Fall/automne 2008

“Proper Objects of This Institution”: Working Families, Children, and the British & Canadian School

Roderick Macleod
Dawson College
Mary Anne Poutanen
McGill University, Concordia University
Published December 12, 2008
  • British and Canadian School Society,
  • History of Protestant Education in Canada,
  • schooling,
  • Montreal,
  • family,
  • children,
  • non-denominational,
  • working-class,
  • monitorial
  • ...More
How to Cite
Macleod, Roderick, and Mary Anne Poutanen. 2008. “‘Proper Objects of This Institution’: Working Families, Children, and the British & Canadian School”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 20 (2), 22–54. https://historicalstudiesineducation.ca/hse/index.php/edu_hse-rhe/article/view/366.


Established in 1822 “for the education of the children of the labouring class,” Montreal’s British and Canadian School Society enabled working families of various ethnic backgrounds to have their children receive free schooling in a non-denominational setting. Located at the edge of the old town in a purpose-built structure, the British and Canadian School figured prominently within the array of early educational establishments studied by Bruce Curtis, Andrée Dufour, and others. In the wake of the rebellions in Lower Canada and the resulting separation of institutions along religious lines, the school became increasingly identified with the Protestant community and in 1866 was formally incorporated into the city’s emerging Protestant school system. Despite this apparent loss of its non-denominational character, the school continued to attract substantial numbers of children from Catholic and Jewish families, the latter resulting from an agreement between the synagogues and the school board. The school also retained its particular attraction for working-class families, who appear to have applied regularly with some determination to see their children exposed to learning even if only for short periods. A Registry of Admissions to the British and Canadian School from the mid-1870s reveals a pattern whereby schooling formed part of long-term strategy within the working class family economy; as such, it sheds light on the work of historians such as Bettina Bradbury and Terry Copp. The Registry also permits analysis of the school population by gender, ethnicity, age, place of residence, and academic competence.