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Education Records

At the decennial census of 1931, the Province of Québec had a population of 2,874,255 souls, of whom 2,463,160 belonged to the Roman Catholic faith. In the same year, 2,270,059 of the people of the Province declared themselves French in racial origin. Those professing in 1931 a faith other than Roman Catholic numbered 411,095. The School system is a state system operating under a single code - the Education Act of the Province - and under a single department of education, but it is dual in the sense that schools are con-[fessional -here a line has dropped out] Protestants have separate schools. The foundation of the present structure of education in the Province was laid by an act of 1846, and the changes which have since taken place have followed upon amendments of that act.

In this opening paragraph of Chapter II of Protestant Education in Québec: Report of the Québec Protestant Education Survey (1938)[1] the typographical error is ironic, perhaps even Freudian.

As Usual—Roman Catholic and “Other”

As with most things in Québec, the Church took care of the education of Roman Catholics (with both English and French schools) and the “Others” fended for themselves, developing an excellent school and university system to serve “Protestants”. The “School Tax”, based upon immovable property, was paid by Roman Catholics to support the Roman Catholic schools (their tax was the lowest), Protestant-paid taxes supported the Protestant School Boards; a Neutral Panel collected taxes from commercial and other non-religious-affiliation property owners and divided it between the two systems. The Protestant system educated most Jewish pupils and other non-Catholics.

The New Language Divide

The teaching of French was part of the Protestant curriculum from the early grades, so pupils coming into Québec from other provinces usually had a problem catching up. After about 1970, Protestant French-language schools became more common, and now the religious boards have been eliminated and Language is the dividing factor. This may simplify the search for older records since each Board must now maintain an archive. Quebec Language Laws decree the language group each student joins is based on their parents’ and siblings’ language(s) of education. An historical record of each pupil becomes crucial though possibly subject to privacy laws.

Protestant Education Changes

Actually, much of what follows relates to the era before 1970. Many things have changed since then, CEGEPs were instituted in 1967. A CEGEP is a College d’enseignement général et professionel which sort of translates into “Community College”. These developed naturally out of the Catholic Classical Colleges, and offered courses of study covering senior High School through first year University. The CGEP concept meshed well with the Catholic system but required some adjustment on the part of English/Protestant High Schools. The Québec Government continues to adjust the education system, so expect changes.

Nineteenth Century

The “English” established their own school system quite early, usually on the basis of a Township School Board operating several small elementary schools. Advanced education would be offered at “Model” schools in the main town with an Academy serving a larger region. By the time of the 1938 Education Survey, township and county boards were amalgamated into District Boards, and those of the Montréal area were grouped under The Protestant Board of Education of Greater Montréal. Cut-backs and consolidation mean that many rural School Boards no longer exist.

The Stanstead Historical Society published in 2001 Schooling in the Clearings; Stanstead 1800-1850, by Kathleen H. Brown. While it focuses on the development of schools and independent academies in Stanstead Co., listing both teachers and pupils, it is relevant for all the English-speaking Townships and explains the changes over each decade in government funding and control, the training of teachers, as well as the differences between elementary schools, Model Schools, Academies and High Schools.

Québec Protestant Education Research Project

The good news is that the McGill Department of History has established a Québec Protestant Education Research Project, supported, in part, by the Foundation for the Advancement of Protestant Education in Canada.

Its mandate is to explore the two hundred year history of the Protestant School system by assessing the archival resources generated by school boards across the province … The Project draws the attention of scholars, in Social History as well as Education, to the wealth of information provided by School board archives.[2]

Since that was written the group has searched out all the Protestant School Board archives and their locations within the province. They are compiling an inventory of the archival holdings of each Board, but this is a slow process.

Access is often limited, archivists may or may not be trained professionals, many work part time, work space is often cramped and it is essential to secure permission from the Secretary General of the School Board, make an appointment, and NEVER DROP IN.

The Lester B. Pearson Board, in the West of the Island of Montreal (Dorval) is the most efficient with computerized finding aids. The Western Quebec School Board Archive is in Aylmer (now Gatineau). The High School of Montreal (boys from the 1830s, girls from 1875) are in the McGill University Archives. Several other local museums or archives hold some School Board minutes.

Private Schools

There also existed - some still exist - private schools, many with long and interesting histories which are outlined in Carolyn Gossage’s study of Canada’s Independent Schools[3] . The earliest schools served the Loyalists: Stanstead College, Stanstead, Québec, was founded in 1817 as one of the “Royal Schools” supported by the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, the same that helped establish McGill University. Bishop’s College School, Lennoxville, Québec, grew out of an Anglican educational institution founded in 1836 which developed into Bishop’s University. Bishop’s College School was established adjacent to the College, as a preparatory institution.

Later in the century, the Church of England also established two schools “where girls, and daughters of the clergy in particular, might receive a sound education at a minimum charge”[4] These were: Compton Ladies’ College, which opened in 1874, reincorporated in 1902 as King’s Hall, and closed in 1973 after a failed attempt to amalgamate with Bishop’s College School in nearby Lennoxville; and St. Helen’s School, in Dunham, which also educated young ladies for almost a century (1875-1972). These were the well-known private schools with a rural setting. In Montebello, Sedbergh School, is a much newer special school. There were, many schools in Montréal, because keeping a “dame school” was an acceptable profession for a gentlewoman who had to earn a living.[5]

A number of private schools served the better off families in Montréal: Selwyn House (1908) and Lower Canada College (1909) which grew out of St. John’s School, were the boy’s schools, modelled on the English “Public Schools”. For “the middle and higher ranks of female society” there were such establishments as: Trafalgar (1887, incorporated 1871), Montréal’s oldest independent girls’ school, the quaintly-named Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School (1909), the The Study (1915), as well as Weston School (1917); all of which have changed over the years, moving to larger quarters, giving up boarders, or, like Weston, becoming co-educational.

Finding records of these schools will depend on whether or not they are still operating, and you might determine this by contacting the Federation of Independent Schools in Canada. Ask the headmaster or headmistress of one of the private schools in your region for the latest address information or check in Associations Canada.


McGill University owes its origins to James McGill who died in 1813, leaving the property on which the university now stands, and some endowment for the founding of a college to bear his name. A charter was granted in 1821, some teaching actually began about 1829, construction of the Arts Building began in 1843 and the Faculty of Arts and Science dates its founding from 1843. Women were first admitted in 1884, but when Royal Victoria College opened in 1899 it became the women’s College. Women were admitted on identical terms with men, “but mainly in separate classes”. Nicknamed “Donaldas” (after Sir Donald A. Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona), the first group graduated in 1903. Of 329 students graduating with a B.A. in that year, 152 were women.

McGill University has published several directories of graduates, though only for those alive at the date of compilation. Once you have established the faculty and years someone attended the University, try to locate a copy of Old McGill for their year of graduation. As well, the McGill Archives may have class photographs. The McGill Daily began in 1913, and is a source of detailed information of most campus activities. The Montréal Star and Montréal Gazette, until at least the 1970s, published lists of McGill graduates, every spring and fall.

Bishop’s College became Bishop’s University in 1853 (by Royal Charter) and is of particular interest to genealogists for its Eastern Townships Research Centre. Again, the Alumni records and yearbooks should be available at Bishop’s University Archives. The university and its archives have a website.

Concordia University grew out of Sir George Williams College, founded by the Young Men’s Christian Association. It began as an evening high-school in 1920, adopting the name in 1926. In 1948 it was chartered as a university and in 1949 became Sir George Williams University, though it had been granting degrees since 1936/37. In August 1974 “Sir George”, with its YMCA tradition, amalgamated with the English Roman Catholic Loyola College, and became Concordia University with a downtown campus and one in the west-end. Concordia University Archive has a most informative website, where you can learn about the history of the two founding institutions.

English Catholic Education

Both private and, eventually, public education was organized and operated by the church. Nuns of various orders taught girls, and young boys in elementary school, while priests or brothers, again belonging to various teaching orders, taught older boys, the brightest or wealthiest of whom then went on to the Classical Colleges, Séminaires and Universities.

In rural areas few boys went on to such higher learning unless their family were professionals, or they were intended for the priesthood. The church appears to have recognized that women with some education make better mothers; mothers who could teach their children their Catechism and native language (French), so convent-schools were not uncommon, and often of a high standard. In Urban centres as well as the Eastern Townships, where educated nuns taught the daughters of the local professionals, they also received American pupils: daughters of Franco-Americans who were sent from New York or New England to absorb French culture and religious discipline.

Such church-run “private” schools, run by teaching orders, educated the children of the elite. In Montréal, “English” boys living in the west-end went to Loyola, an English-language College incorporated in 1897, an offshoot of St. Mary’s College, founded by the Jesuits in 1847. In the Outremont area, the classical colleges were St. Stanislas and Brebeuf College among others.

The Catholic School Board ran many English-language elementary schools and the secondary schools such as: Montréal Catholic High, D’Arcy McGee, and St. Leo’s in Westmount; all of which had excellent reputations.

Catholic Universities and Convent-Schools

Loyola College was affiliated with Laval University in Québec City, then the University of Montréal, and Marianopolis College was the female equivalent. As one friend told me, “The Snow Queen of Loyola was always from Marianapolis”.

Among the well-known convent schools were the Convent of the Sacred Heart on Atwater Avenue, College Marie de France, Villa Maria in Outremont, and Notre Dame Mother House at the corner of Atwater Avenue and Sherbrooke Street which in the mid-20th century offered a top quality business course for aspiring secretaries. Most such schools were bilingual, with both French and English speaking pupils and teachers. Many Protestant families sent their daughters to be “polished” by the Sisters; it cost a lot less than a year in Switzerland. Church-run universities carried education further: Laval in Québec City was granted a Royal Charter in 1852, and a branch in Montréal gave rise to the Université de Montréal in 1920. By the end of the Second World War, there was a growing need for more university places and the government eventually responded.

The Université de Sherbrooke was founded in 1954, the Université du Québec, founded 18 December 1968, developed branches in a number of centres, It took under its wing the important professional schools, l’École des Hautes Études Commerciales and l’École Polytechnique in Montréal. All of these institutions maintain archives, and undoubtedly have excellent Alumni records.

Educational records of church-run schools may well survive in the archives of the individual teaching orders. The Directory of Canadian Archives (Ottawa: Canadian Council of Archives, 1990) lists many, but more current will be the listings on the internet. Links to those with websites will be found and look under both education and religion. Here you will also find a link to the current Canadian Council of Archives address list . Some addresses will be obsolete.[6]


  1. Chairman of the Survey Committee, W.A.F. Hepburn, Director of Education Ayreshire, Scotland. No publication data other than the year is given.
  2. In FOCUS: Arts Edition (Montreal: McGill Faculty of Arts Newsletter, Spring, 2000) page 7.
  3. Gossage, Carolyn, A Question of Privilege: Canada's Independent Schools (Toronto: Peter Martin Associated Ltd., 1977).
  4. Ibid., page 109.
  5. Westley, Margaret W., Remembrance of Grandeur: the anglo-protestant elite of Montréal 1900-1950 (Montréal: Libre Expression, 1990) See Chapter 3, "Schooldays", pages 63-65. This book explains in detail and with many interviews, not only what life in Montréal was like in the first half of the 20th century, but shows how it grew out of earlier ways.
  6. Douglas, Althea. "Québec Education Records (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),