Schools in Brampton

Since the establishment of Brampton as a municipality in 1853, education has been an important issue within the city. Even during this time, when education was offered for free to residents of Brampton, this belief in the importance of education was reflected in the complaints of city residents that people living outside of the municipality of Brampton were taking advantage of a public service that was meant for citizens of Brampton and putting a burden on city tax payers.

Starting in the early 1820s, the function of churches began to change. As priests and ministers were often the only educated people to be found for miles in rural communities they began to educate the children of the farmers who lived in the vicinity of their churches. As a result, small rural churches became make shift schools until such time as the community could afford to build a proper school house, usually out of logs at first and later out of brick or stone.

Right from the very start, education was seen as being very important to early settlers in Brampton. The families who first settled in Brampton believed that it was important to give their children an education so that they could improve their position in life. In 1816 the Common School Law was passed, which dictated that children must be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. It also stated that girls must be taught knitting, sewing and spinning.

At this time, education was largely the responsibility of private individuals, as there were no school boards. One of the earliest schools in Brampton was run by Dame Wright, a woman who was trained as a teacher on the British educational model. Historical records are unclear as to where her school was located, it is known that she operated a school for young children, teaching them basic reading and writing skills. It should also be pointed out that unlike today teachers were not required to have a teaching certificate in order to be able to teach. In addition due to the needs of farmers in rural communities, education was not mandatory. The result was children were sent to school while they were young, but as they began to grow older they were kept on the farm to help plow and plant.

This changed in 1844, however, with the appointment of Egerton Ryerson as Upper Canada’s superintendent of education. Ryerson came into office with the aim of reforming Ontario’s education system. He had battled for years to keep education out of the exclusive hands of the church, believing that the church and the state must be kept completely separate. Ryerson also believed that if children were to be better educated then teachers needed to be properly qualified. To that end, Ryerson passed two School Acts, one in 1850 and another in 1859. These two acts stipulated that each city and town in Ontario was entitled to two trustees who would collect school fees from the town’s residents and that property owners with schools on their property were financially responsible for the up keep of the schools. These two acts were responsible for completely reinventing the education system in Ontario.

The first public school to open in Brampton was the Central Grammar and Public School in 1856. The school was built on land that was purchased from John Scott on Alexander Street. Among the subjects taught at this school were reading, writing, grammar, geography and British history. Even after Confederation, British history was taught in Canadian schools, the thinking being that Canada was a colony and had no history of its own. By 1873, 494 students were enrolled in Brampton’s public schools including 50 at the Grammar School. While teaching was a recognized profession thanks to Egerton Ryerson’s two School Acts, teachers were not paid very well for their work, often only receiving 300 or $400 per year which was a pittance even in 1873. Brampton’s first High School was built in 1877. In 1917 it burned in a fire caused by an over heated furnace. Classes were held on the second floor of the court house until 1919 when a new high school was built.

This was followed by a series of schools that were built between the 1860s and the 1880s. One included the Union Street School, which would merge with the Central School and was the only grade school in Brampton for almost a century.

The records that survived from these and other early schools also give an indication of what school curriculums looked like at the end of the 19th Century. During this time emphasis was placed on giving students a classical education which included the teaching of Greek and Latin. Math and science were secondary and considered to be not as important in order to receive a well rounded education. The comprehensive study of literature was also believed to be important, and is shown in the 1890 commencement program from one Brampton school, which was filled with quotes from Wordsworth, Tennyson and Shakespeare.

There was little change in how students were educated until the 1920s and 30s, where the increasing rapid industrialization of Canada made it clear that a solid grounding in math and science were necessary if students were to be successful later in life.

After World War II, a comprehensive expansion of the education system was begun in order to allow returning veterans to continue their education. The post war expansion started in 1945 and began slowly. At this time there were 664,780 students in Ontario and of these 119,773 were high school students. By the 1970s, however, a 95% increase saw the number of high school students go up to 7.8 million. In addition, well over half of all the immigrants that immigrated to Canada between 1945 and 1970 settled in Toronto, which also contributed to the dramatic rise in the number of students going to school.

The post-war period also saw experimentation and changes in how students learn. The open school technique allowed students to learn at their own pace. In addition it was recognized that the physical shape of the building was secondary and that what really mattered was the student teacher relationship.

It has been suggested that the true worth of education is not measured in dollars, even though economic prosperity is important for the funding of education, but rather the temper of the times. In the 150 years since the founding of Brampton, the attitude of man struggling against and dominating the wilderness has shifted to one of man as a survivor, learning to work in harmony with nature, rather than controlling it. Education now focuses on man’s place in the world and beyond, not man as master of the world.


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