Inuk woman and child fishing, Igluligaarjuk, Nunavut, 1952
Children gathering potatoes, Prince Edward Island, ca. 1921
Two hundred years ago, most people did not go to school, but that does not mean that they did not get an education. Before there were schools, children learned from their parents. Some were taught to read and write, some were not, but everyone learned the skills and knowledge necessary to survive in life.
Some children were taught in their home; others learned while working the land (since most people lived in the country); and still others acquired a trade as an apprentice in a workshop. The same was true of Aboriginal youth whose knowledge of hunting, fishing and other skills were passed down by their parents and community members.
Advertisement for a private school for young men and young women, Picton, Ontario, 1850
A teacher and students in a classroom at the Montreal Protestant Orphan Asylum, ca. 1900
Wealthier families were able to hire tutors for their children or send them to private schools. Churches often helped to educate children in Sunday schools. If you lived in a larger centre, there were special schools for instruction of the poor that were run by religious societies.
Most young people, though, did not attend what we view today as "school." This was also true in other countries at the time. Children were needed at home, to do household chores or work in the fields. Whatever schooling there might be was casual and not compulsory. Children of all ages might gather in small groups for a few months of the year to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, as well as religion and morals.
A mother weaving beside her children. Cap à l’Aigle, Québec, ca. 1910
A boy with horse and plough, Dr. Bernardo's Industrial Farm, near Russell, Manitoba, 1900
Young people were considered to be adults at a much younger age than they are now. The term "teenager" did not yet exist and "adolescent" was an uncommon word. By the age of 13, you would have been considered a young adult and unless you were from a wealthy family, you would be working.