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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Les Québécois, le clergé catholique et l'affaire des écoles du Manitoba / Quebecers, the Catholic Clergy and the Manitoba School Question, 1890-1916

Petition of the Roman Catholic Bishops to the Canadian Government [May 1894]

To His Excellency the Governor General of Canada in Council:


The petition of the undersigned, His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec, the Most Reverend Archbishops and the Right Reverend the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the Dominion of Canada, devoted subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, humbly showeth:

1. Since the establishment of the province of Manitoba, until 1890, the public schools of the province, as established by law, were either Protestant or Catholic schools. They all enjoyed the same rights and received respectively their legitimate share of legislative grants. They were independent one from another, being conducted directly and supported by the respective sections of the population for which they were established. The system gave such satisfaction that it was the cause of no complaint, and the two sections of the population with their respective schools lived in peace, concord, harmony and mutual good will.

2. In 1890, laws were passed, changing the school system and replacing it by other enactments which are, for a portion of the community, a source of grief, regret and hardship. Practically, and in spite of all assertions to the contrary, the result of the new system is purely and simply the legal suppression of all Catholic schools and the maintenance of all Protestant schools, with all the rights and privileges they enjoyed previous to the school laws of 1890. Catholic schools are abolished by law, while Protestant schools have nothing to suffer from the new enactment, nay, they gain by it as the Catholic ratepayers have now to help to the support of Protestant schools, which are exactly what they were, and to which, naturally, Catholic parents cannot conscientiously send their children.

3. The Public Schools Act of 1890 being 53 Vic., chap. 38, now chap. 127, of Revised Statutes of 1891, decrees in sections 241-242, that "in cases where, before the coming into force of this Act, Catholic school districts have been established, covering the same territory as any Protestant school district, such Catholic school districts shall cease to exist."

The law has been put into force wheresoever it could be applied, for instance in Winnipeg, Brandon, &c. There the Catholic trustees have ceased to be recognized since the 1st of May, 1890, while the Protestant trustees remained in office and caused taxes to be levied on Catholic as well as Protestant parents, notwithstanding the fact that no Catholic children are attending the said Protestant schools.

4. Section 192 says: "Religious exercises in the public schools shall be conducted according to regulations of the Advisory Board." It is therefore lawful to have prayers and religious exercises in the public schools of Manitoba, provided the same are fixed and determined by the Advisory Board. Just now, all the members of the said board are Protestants, and owing to the condition of the country it is clear that Catholics will never have but very little influence, if any, in the said board.

Therefore Protestant children will be allowed to pray according to their parents' desire, while Catholic children are deprived of the same liberty, and this under the penalty of forfeiting their legitimate share of public money, because in order to secure to his or her school the government grant, the teacher must declare under oath that no prayer nor religious exercise, except as prescribed by the Advisory Board, has been used in the school. Suppose a school attended exclusively by Catholic children, with a Catholic teacher, the said school would be deprived of the legislative grant, should the teacher or the pupils cross themselves or make use of the Hail, Mary.

5. Religious instruction is not prohibited in the public schools of Manitoba; in that respect and under the heading of morals, the regulations framed under the old system by the Protestant section of the board are retained under the new system; "stories, memory gems, sentiments in the school lessons, examination of motives, didactic talks, teaching the Ten Commandments, &c., are means to be employed." All this of course is to be used from a Protestant point of view, so much so that the actual chairman of the Advisory Board, who had always been the chairman of the Protestant section of the Board of Education, and who is no less a personage than the Archbishop of Rupert's Land, declared before his Synod, in 1893, that the above quoted privileges "are not small things in themselves, but they are doubly important because they carry with them for the teacher a degree of liberty in his teaching of what may come before the classes in their literature and otherwise," and His Grace adds: "The teachers who ignore these exercises can hardly be realizing their position as Christian men."

The liberty above mentioned is naturally for Protestants alone because it is enacted that those public schools are "non-sectarian", that is to say, that no Catholic teaching can be permitted while facilities are afforded to zealous and intelligent Protestant teachers to impress upon their pupils their own religious convictions.

See Appendix A, pamphlet by Archbishop Taché, April, 1893, and Appendix B, Dr. J. H. Morrison's paper read before the junior Liberal Conservative Association of St. John, N.B., 13th Feb., 1894.

6. For the last four years the Catholics of Manitoba have been subjected to the unfair and unjust treatment resulting from the change in the school laws in 1890. They asked in vain for relief; instead of a remedy, they have been made the victims of a fresh injustice in the new Manitoba law, 57 Vic., ch. 28, assented to on 2nd March, 1894.

The clause 151 of the Public Schools Act of 1890 reads as follows: "Any school not conducted according to all the provisions of this or any act in force for the time being, or the regulations of the Department of Education or the Advisory Board, shall not be deemed a public school within the meaning of the law, and such schools shall not participate in the legislative grant."

To this provision, in force since 1890, has been added this year, the section 4 of the new law which reads as follows: "Section 151 of chapter 127 is hereby amended by adding thereto the following words: nor the municipal grant, - nor shall any school assessment be levied or school taxes be collected for the benefit of such school."

The consequence of this new enactment is that no municipality, even one exclusively Catholic, without a single Protestant in its limits, has any power to levy a single dollar for Catholic schools, while a Catholic municipality where there are ten Protestant children is obliged by law, to levy on all the Catholics as well as on the parents of the ten Protestant children the money required for the education of the said ten Protestant children.

7. The same law of 1894 goes further and decrees the confiscation of all school property in all the districts which do not submit their schools to the new law and it says in section 2: "In every case in which the organization of a school district fails to be continued . . . . . . the council of the municipality in which such school district lies shall have full power and authority, and it shall be the duty of the said council to take charge of all the property of such school district, real and personal and to administer the same for the benefit of the creditors of such school district, if any."

Such is the real position of the Catholics of Manitoba, though all their school property has been acquired with their own money, without any help from Protestant purse or from public fund, and in Protestant municipalities the Catholic school property, real or personal, goes to the benefit of Protestants.

8. The example given in Manitoba has been partly followed in the Northwest Territories. There the Catholic separate schools have been retained, but, in virtue of the ordinance no. 22, A.D. 1892, they are deprived of their liberty of action and of the character which distinguishes them from other schools. So that, in reality, the Catholics of the Northwest are reduced, partly at least, to the hardships imposed upon their brethren of Manitoba. In both cases the result is very detrimental to the cause of education and really has in both cases created bad feelings, dissensions and the most deplorable results.

See Appendix C, Memorial of Archbishop Taché, March, 1894.

9. The undersigned take the liberty to affirm that they deeply regret the condition of affairs above mentioned. The painful experience of the Catholics of Manitoba and of the North-west Territories is also resented by all the Catholics of the Dominion. The undersigned have no hesitation in stating that a similar feeling certainly exists among many Protestants who, though separated by faith, are united with the Catholics in a sentiment of justice, fair play and the desire of the prosperity of their common country.

The undersigned appreciate the political advantages enjoyed by Canada and have no desire for any other regime, satisfied that there is, in the institutions of the country and in the spirit of justice and conciliation which prevails among its inhabitants, a remedy against what, just now, is the subject of their complaints. The Canadian constitution acknowledges equal rights for all citizens and for all classes of citizens. Therefore, Canadians should not be oppressed because they are Catholics.

10. The undersigned cannot shut their eyes to a fact closely connected with the history of their country: Catholic missionaries have not waited for the facilities and material advantages now offered by Canada, to bring thereto the light of Christian civilization. On the contrary, they were the first pioneers of the sacred cause and they sealed their missions with their blood. Without fear or hesitation they buried their existence among the most barbarous savages, whom they tamed and induced to peaceably hand over their own country to the Canadian authorities. The Catholic missionaries accomplished that noble task on the banks of the Saskatchewan and Red Rivers, as well as on those of the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, and they did this, when, alongside of the crosses they planted, they fondly rested their gaze on the fleur de lis flag.

Everyone knows that the same missionaries, while their eyes were yet moist with the tears they naturally shed when they had to sever the ties by which their whole existence had hitherto been bound up, were as faithful to British dominion as they had been to the banner of the land of their origin. It is well known that it is largely due to the fidelity of Canadian Catholic apostles that England owes the quiet possession of the noble colony which France had planted on the St. Lawrence and its tributaries. What then happened among the inhabitants of La Nouvelle France was possible solely because its inhabitants were Catholics and because England had respected their religious convictions. The knowledge of what they allude to renders more incomprehensible to the undersigned the fact that the Catholics of Manitoba and of the North-west are badly treated because they are Catholics.

11. Catholics believe in the necessity of religious instruction in the schools. This conviction imposes upon them conscientious obligations, and these obligations give them rights of which they cannot be deprived. They cannot be satisfied by the saying: Others do not believe as you do, therefore you must change your convictions; others are satisfied and even wish that their children should be brought up and educated in such a way, therefore, you Catholics, you cannot stand aside, or, if you do, do so at your own expense. Such an argument is neither fair nor just.

The undersigned, pastors of souls, are at one with their flocks in insisting on the rights they claim, and they are fully determined to preserve them in their integrity. There is in this a question of justice, of natural equity, of prudence and of social economy, closely connected with the fundamental interests of the country.

The Catholics, being under the obligation of educating their children according to their faith and the religious principles they profess, have, in our free country, the right of establishing their separate schools, and that right they must be allowed to exercise without being forced to the burden of double school taxes.

The undersigned also take the liberty to state, that the Federal Parliament has endowed the schools of Manitoba and of the North-west with a large domain in assigning to the support of such schools the eighteenth part of all public lands. Those lands are Canadian property, and how could the Federal Parliament consent to deprive the Catholics of these countries of their legitimate share in the profit derived from such lands simply because this class of citizens adheres to its religious convictions and wishes to comply with conscientious obligations?

See Appendix D, "A Page of the History of the Schools of Manitoba," by Archbishop Taché.

12. The undersigned petitioners are fully aware that Manitoba and the Northwest Territories were received into confederation after promises made to the first inhabitants of that vast country in the name and by the authority of Her Majesty. The immediate representative of our beloved Queen assured them that "respect and attention would be extended to the different religious persuasions and that, on their union with Canada, all their civil and religious rights and privileges would be respected." In the estimation of Catholics, their religious rights are not respected and their religious persuasions are not treated with respect and attention, when there are difficulties thrown, by law, in the way of securing to their children an education conducted in accordance with their religious convictions.

13. The undersigned, while petitioning as they do, repudiate the idea of interference with political parties, or with the direction of affairs purely political or temporal. Their sole object is to secure for the Catholics a protection needed for the accomplishment of their religious obligations, and it is in that view, and in that view only, that they petition His Excellency the Governor General in Council and ask the honourable members of the Senate and of the Commons of Canada, of whatsoever party they may be, to help in a fair settlement of the actual difficulties.

Therefore, your petitioners humbly pray His Excellency the Governor General in Council:

1. To disallow the Act of Manitoba, 57 Vic., ch. 28 (1894), and intituled "An Act to amend the Public Schools Act."

2. To give such directions and make such provisions for the relief of the Roman Catholics of the province of Manitoba as to His Excellency in Council may seem fit, with regard to the Manitoba School Laws of 1890.

3. To communicate with the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-west Territories, in order that, by amending ordinances, redress should be given to meet the grievances of which the Catholics of the North-west complain on account of the Ordinance No. 22, assented to at Regina on the 31 st of December, 1892.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray:


Archbishop of Quebec.


Archbishop of St. Boniface.


Archbishop of Halifax.


Archbishop of Montreal.


Archbishop of Ottawa.


Archbishop of Toronto.


Archbishop of Kingston.

† L. N. BÉGIN,

Archbishop of Cyrène, Coadjutor of His Eminence Cardinal Taschereau.


Evêque de St. Albert.


Evêque des Trois-Rivières.


Evêque d'Arindale.


Evêque d'Ibora, Vic. Apostolique d'Athab. Mackenzie.


Evêque de Mosynopolis, Vic. Apostolique.


Evêque de New Westminster.


Bishop of St. Hyacinthe.


Bishop of Antigonish.


Bishop of St. John, N.B.


Bishop of Chatham.


Bishop of Charlottetown.


Bishop of Victoria, Vancouver.


Bishop of Hamilton.


Bishop of London.


Bishop of Peterborough.

† ALEXANDER MacDonnell,

Bishop of Alexandria.


Bishop of Valleyfield.


Bishop of Sherbrooke.


Bishop of Druzipara.


Bishop of Nicolet.


Evêque de Saint-Germain de Rimouski.


Evêque de Cythère, Vic. Apostolique de Pontiac.


Evêque de Chicoutimi.


Source: Canada, Sessional Papers (No. 20B), 1895


© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College