The Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976


293 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-8020-2437-8




Reviewed by Wesley B. Turner

Wesley B. Turner is an associate professor of History at Brock
University and author of TheWar of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won.


Robert M. Stamp, a professor in the Faculty of General Studies at the University of Calgary, is a Canadian authority on this country’s educational history. For more than a decade, he has been writing about the history of education, producing articles for scholarly journals and contributing to several books, including a basic text in this field, Canadian Education: A History (Prentice-Hall, 1970).

The Schools of Ontario is the third title in the theme studies of the Ontario Historical Studies Series. Sponsored by the provincial government, this series is intended to produce specialized monographs in Ontario history and as a “culmination ... a definitive history of Ontario” (ix). Stamp’s book takes this enterprise one further step towards that goal.

The author’s purpose is “to describe and analyse the development of the school system of the province of Ontario in the first century following Egerton Ryerson’s retirement as chief superintendent of schools in 1876.” The account of 100 years of educational policy and practice is presented chronologically but always placed within the broader context of political developments and events, social and economic changes and pressures, and social and cultural attitudes.

Images and beliefs are also part of the story. The author seeks to redress the extremes of two images of Ontario education: one, its “extreme centralization” (xiii) with strong control from Queen’s Park and two, its “superiority” to other educational systems. In virtually every chapter, he presents convincing counter-balancing evidence of local influences and of problems in the Ontario system.

Stamp brings together an enormous amount of information in The Schools of Ontario. He examines provincial and local authorities (the latter divided into urban and rural). The book covers elementary and secondary levels of schools, both rural and urban. Stamp deals with teacher qualifications, training, remuneration, conditions of work, and their rising militancy in the 1970s. He discusses a bewildering variety of issues bearing on education, among them religion, language, imperialism, nationalism, standardization, examinations, equality, and pupil numbers. All of these issues are significant and some deserve fuller discussion than he is able to provide. The author considers at some length the conflicts over academic or vocational aims of education and the social role of schools. He looks at the roles of many individuals, their motives, and the legacies of their efforts.

The work may give the impression of being an “official history,” for it presents plenty of government statistics, gives prominence to provincial officials, and stresses both their roles and government policies. Stamp offers criticisms and admits an ideological bias in favour of innovation. But his judgments are temperate and relate to the past rather than the present. The book provides not exciting or controversial reading but, rather, thoughtful and thorough treatment of a major theme in Ontario’s social and political history. To derive fullest benefit from The Schools of Ontario, the reader should have some background in the province’s history. Teachers of Ontario and Canadian social history will find the work a useful reference tool.


Stamp, Robert M., “The Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,