Separate schools

When the first Oblates arrive in Bytown, there are not yet any French schools in the settlement. The Grey Nuns of the Cross establish the first school for girls in 1845, and another in 1848. But there is no school for boys – not until Msgr Guigues, Bishop of Bytown, creates the College of Bytown the same year. At the outset, he seeks to integrate the first “bilingual” schools, as they were then called, into the new Bytown school board, and multiplies interventions to this end. But when he finds himself unable to secure sustainable funding for them, he changes tactics to promote separate schools for Francophones in Ottawa.

The first board of separate schools in Ottawa is formed at his initiative in January 1857. It offers eight classes the following fall. Four are located at the new College of Bytown site in Sandy Hill, with the remaining four soon accommodated in a new school Msgr Guigues builds in Lowertown in 1860: the Notre-Dame School. Later renamed the Guigues School, it is well known for its role in opposition to Regulation 17.

The number of separate schools increases rapidly in Ottawa. They grow from four in 1865 to eleven in 1894, six of them under the sole management of the Grey Nuns. At the time, they also operate high schools, including the Rideau Street Convent, the Académie d’Youville and the Académie Sainte-Marie. Pressured by Msgr Guigues to come and work in the region, the Brothers of the Christian Schools play an equivalent role on behalf of boys.

The first bishop of Ottawa exercises incontestable leadership in establishing a network of French schools in Ottawa. According to historian Robert Choquette, he favoured separate schools, less because of religious conviction than because of Anglophone hostility toward French education. The system of separate schools allows them to be exempted from Anglophone influence. His successor, Msgr Joseph-Thomas Duhamel, defends these schools for a completely differentreasons, believing that “the future of the country and of religion depends entirely ... on the good or the bad education that the youth will receive.”1 The instructions to his clergy are, in this respect, very clear:

It is important that children and youth be educated by Catholic teachers, that education be given and received in schools where the authority of the Church is recognized and respected, the influence of religion felt, and pastoral supervision accepted.2

 Over time, separate schools adopt a variety of mechanisms to fulfill their religious mission.

1 Cited by Robert Choquette, L’Église catholique dans l’Ontario français du dix-neuvième siècle, Ottawa,University ofOttawa Press, 1984, p. 308 (translated from the original).

2 Cited by Robert Choquette, L’Église catholique dans l’Ontario français du dix-neuvième siècle, p. 309 (translated from the original).


Provincial French Competition, winner Gilles Provost, Ottawa, 1953.

Source: University of Ottawa, CRCCF, Fonds Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario (C2), Ph2-864.

Black and white photograph of four male teens in front of a brick building. Their eyes are turned toward a baseball held  by one of the boys, who is straddling a bicycle. They are dressed in suits and ties. Three of the boys hold books. The fourth holds a baseball bat and glove.