A Century of Ontario Normal School Yearbooks

With many of our students convocating this month, check out the glass display table on the ground floor of the OISE Library for a selection of historical yearbooks from Ontario Normal Schools! The Ontario Historical Education Collection has yearbooks from as early as 1909 and as recently as 1998, from Normal Schools and Teacher’s Colleges across Ontario. A full listing of the yearbooks in our collection may be found in the library catalogue.

Class photo of students attending the Peterborough Normal School, 1918

Today, future teachers study education at universities – but the earliest schools designed to train new teachers were called Normal Schools:

The word Normal signifies ‘according to rule, or principle,’ and is employed to express the systematic teaching of the rudiments of learning. …A Normal School … is a school in which the principles and practice of teaching according to rule are taught and exemplified.

— Dr. Egerton Ryerson, Chief Superintendent of Schools for Upper Canada, November 1, 1847.

The Toronto Normal School, the first in Ontario, was opened in 1847. This school admitted women who were 16 or older and men who were 18 or older, provided they could pass the entrance exam and produce a certificate attesting to their moral character from a member of the clergy.

Normal Schools in this period had strict rules. For example, students were only permitted to lodge in specific, pre-approved boarding houses. There was a strict separation of the sexes, and they were required to pass a medical exam before they could attend classes. Tuition in that period was also very different: in 1897, tuition for a Normal School was only $10 – adjusting for inflation, today that would be about $200!

When the first Normal School opened in 1847, courses of study were only 5 months long before the newly-minted teachers entered the classroom! This did not change until 1903, when the Normal Schools transitioned to a full-year session. A two-year course of study was introduced in 1927, although by the 1960s, this was only required for students who had not completed grade 13 – students with grade 13 enrolled in a one-year session.

In the earliest years of the Normal Schools, teachers were not required to have professional education – this requirement was only instituted after the Toronto Normal School opened, when it became evident that graduates of the program did superior work as teachers.

Class photo of students attending the University of Ottawa Normal School, 1942

As the demand for teachers trained in a Normal School increased, new schools were built. A second Normal School opened in Ottawa in 1875, and a third in London in 1900. 1907 marked the opening of four new Normal Schools (Hamilton, Peterborough, Stratford, and North Bay), and in 1927 the University of Ottawa Normal School was established to provide professional education to teachers in French-language schools. Still more schools were opened following World War II, with another four new Normal Schools established between 1959 and 1963 (Lakeshore, Lakehead, Windsor, and Sudbury).

The course of study in Normal Schools has changed substantially since 1845. The earliest Normal Schools were primarily academic in nature: a review of public school subjects designed to ensure that teachers had the requisite knowledge to pass on to their pupils. In the late 1800s, the focus shifted: emphasis was placed on methods of teaching, intended to prepare teachers to teach. Normal schools in this period were a training school, akin to an apprenticeship. By the 1950s, the focus had again changed: the emphasis was now on learning about child development, and extensive in-classroom experience had been added to their studies.

These books will be on display in the glass table on the ground floor of the OISE Library through the end of June.

Congratulations, 2017 OISE graduates!

About Cassidy Foxcroft

TALint (Toronto Academic Libraries Intern) at the OISE Library | Master of Information (LIS & ARM), 2018 | University of Toronto
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