In focus

Education for girls

The first school to open in Bytown is a school for girls, established in 1845 in a shed at the back of Grey Sisters of the Cross convent. Soon this school, officially bilingual but unofficially French, welcomes more than 100 girls. These are the same Grey Nuns who acquire land at the corner of Rideau and Waller streets to found the Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur convent in 1869. The Rideau Street Convent, as it is commonly called, offers the French primary school program until 1960, the provincial secondary school program from 1927 to 1971, Grade 13 from 1928 to 1953 and a classical program from 1925 to 1968, in a separate section named Collège Bruyère. Collège Bruyère will be the only Francophone institution in Ontario enabling girls to bridge the gap to higher education.

Domestic and commercial education predominates elsewhere. At the time it is considered necessary to prepare girls for keeping house by offering home economics training. The commercial program provides access to a career working in business and retail. Francophone girls are very popular candidates in the service sector where their bilingualism is already an asset.

In 1923, with the goal of enhancing the professional skills of French-Canadian teachers and the quality of teaching in bilingual schools, the École de pédagogie opens its doors at the University of Ottawa. This institution, which will become the École normale de l’Université d’Ottawa in 1927, serves as a nursery for female vocations in education, where women constitute the majority of the teaching corps. In 1933 it is the turn of the Youville School of Nursing, founded by the Grey Sisters at the Ottawa General Hospital in 1896, to be transferred to the University of Ottawa. Teaching there is bilingual since 1921.

Education for girls plays a very important role in integrating women into the labour market. Without these institutions, their participation in the economic life of Ottawa would have been quite different.