The region that is now Ontario became a British colony in 1763. The Province of Upper Canada was established in 1791. Upper Canada merged with Lower Canada (Québec) to form the Province of Canada in 1841. During this period, Upper Canada was known as Canada West. The Province of Ontario was established by the British North America Act during Confederation on July 1, 1867.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, a series of governing bodies have overseen the public education system in Ontario.
The following list provides a summary of significant legislation related to public education in Ontario.
Common School Act (1846): The first major piece of education-related legislation in Ontario. The Act was based on a bill of recommendations written by Egerton Ryerson. Widespread educational reforms included policies related to classroom organization, curricula and standardized textbooks, teacher training and certification, the creation of Model Schools and Normal Schools, and the appointment of school inspectors and county examiners.
Common School Act (amended 1850): The 1846 Common School Act was amended in 1850 to include the Separate Schools Clause, which allowed for the establishment of separate schools for Catholics, Protestants, and Blacks. The amendment enabled these communities to request a separate school through the school board of trustees; however, the trustees used the clause to enforce racial segregation by requesting separate schools for Black children despite the objections of Black parents.
British North America Act or Constitution Act (1867): Section 93 of this Act assigned education to the provinces rather than the federal government. The Act also legally guaranteed the legitimization of separate schools, including denominational schools and separate language schools.
Ontario School Act (1871): With this legislation, free elementary schooling in government-inspected schools was to be provided for all. “Common schools” were renamed as “public schools” and attendance became mandatory for children between the ages of eight and fourteen.
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