University of Toronto, 1858, by Sir Edmund Walker Head

Toronto is the academic capital of Canada, boasting more schools, universities and colleges than any other city in the nation. We also offer more ESL courses - English as a second language - to the biggest immigrant population in the country. Fifty percent of Toronto university students are now Asian. But the right to education came to Toronto late in the 19th century. Many children worked, making up 11% of the city's employment force. It wasn't until 1886 that the Federal Child Labour Law finally banned the hiring of girls and boys under the age of fourteen. Free and compulsory education arrived only in 1871. Many children simply couldn't afford to pay for school.

The battle to forge an educational system began as a religious one; a political tool used by opposing forces. John Strachan, Toronto's Anglican Bishop argued fiercely for free schools for the poor and established King's College and Trinity. But it was to be a Church of England education, under Anglican control. Ironic, considering Strachan was once a Presbyterian.

Egerton Ryerson challenged that idea. An articulate Methodist, journalist and "Reformer" (briefly), Ryerson waged a personal battle against Strachan, believing that multi denominational education was a civil right. Later, as Superintendent of Schools, Ryerson supported separate Catholic schools and established the Schools Act of 1871. Though fundamentally Christian, he ended Anglican control, beginning a legacy of educational tolerance that would be enhanced in the coming century.


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