Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
June 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Vocational Schools in Canada


[This article was published in 1948; for the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Education, Vocational. In a sense all education is vocational; but for the present purpose, the term is taken to apply only to specific training for some non-academic calling. One important vocation excluded by this definition should be mentioned. The rapid expansion of elementary education in the latter half of the nineteenth century and of secondary education since 1890 made it necessary for the high schools to look to the "vocational" training of future teachers. About the year 1880 in Ontario nearly forty per cent. of high school pupils were preparing for the teaching profession. In the West the shortage of teachers has only recently been overcome. Perhaps this condition, brought about in part by increase in population through immigration, helps to explain why the schools in a practical and democratic country have been slow to offer vocational training in the usual meaning of the word.


Early History.

Indentures of apprenticeship dated around the beginning of the nineteenth century remind us that even in Canada this institution was used to secure instruction in reading and writing and a trade. But in the schools themselves nothing utilitarian beyond a little book-keeping appeared until well on in the century. Egerton Ryerson of Ontario, who had visited a famous vocational school of Europe, the Fellenberg Institute, was by no means alone in advocating practical subjects for the schools; but agriculture, industry, and business in 1850 were not so keenly competitive as to demand preliminary training for the many in technical and occupational specialties. Following the history of most school subjects, vocational education first appeared in the college grades. In Ontario, for example, the College of Technology was founded in 1871, the Ontario Agricultural College in 1874, and the Ontario School of Art in 1876. About this time private business colleges sprang up, and in 1885 stenography, or "phonography" as it was called, appeared in the lower forms of an occasional high school. In Nova Scotia three years later came the opening of what were probably the first publicly-controlled occupational schools in the Dominion. These mining schools were intended to promote efficiency and safety among the workers in the coal areas, which are owned by the government, although leased to private operators. However, the conscious de­velopment of public vocational education dates from the beginning of the present century, and from this point we may consider separately three important aspects.


In Elementary Schools.

About 1900 the educational importance of activity rather than receptivity in the pupil began to be widely recognized, and at the same time came the feeling that the schools were far from doing all that was possible to fit pupils for the activities of life. The result .was the beginning of manual training, household science, and agriculture or gardening in the elementary schools. These subjects are not vocational in the narrow sense, as making carpenters, cooks, and farmers; but are thought to give the general vocational training suitable for children of public school age. Introduced at first through funds provided by Sir William C. Macdonald of Montreal, they have now an established place in the curriculum of every province, but unfortunately in by no means every school.


A National Problem.

Effective competition in the markets of the world de­manded national action to improve the productivity of the workers. In 1910 the Dominion government appointed a Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education, whose recommendations were implemented by the Agricultural Instruction Act of 1913 and the Technical Education Act of 1919. These Acts provided for the distribution to the provinces of generous grants to help pay the cost of various kinds of vocational training. The Vocational Education Act of 1931 continued this assistance to agricultural or technical education in grades higher than the elementary.


In Secondary Schools.

As a result of this encouragement, there were in 1933 some 63,000 full-time students enrolled in vocational schools throughout Canada. Such schools include technical, commercial, agricultural, and composite high schools, schools of art, household science schools, and many other types. There were also some 15,000 Quebec pupils in complementary courses of a vocational bent. Nevertheless, accommodation is still inadequate to meet the demand, especially with recent curtailments due to financial stringency. In Alberta this has led to the use of a double shift in three larger schools.


Special Types.

A particularly valuable type of vocational training is given in cities across the Dominion in special schools for the deaf, the blind, the backward, and the delinquent. Handicapped children who would otherwise be dependents are fitted for some particular occupation within their capacities. Correspondence courses and evening classes, except where recently introduced, have suffered a considerable decline in enrollment during the last few years of widespread unemployment.


A history of vocational education in Canada was published as Bulletin Number 28, Vocational Education in August, 1928, by the Technical Education Branch, Department of Labour, Ottawa.

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 280-281.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College