The Indigenous peoples who occupied what is now called Canada for millennia had well-developed formal and informal systems for educating community members. However, because of their largely migratory lifestyles, few remnants of what would be recognized as Indigenous school facilities have survived the passage of time. Permanent, dedicated school facilities have been an integral part of formal SCHOOL SYSTEMS since the beginning of European settlement in the early 17th century; and remain the most visible and recognizable symbols of mass public education in contemporary Canada. These school environments embody society’s attitude to youth and education; and physical changes in school structures can be read as a reflection of shifts in educational philosophies over time. School facilities are also significant community assets with the potential to provide settings for lifelong learning as well as other venues for community recreation and services. Because of their centrality to community wellbeing, the evolution, proliferation and disappearance of school facilities also provide insights into the shifting landscape of Canadian communal life, particularly accelerating urbanization and rural depopulation.
The first modern Canadian schools were established shortly after the French settled Québec in 1608. The few petites écoles organized by the Roman Catholic clergy and other missionaries in French Canada to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and religion appear to have been the first and, for many decades, the only schools in Canada.This marked the beginning of the one-room school as the symbol for education in frontier communities throughout North America for 300 years.
Because the parish priest was often the initial organizer and only teacher until a lay person or someone from a teaching order could be recruited from France, these early schools were typically located close to the local church. The earliest schools probably reflected notions about function and structure that the clergy and settlers had brought with them from medieval France. Glass and other fittings were not available in Canada at this time and during the winter months the poorly lit rooms could only be used a few hours each day. Only the larger centres, such as Québec and Trois-Rivières, had substantial buildings; most were one-room schools that were small in comparison to the one-room schools of later centuries, because population concentrations were small and the finished building materials required considerable manual labour. The only secondary education available was at the Collège de Québec, founded in 1635. As the culturally isolated French Canadian population increased in the 17th and 18th centuries, schools opened where there was a parish priest and a suitable building.
The First Schools
The first schools in English-speaking communities appeared in the Atlantic provinces early in the 18th century. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), a missionary organization of the Church of England, provided teachers, and local clergy organized their respective congregations to construct suitable facilities. Generally, but not invariably, these were one-room schools built by local fisherman using local materials. The first facility was constructed at Bonavista, Nfld, in 1726, and by 1728 SPG schools had been initiated in Nova Scotia.
The prerevolutionary PLANTERS and the postrevolutionary LOYALISTS who came first to Nova Scotia and later to Ontario from New England brought their own ideas about schools, including the notion of public sectarian schools financed from the sale of crown lands, an idea that was repeated later throughout the upper St Lawrence-Great Lakes region and even later in western Canada. The New Englanders also wanted to establish SECONDARY SCHOOLS, or grammar schools, as they had already done in Boston, Salem and other prosperous New England coastal towns. Among the first of such schools were King's College, the Halifax Grammar School, the College of New Brunswick and Prince of Wales College in PEI. Large-scale immigration from Ireland, site of one of the first national school systems in the world, precipitated a further proliferation of schools, including the development of a separate Roman Catholic school system in many of the British North American provinces.
The Architecture of School Buildings
The architecture of school buildings in the 19th century varied considerably. In Québec City, Trois-Rivières and Montréal, school buildings developed according to a "French Provincial" style. The SÉMINAIRE DE QUÉBEC and Collège de Montréal are well-known examples. In Halifax and Windsor, NS, they represented the "American Colonial" style, as evident in King's College and the Halifax Grammar School (see ARCHITECTURE). In contrast, the school facilities in the small, remote frontier settlements were the simplest buildings that would serve the purpose, and authorities used whatever local skills and materials were available at the time. In many cases these buildings were nothing more than log cabins or sheds.
During the early 19th century, tiny wooden schools were still being built in frontier settlements, such as those begun by the HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY on the North Saskatchewan River in 1808 for the children of company employees, but in the older and larger communities more substantial schools, including some secondary schools, were being constructed. Generally, these buildings facilitated learning only in the sense that they provided relatively comfortable shelter, and the larger of them organized students into groups of manageable size and levels of achievement that were eventually called grades; the individual classrooms of the larger schools were often called departments.
The simple buildings of earlier times began to disappear in the second half of the century as architects imitated American or British schools, with their impressive neoclassical entrances. Brick and stone were widely used. Furnishings, equipment and books were distributed from rapidly growing commercial centres such as Montréal and Toronto; some were imported. School sites, or school grounds as they were usually called, were cleared and levelled so that school gardens could be planted and playgrounds could be reserved. Unfortunately, inside these massive buildings the plan was often the same. The larger schools generally had a corridor running down the centre of each of the two- or even three-storey buildings with identical classrooms on both sides, a design pejoratively referred to as an "egg carton." The typical classroom was a large squarish compartment with a high ceiling and a raised platform at one end for the teacher's desk. The intention was no doubt to awe the students by the sheer scale of their surroundings and by the importance attached to education.
The Ubiquitous Public Building
In the first quarter of the 20th century, the number of schools increased at a phenomenal rate as the population of Canada mushroomed from 5.3 million in 1901 to approximately 9 million in 1926. During this period, compulsory attendance legislation was stringently enforced wherever possible and recalcitrant families were obliged to send their children to school. As an example of the increase in school building activity, the number of school districts in the new Province of Saskatchewan increased from 896 to 3702 from 1905 to 1915, a large proportion of which operated only a one-room rural elementary school. Such a demand for one-room schools developed that the T. EATON COMPANY advertised what amounted to school building kits in the Winnipeg edition of its 1917-18 catalogue. These kits contained school building plans together with the necessary lumber, nails, fittings and other materials. The school became the ubiquitous public building on the Canadian landscape.
Most schools of the first quarter of this century consisted largely of classrooms, corridors and cloak
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