberta Catholic school boards' right to exist and to collect taxes.

1994-1997 Alberta's provincial government forced amalgamation of Alberta's 51 Catholic school districts into 16 boards.

1995 Newfoundland holds a referendum on changing the Constitution to end denominational rights in education. Newfoundlanders vote in favour of a common system. Catholics argue that a referendum is not the right way to determine minority rights. Turnout for the referendum was 52 per cent of eligible voters. No move is made to change Term 17 of the Terms of Union at first. The province begins to develop a unified system of school administration with provision for Catholic and other denominational schools. When church leaders withdrew support for principles of the agreement on an integrated system the province went to Ottawa with the request to change Term 17. The result was a new Term 17 which still provided for denominational schools where numbers warranted under provincial administration.

1997 Ontario creates two new school systems with four public French-language boards and eight Catholic French-language boards. Francophones in eastern Ontario prepare to sue the province over a funding formula that unfairly favoured public boards which automatically receive more assessment than Catholic boards. Knowing it would lose, the province replaced the assessment system with equal, per pupil funding for all four types of boards – English Catholic, English Public, French Catholic and French Public.

The Jesuits withdraw from Gonzaga High School in 1998,The last publicly funded Catholic schools in the Newfoundland.
1997 Another referendum held in Newfoundland on denominational school rights. Newfoundlanders vote 73 per cent in favour of ending the religious school system. The Jesuits withdraw from Gonzaga High School in 1998 and there are no more publicly funded Catholic schools in the province.

1997 Quebec asks Ottawa for a constitutional amendment excluding Quebec from Section 93 of the British North America Act. Quebec bishops are assured that denominational education will continue within linguistic school boards.

1997 Ontario removes the right to levy taxes from all school boards, including Catholic boards. In exchange Catholic and public school boards receive the same per-pupil funding. Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association opposes the change because it violates terms of the 1867 BNA. The Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association supports the change for the sake of equal funding.

1999 The United Nations Human Rights Committee found Canada in violation of the equality provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in response to a complaint by Ira Waldman that he had to pay thousands of dollars in tuition fees to get his sons the same sort of faith-based education Ontario's Catholics get for free. In November 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Committee censured Canada again for failing to "adopt steps in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools in Ontario."

2000 Bill 118 in Quebec offers parents a choice between moral and religious instruction for children up to secondary cycle one. In secondary cycle two students are to complete one compulsory course in ethics and religious culture. Catholic pastoral care and guidance and Protestant religious care and guidance are replaced by a provincially funded program called “spiritual care and guidance and community involvement.” The two religiously designated deputy ministers of education representing the Catholics and Protestants are replaced by a religious affairs office. The notwithstanding clause is invoked for another five years.

2001 Courts rule that Catholic school boards in Ontario still have the right to levy taxes, but may choose not to tax in exchange for provincial funding.

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