In 1841 the Legislature of Canada East and Canada West was created. Since about half of the members of the Legislature were French Canadian Catholics, they were quick to enact the first piece of separate school legislation. This was a momentous event for the Catholics of Toronto. With the leadership of John Elmsley, member of a prominent family and recent convert to Catholicism, the Catholics living in St. Paul’s parish went through the legal steps to form the Toronto Roman Catholic Separate School Board. The first separate school, St. Paul’s, opened that same year.
Survival, let alone expansion, of the Board was a difficult challenge. The separate school trustees and their supporters faced a number of obstacles. Although the Board received the common school fund (i.e. provincial grants) in the same amount on a per-pupil basis as the Toronto Common (i.e. Public) School Board, the Catholic school supporters still had to pay common school taxes along with paying tuition for their children to attend St. Paul’s. If the common school located in the same school district of Toronto as St. Paul’s, hired a Catholic in any year, St. Paul’s would have been declared non-existent. If the Toronto Separate School Board wished a second school, it had to request it from the city’s municipal council. Monies for teacher salaries and school buildings even approximating those of the Toronto public schools was unavailable.
Despite these obstacles, the Board opened a second school--St. Mary--in 1847, and a third one--St. Patrick--in 1849.
In 1850 Armand de Charbonnel was appointed as Bishop of Toronto. Between 1850 and 1860 he battled with Egerton Ryerson for improved rights for the separate schools of Toronto and the rest of Ontario. With the help of the French Canadian members of the Legislature and separate school trustees, he managed to have most obstacles removed. In 1853 separate school supporters no longer had to pay common school taxes; this eliminated the necessity to collect tuition fees from parents. Immediately the Toronto Separate School Board expanded to six schools.
In 1855 legislation removed the provision that a separate school board would go out of existence if the coterminous common school board hired a Catholic. For the first time, the separate schools had permanent status.
The following year the Separate School Board of School Section # 6, Etobicoke, was established. It would, decades later, become part of the Metropolitan Separate School Board.
In 1863 the last separate school act (the “Scott Act”) before Confederation was enacted. It gave separate school trustees all the rights of common school trustees. In 1867 section 93(1) of the British North America Act guaranteed in perpetuity these rights.
In 1863 the Board had seven schools with twenty-four teachers and 2,922 pupils. The following year the Board operated eleven schools and employed twenty-six teachers; the average teacher’s salary that year was $140.88 a year. Almost all of the teachers belonged to the Orders of the De la Salle Brothers, Sisters of St. Joseph and Loretto Sisters.
After Confederation there were two challenges that arose for the Board: the lack of corporation tax revenues and the legal apparent inability to operate beyond grade eleven. Since the “Scott Act” had not anticipated either of these problems, it did not mention high schools since the legal term did not exist, and corporations were a rarity.
As corporations expanded, the gap between public school board revenues and those of separate school boards widened. For example, by 1910 the Toronto Separate School Board was receiving only half of the corporate assessment revenues that its pupil enrolment suggested. Nevertheless, the Board had expanded to twenty-one schools.
By 1950 the Toronto public board was getting twice as much revenue as the separate school board on a per-pupil basis. As the Toronto public board built kindergartens, industrial arts, home economics rooms and gymnasiums, the separate schools usually contained only classrooms. Parish collections, lower salaries for teachers and higher pupil-teacher ratios than those in the public schools made up some of the gap.
In 1910 the Board’s 110 teachers were receiving an average salary of $375 a year, while Toronto’s public school female teachers were getting $633 and male teachers received $1,264 a year. It was the large number of teachers from religious order who received much lower salaries than those of lay teachers, which made up most of the short fall. Without the contribution of the Religious Orders, it is difficult to conceive how the separate schools in Toronto would have survived.
In 1924 the Board was forced to lower the salaries of nearly 300 teachers. Trustees received no honorarium at the time. The commitment of teachers and parents to Catholic education, and the tireless efforts of volunteers ensured the survival of the Board.
Despite the political movement of the Catholic Taxpayers’ Association, organized by Martin Quinn and Archbishop McNeill in the 1930s, and despite two court cases, it remained impossible for most corporations to pay separate school taxes. The problem would not be solved partially until 1963 and fully until 1997.
Supporters of Catholic high school education in Toronto received a great disappointment in 1928. From their inception, the Board had worked in partnership to finance the high schools of the De la Salle Brothers, the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Basilians in Toronto.
When legislation in the first two decades of the twentieth century took away the right of separate school boards to apply tax and grant revenues for the support of classes beyond grade ten, the separate school trustees of Ontario challenged the legislation. In 1928 they lost in a Privy Council court judgment. Nevertheless, a few schools like St. Cecilia Catholic School continued to offer grades nine and ten. The Catholic high schools continued to be financed through tuition fees, parish collections and local fundraising. This inequity would not be corrected until the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987 defined a separate school as one covering all grades from junior kindergarten to the end of high school.
The Board faced many challenges throughout its history, including the reality that only approximately half the Catholic children attended Catholic schools. Teacher shortages, budget problems due to underfunding of Catholic schools and the inability to provide competitive programs such as kindergarten continued to plague the Catholic school board.
One saving grace during these difficult times was the low cost of land during the depression. The Board acquired numerous properties during this period, and as time went on the Board was able to subsidize new school construction by selling prime residential property and keeping the frontage for the school, which explains why many of our schools are on main streets. The Board never had to debenture to pay for a new school until the early 70s.
Despite the challenges, the Separate School Board in Toronto continued to expand. Prior to receiving royal assent and becoming incorporated as the Metropolitan Separate School Board in 1953, Catholic education was offered in fifty-five schools, six of which were high schools, with an enrolment of 18,322 pupils.
- St. Paul Catholic School
- St. John the Evangelist Catholic School
- Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School
- St. Mary Catholic School
- St. Joseph College Catholic Secondary School
- St. Joseph Catholic School
- St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School
- St. Rita Catholic School
- Holy Family Catholic School
- St. Anthony Catholic School
- St. John Catholic School
- St. Helen Catholic School
- Holy Name Catholic School
- St. Cecilia Catholic School
- Loretto College Catholic Secondary School
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School
- St. Clare Catholic School
- St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School
- Holy Rosary Catholic School
- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School
- St. Brigid Catholic School
- St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School
- St. Demetrius Catholic School
- St. Monica Catholic School
- St. Leo Catholic School
- St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School
- St. Matthew Catholic School
- St. Michael Choir Catholic School and Catholic Secondary School
- Our Lady of Victory Catholic School
- Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School
- Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School
- St. Philip Neri Catholic School
- Blessed Sacrament Catholic School
- Holy Cross Catholic School
- St. Dunstan Catholic School
- Christ the King Catholic School
- St. Edward Catholic School
- St. Gabriel Catholic School
- Canadian Martyrs Catholic School
- St. Charles Catholic School
- St. Margaret Catholic School
- St. Theresa Shrine Catholic School
On April 2, 1953, the Separate School Boards in the Metropolitan area of Toronto received royal assent and became incorporated as the Metropolitan Separate School Board.
The Act cited as Bill 37 The Metropolitan Separate School Board Act, 1953 allowed for all part or parts of the Metropolitan area where separate schools are administered to become part of the newly incorporated Metropolitan Separate School Board.
- Township of East York
- Township of Etobicoke
- The Village of Forest Hill
- The Town of Leaside
- The Village of Long Branch
- Town of Mimico
- Town of New Toronto
- Township of North York
- Township of Scarborough
- Village of Swansea
- City of Toronto
- Town of Weston
- Township of York
The Inaugural Meeting of the Metropolitan Separate School Board was held on Tuesday, April 17, 1953. This historical meeting was held in the Council Chambers in the Parliament Buildings. The Minister of Education, Dr. W. Dunlop called the meeting to order.
As recorded in the Minutes of this Inaugural Meeting, Dr. Dunlop’s introductory remarks included congratulations to the Members present, “…on the splendid spirit of co-operation shown in the establishment of the Metropolitan Separate School Board…”
His Excellency, Bishop Webster was called upon to say the opening prayer. The meeting continued with the election of the very first Chairman of The Board, Mr. Avril Robinson. As noted in the official minutes, “on taking the Chair, Mr. Robinson thanked the Members present for their confidence and assured them that he would do everything possible to work for the betterment of Catholic education in the new Greater Toronto Area”.
Catholic education in Metropolitan Toronto was thriving during the 1950s. From the date of incorporation, the Board continued to grow, and 20 more schools were opened.
- Our Lady of Peace Catholic School
- St. Ambrose Catholic School
- Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School
- Precious Blood Catholic School
- St. Lawrence Catholic School
- St. Maria Goretti Catholic School
- St. Gregory Catholic School
- Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School
- St. Teresa Catholic School
- St. Bernard Catholic School
- St. Benedict Catholic School
- St. Mark Catholic School
- St. Rose of Lima Catholic School
- Neil McNeil Catholic Secondary School
- St. Louis Catholic School
- St. Cyril Catholic School
- St. Francis Xavier Catholic School
- Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School
- Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic School
- St. Barbara Catholic School
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The 1960s brought a measure of equity to the funding of Catholic education, with the introduction of Foundation Grants to offset the revenue that the Metropolitan Separate School Board would have received through corporate assessment had this been distributed according to the number of pupils served by each of the school boards—public and separate.
After a few years there was financial parity at the elementary level with the public schools. This in turn resulted in vast improvements in a number of areas including teachers’ salaries, full release time for principals, the building of school additions for libraries, general purpose rooms, the hiring of additional school secretaries, the provision of staff and facilities to offer for the first time a kindergarten program, the provision of much expanded special education programs. The Board also opened many New Canadian classes with federal funds.
In 1965 the Board for the first time in history was empowered through legislation to employ its own supervisory officer staff. The Board hired Mr. B.E. Nelligan as superintendent of education (legislation in the 70s permitted a title change to director of education) and assistant superintendents for elementary schools, as well as additional separate school inspectors.
When The Minister of Education in 1965 established the provincial Hall Dennis Commission to look at the aims of education in Ontario, Ed Brisbois, Trustee and Chair of the Metropolitan Separate School Board, became a member of the Commission. He was enormously influential in securing in the final Report released in 1969 a recommendation that the government look at the Catholic high school question. Brisbois capitalized on the Commission’s non-graded, continuous education philosophy and its conviction that every child was entitled to a high school education. Using his argument OSSTA submitted a brief to the government asking for completion of the separate school system.
During 1965 to 1969 and thereafter, one of the major aims of the Board was supporting the Catholic high schools. By this time there were 14 of them. It made agreements with the Archdiocese of Toronto and the religious Orders to fund the high schools cooperatively. Some Orders had done this previously. The Board was responsible for grades nine and ten.
The growth of Catholic education in Toronto was marked by the opening of many new Catholic schools:
- Holy Angels Catholic School
- St. Boniface Catholic School
- St. Elizabeth Catholic School
- St. James Catholic School
- St. Josaphat Catholic School
- St. Joseph Morrow Park Catholic Secondary School
- Transfiguration of Our Lord Catholic School
- Holy Spirit Catholic School
- Immaculate Conception Catholic School
- St. Stephen Catholic School
- All Saints Catholic School
- Blessed Trinity Catholic School
- Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School
- St. Basil-the-Great Catholic Secondary School
- St. Martin de Porres Catholic School
- St. Raphael Catholic School
- Brebeuf College Catholic Secondary School
- Madonna Catholic Secondary School
- Senator O’Connor Catholic Secondary School
- St. Joachim Catholic School
- Annunciation Catholic School
- St. Agatha Catholic School
- St. Andrew Catholic School
- St. Clement Catholic School
- St. Jane Frances Catholic School
- St. John Bosco Catholic School
- St. Kevin Catholic School
- St. Raymond Catholic School
- St. Richard Catholic School
- St. Robert Catholic School
- St. Timothy Catholic School
- St. Ursula Catholic School
- Chaminade College Catholic Secondary School
- St. Denis Catholic School
- St. Marcellus Catholic School
- St. Nicholas Catholic School
- St. Norbert Catholic School
- St. Paschal Baylon Catholic School
- St. Wilfrid Catholic School
- St. Catherine Catholic School
- St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School
- D’Arcy McGee Catholic School
- St. Roch Catholic School
- St. Thomas More Catholic School
- James Culnan Catholic School
- Mother Cabrini Catholic School
- St. Albert Catholic School
- St. Alphonsus Catholic School
- St. Augustine Catholic School
- St. Bartholomew Catholic School
- St. Dorothy Catholic School
- St. Malachy Catholic School
- St. Victor Catholic School
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The 1970s began on a disappointing note for the Metropolitan Separate School Board. In 1971 the soon-to-be premier of the province, William Davis, turned down OSSTA’s request for completion of the separate school system.
Undeterred, the Board, under the leadership of Mr. B.E. Nelligan and Archbishop Philip Pocock, decided to continue to open new Catholic high schools until Mr. Davis would see the injustice of his decision. Every year until Davis reversed his decision in 1984, the Board and the Archdiocese opened a new school, for a total of nine new secondary schools.
In order to get Ministry approval to build a new school for grade nine and ten, the Board used portables to house the students. When funding was provided for a school, the Board would built the school and then sell them for a very nominal fee to the Archdiocese of Toronto, which in turn housed the students in grades 11 to 13.
Everyone sacrificed to make this work: students and their parents paid tuition fees and parishes donated part of their Sunday collections.
The Board, realizing the private part of the high school could not afford certain services, paid for the administrative, library and guidance staff, and the more experienced, more qualified teachers’ salaries. All the teachers with the Board accepted a salary schedule somewhat lower than that of their public school counterparts. The teachers in Religious Orders turned over their salaries in support of the private high school and provided the administration. The elementary schools made do with tighter instructional supply budgets and higher pupil-teacher ratios in order to assist the funding of the high schools. The whole system was focused on separate school completion.
Complicating all this was the fact that once again there was a serious gap between the funding of MSSB and of the Metropolitan public boards. In 1973 the provincial government, coping with declining enrolment and a downturn in the economy, imposed expenditure ceilings on all school boards. This meant that, if a board exceeded the allowable expenditure on a per-pupil basis, it would receive no provincial grant money for the amount spent above the ceiling.
There were only two sources of income for boards: grants and taxes. The separate school boards, because of their lack of corporate assessment, depended on grants for their budgets. The Metropolitan Toronto Board had so much corporate assessment that it received no government grants. Therefore, it could ignore the ceiling and set a mill rate that would cover the costs of the programs and services it wished to offer its students. MSSB could not afford to spend over the ceiling, since this would mean setting a much higher mill rate for Catholic ratepayers.
As the decade advanced, MSSB’s budgets became very tight again and the Board was forced to set mill rates somewhat over that of its coterminous board.
The Metropolitan Separate School Board continued to build new schools during this decade.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School
- St. Agnes Catholic School
- St. Antoine Daniel Catholic School
- St. Eugene Catholic School
- St. Gerard Majella Catholic School
- St. Martha Catholic School
- St. Edmund Campion Catholic School
- St. Fidelis Catholic School
- St. Francis de Sales Catholic School
- St. Aidan Catholic School
- St. Brendan Catholic School
- Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School
- Holy Redeemer Catholic School
- John XXIII Catholic School
- Regina Mundi Catholic School
- St. Angela Catholic School
- St. Barnabas Catholic School
- St. Charles Garnier Catholic School
- St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School
- St. Luke Catholic School
- St. Maurice Catholic School
- St. Nicholas of Bari Catholic School
- St. Sebastian Catholic School
- Dante Alighieri Catholic Secondary School
- Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School
- Our Lady of Grace Catholic School
- Pope Paul VI Catholic School
- Senhor Santo Cristo Catholic School
- Stella Maris Catholic School
- St. Bruno Catholic School
- St. Columba Catholic School
- St. Luigi Catholic School
- St. Matthias Catholic School
- Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Academy
(opened as St. Cyprian Catholic School)
- St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School
- St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic School
- St. Simon Catholic School
- St. Sylvester Catholic School
- Francis Libermann Catholic Secondary School
- Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School
- Father Serra Catholic School
- St. Bede Catholic School
- St. Bonaventure Catholic School
- St. Camillo de Lellis Catholic School
- St. Florence Catholic School
- St. John Vianney Catholic School
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In 1984 Premier William Davis completed the separate school system This historic event, which Catholic Schoool Trustees, Bishops, teachers, parents and students had been fighting for since the 1950s, was a huge boon financially to the Board. Tuition fees were eliminated, secondary school enrolment expanded and Board monies were more readily available for new school programs and services.
At the time of the Premier’s announcement, the Board educated approximately 6,000 secondary school students in portables and projected its enrolment to grow to 18,000 within a few years. MSSB high schools lacked shops and other facilities equipped for special programs. Some high school buildings were also quite old and in need of repair.
Through negotiations with the Metropolitan Toronto School Board, seven public high schools were transferred to MSSB. One of them became a French-language high school, an institution that had been missing since 1968. By 1999 the Board had 41 Catholic high schools.
However, this did not come about immediately after Davis’s announcement. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Ontario Public School Teachers’ Association, and a number of boards of education (including the Metropolitan Toronto School Board) challenged the legislation.
Premier David Peterson’s attorney general, Ian Scott (great grandson of Sir Richard W. Scott of the “Scott Act” of 1863) decided to ask the Supreme Court of Ontario for a ruling on the constitutionality of the “Bill 30" legislation, which extended the separate school system. For this Constitutional Reference, submissions were invited. MSSB, along with the Ontario Separate School Trustees’ Association and some other separate school boards each made a submission.
On June 25, 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld MSSB’s argument that separate schools--both elementary and secondary--since their inception, were constitutionally protected.
The 1980s continued to be a time of growth for the Metropolitan Separate School Board. Enrolment grew and new schools opened, including a number of secondary schools that were acquired from the public school boards at the end of the decade.
- St. Conrad Catholic School
- St. Henry Catholic School
- St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic School
- St. Michael Catholic School
- Ven. John Merlini Catholic School
- James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic Secondary School
- Michael Power/St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School
- Msgr. John Corrigan
- Sts. Cosmas and Damian Catholic School
- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic School
- Blessed Margherita of Citta di Castello Catholic School
- Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School
- St. Gabriel Lalemant Catholic School
- St. René Goupil Catholic School
- Josyf Cardinal Slipyj
- Msgr. Percy Johnson Catholic Secondary School
- St. Mary Catholic Secondary School
- St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic School
- Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School
- Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School
- St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School
- The Divine Infant Catholic School
- Sacred Heart Catholic School
- Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School
- Cardinal Léger Catholic School
- Prince of Peace Catholic School
- Archbishop Romero Catholic Secondary School
- Bishop Allen Catholic Secondary School
- Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School
- Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School
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This was a decade of major changes to education across the province. With the introduction of the Fewer School Boards Act, the Board officially became the Toronto Catholic District School Board on January 1, 1998. With the new Act, the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud was established, and the seven French language schools operated by the Metropolitan Separate School Board (Georges-Ėtienne-Cartier, Sacré-Coeur, Saint-Jean-de-Lalande, Sainte-Madeleine, Sainte-Marguerite-d’Youville, Saint-Noël-Chabanel and Mgr-de-Charbonnel) came under the jurisdiction of the French Catholic school board, ending an era of one school board operating both French and English language schools.
The Province also introduced the Education Quality Improvement Act, which for the first time in the history of Ontario, would provide equal per pupil funding to public and Catholic schools. These two pieces of legislation brought dramatic changes to the operation of schools. The number of trustees was significantly reduced, and their honorarium was capped at $5,000 per year. School boards were no longer allowed to generate revenue through municipal taxes. All funding was provided through government grants, and school boards were no longer permitted to submit deficit budgets.
Many school boards, including TCDSB were faced with difficult decisions in an effort to balance the needs of students with the need to balance their budgets. TCDSB was forced to make significant reductions to staff in many areas, and to reduce spending in areas such as administration.
At the same time, the Province also introduced standardized testing, administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office beginning in 1998. The testing was intended to assess the success of the new curriculum introduced province-wide in the mid-1990s.
As the Board focused on meeting the challenges of the new curriculum and the new funding model, changing immigration patterns began to slow the growth of enrolment in Toronto’s Catholic schools. Nonetheless, TCDSB opened four new schools during this decade, including its first ever school for the arts.
- Holy Child Catholic School
- St. Dominic Savio Catholic School
- Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School
- Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts
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The Toronto Catholic District School Board celebrates the 50th anniversary of incorporation as the Metropolitan Separate School Board on April 2, 2003.
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Catholic School
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by Robert T. Dixon
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