Early schooling through the years

The first schools in New France were operated by the Catholic Church as were the schools in France. Early French education in the towns of Quebec, in the 1600s, gave way to a system of small French schools that had been established by the French regime, offering basic education mainly to boys, with a strict Catholic framework. More advanced educational pursuits were available to males who wanted to enter the clergy or train in a profession. The College of Jesuits was established in 1635 for males to study classical education and theological training. In 1639, Ursuline nuns established schools for girls that stressed skills, like needlework as well as religious studies. By 1660 the Seminaries de Quebec was founded by Bishop Laval now known as Laval University. Catholic missionaries also played a large role in the education of New France.

In the aftermath of the Conquest, and following the American Revolution and the Napoleonic wars Quebec became a British colony. Between the years of 1759-60, efforts to establish a modern school system outside the religious authorities were unsuccessful. The belief was that the Catholic Church framework on education was the appropriate manner in which to transmit the necessary values to sustain the French-Canadian community.

At the instigation of the Protestant bishop, Jacob Mountain proposed a new educational system project. On his recommendations of the 1801 commission of inquiry into education, an Act for the establishment of free schools in each parish and a higher education institution to oversee everything was proposed; however, the government had no jurisdiction over private schools and those belonging to religious communities.

The purpose of the higher institution called the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning was that the State would become responsible for public education and was not only to provide advanced level of learning but also to guide and direct the destinies of elementary school both for the French and English in the Lower Canada parishes.

The Legislative Assembly adopted in 1801 the first school law which would guide the destinies of education in Lower Canada and it was the start of government intervention in school affairs to the disadvantage of clerical power. This new school system was badly perceived by the French speakers and did not receive their approval and it was a failure. Unlike the French speakers, English speakers took advantage in the early years of this Government assistance of learning whenever it was available.

There was intense pressure from the Catholic clergy, and the Parliament of Lower Canada adopted in 1824 the Vestry School Act, (La loi des fabriques). The Act intended parish priests and churchwardens to become responsible for the construction and management of elementary schools with little funding provided from the state. At this time there is little mention concerning the importance of education especially in rural areas of Quebec where money was scarce.