Following Confederation in 1867, education became the responsibility of the provinces. In Quebec, the provincial government allowed the Catholic Church and the minority Protestant church to run the schools. As a result, there was one school system for Catholics and one for Protestants. About half of all teachers were priests or nuns.

At the time, children who attended school began their first year around the age of six and finished their elementary education in four or five years. Many young people left school for good around the age of 10 or 11.

Children living in rural areas usually went to a one-room school that looked like a big house. It served as both a classroom and as living quarters for the teacher. All the children were in the same room and the teacher taught all the grades at the same time. She taught them reading, writing and arithmetic, of course, but she also devoted a lot of time to religious education. But since children were often expected to help out with housework or farm work, they were routinely absent from school. Very few continued their schooling after elementary school.

In addition to having elementary schools, the bigger towns and cities also had art and trade schools, business academies, industrial colleges, normal schools (for teachers), domestic science schools (for girls), classic colleges and universities. But because education was expensive, higher education was accessible only to the richest families.

Did you know that school only became mandatory in 1943? Before this point, whether or not children got an education depended on their gender, the wealth of their parents, where they lived (town or countryside) and religion.

Author:  Service national du Récit de l’univers social

See also – Traces of the past: