UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An historical suvey of boarding schools and public school dormitories in Canada Calam, John


During the first half of the fifteenth century, Vittorino da Feltre was employed by the Duke of Mantua to preside over a classical residential school for the sons of influential men of the day. This task Vittorino accomplished with singular success, standing in loco parentis and establishing from the start a family atmosphere that contrasted sharply with the harsh educational methods of the times. Since the inception of Vittorino's Mantua boarding school, the idea of an educational institution that combines school and home has remained very much alive in Europe. When the French settled permanently in the New World, it was natural that they should transplant their own version of the residential school to North American soil. As a means of maintaining a learned and influential Catholic clergy and of spreading a general culture, such schools have continued in French-speaking Canada down to the present day. After the cession, the English, too, introduced boarding schools, some of which were modelled on such famous "public" schools as Eton or Winchester. At first designed to serve the wealthy upper classes, these schools found the residential plan well-suited to the aims of preserving British institutions and of providing leaders imbued with a sense of social purpose and responsibility. In the course of time, both French and English authorities found themselves faced with the considerable problem of educating the native Indian whose level of civilization, according to European standards, appeared extremely primitive. Though several different objectives lay at the foundation of Indian instruction, there appeared common recognition that isolating the Indian pupil from retarding home influences would play an important part in introducing the young savage to white man's ways. Accordingly, Indian boarding schools were established, at first under private auspices and later with federal government assistance and direction. Although many French, English and Indian residential schools were firmly established in British North America prior to Confederation, it was not until the post-Confederation era and the emergence of provincial education systems that public boarding schools received serious consideration. An early attempt at running such a school was made at Cache Creek, British Columbia in 1874. However, mismanagement together with widespread establishment of one-room rural schools soon brought about its closure. Nevertheless, the Cache Creek experiment anticipated later boarding establishments that were to be devoted not to religious, national or class proselytizing but to providing a day school education to geographically isolated children. As Canada pushed back its frontiers, there arose a need to satisfy the educational requirements of children located along the outer fringes of settlement. Thus, in spite of the earlier Cache Creek failure, British Columbia once again gave thought to public boarding schools, and since 1948 has evolved a successful scheme of public school dormitories. In Alberta, depression and drought of the early nineteen-thirties caused grave concern about making high school education available to young rural people whose presence on the labour market posed a threat to more seasoned workers. As in British Columbia, the public school dormitory provided a partial answer to the question of bringing pupils to centrally located high schools. Unlike their earlier French, English and Indian counterparts, public school dormitories in Western Canada have been almost exclusively associated with problems of geography and communications. Because of new population patterns, better roads and more advanced vehicles, however, day school education can now be provided for the majority of Canada's rural pupils by transporting them in buses to central schools. So rapid has been the improvement of transportation and communication and so widespread the development of new population centres that Alberta's once extensive scheme of public school dormitories has been entirely discontinued. Further, though British Columbia continues to operate nine such establishments, three at least are now facing diminishing enrolment, whilst the public education systems of most other Canadian provinces find bus transportation adequate to the educational requirements of their country school population. Thus it appears that public school dormitories founded for the sole purpose of equalizing educational opportunity on a regional basis are destined to remain in operation for a relatively brief period of time. This survey has shown, though, that boarding schools, whose basic aims have transcended mere geographic considerations, have developed quite steadily throughout Canada's educational history. Therefore it is suggested that British Columbia, whose public dormitory system appears to have reached, and perhaps just passed, its peak of usefulness, immediately seek alternative objectives for its school dormitories before probable disillusionment, associated with their inevitable decline in the face of economic growth, rules them out as strong and important educational forces for the future. The central contention herein put forward is that British Columbia's public school dormitories must serve the province in the years ahead as instruments of educational excellence.

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