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Black Studies

Black Segregated Schools in Ontario

Colchester Township South School District, 1842

A class at S.S. no. 13 at North Buxton Date, 1910

Children in front of the Marble Village Coloured School Date, 1900

Leonard Braithwaite, Ontario’s first Black MPP, 1963. He precipitated events that led to the repeal of the Separate Schools Law that permitted racial segregation in Ontario.

Project Overview

This annotated bibliography is an extension of a Community Engaged Learning and Teaching initiative, developed by Dr. Anne-Marie Singh and Dr. Reena Tandon, for the CRM 206 ‘Race, Ethnicity and Justice’ course of Winter 2021. The project created a collaborative space, within a virtual learning context, for students to critically examine racially segregated schools in what is now ONT and the role of this University’s namesake in developing legislation that made possible the legal exclusion of Black children from public education.

Funding from the Faculty of Arts is gratefully acknowledged and enabled the summer hiring of three students from the CRM206 course to assist with this bibliography.

Joycelynn Brar (Criminology, undergraduate student)
Debra Budhoo (BA, Criminology)
Julia Caputo (Criminology, undergraduate student)

Annotated Bibliography (selected sources)

Cooper, A. (1991). The Search for Mary Bibb, Black Woman Teacher in Nineteenth-Century Canada West. Ontario History, 83 (1): 39-50.

Mary Bibb, a Black female educator, was an influential figure in the Black community of Canada West during the mid-19th century. She was a teacher at public and private segregated schools in Sandwich (p.42), Windsor (p.49) and in the American North and Northeast (p.44). When Mary and her husband Henry arrived in Canada West from the U.S., the segregated school provision in the Common Schools Act (1850) had just been enacted. Government funding for Black schools was insufficient or non-existent and parents often could not afford to pay student fees. Bibb’s “entrepreneurial spirit” (p.47) led her to open a school for Black children initially located in her home in Sandwich. Under-resourced from the outset, Bibb’s private school soon closed. She later became a teacher at a government segregated school in Sandwich. Cooper discusses the complexity of writing the life history of prominent Black women leaders. Little is known of Bibb’s life except as it relates to her husband’s activities, and even then the historical record is inaccurate. 


Hepburn, S. A. (1999). Following the North Star: Canada as a Haven for Nineteenth-Century American Blacks. Michigan Historical Review, 25(2): 91-126.

Hepburn discusses the possibilities Canada presented to Black Americans fleeing from slavery and racism despite the prejudice and segregation practices they encountered in their new home. The article examines segregated schools in Ontario (p.118-121) as provided by the Common Schools Act (1850) which Ryerson, as Superintendent of Education, played a key role in. Although the Act did not mandate segregated schools, it provided white parents and school officials a way to refuse black pupils access to their schools (e.g. in Amherstburg p.118; Simcoe p. 119; and Dresden p. 120). Hepburn documents Ryerson’s inability and/or failure to protect Black educational rights. Ryerson superficially upheld the notion of British egalitarianism declaring that Black parents “have the same right of access [to education]” as their white counterparts (p. 119). While separate education based on race was legally sanctioned in Ontario, not all school districts had segregated schools. Buxton’s integrated schools (p. 120-1) were exceptions to the norm but for Hepburn, this illustrates that Canada was a haven for Black Americans.  


Knight, H. (2019). Imagining Institutions of Man: Constructions of the Human in the Foundations of Ontario Public Schooling Curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 49(1): 90-109.

Using Sylvia Wynter’s description of ‘Man’, Knight focuses on the historical and philosophical context structuring Ryerson’s plan for public education in the province.  Knight argues that the image of ‘Man’ underpinned Ryerson’s assumption of the ‘universal child’ who could be moulded into a civilized adult only through state-directed education (p.104-5). Ryerson’s view of the ‘universal child’ mirrored the image of ‘Man’ -- white, English-speaking, able-bodied, upper-class male (p.99). The figure of ‘Man-as-human’, coupled with white supremacism, led to the violent exclusion of Black students from common schools. The differentiation and segregation of these children further embraced settler colonialism and illustrated the significant role Ryerson played in strengthening British imperialism and encouraging systemic anti-Black racism. Ryerson’s proposals for separate school systems for Black (1850), Indigenous (1847), indigent (1862) and disabled (1868) children were intended to confirm and maintain their subhuman status, their exclusion from the category of ‘Man’. 


Putman, J. H., (1912). Egerton Ryerson and Education in Upper Canada. Toronto: W. Briggs.  

Written in 1912 when Putman was Inspector of Public Schools for Ontario, this book details the history of school legislation and in particular, Ryerson’s role and influence. Chp. 1 offers a biographical account of Ryerson’s life. Chapters 2-4 provide an overview of education in Upper Canada from 1783-1844, before Ryerson’s appointment as Superintendent of Education. The remaining chapters address Ryerson’s educational reforms. Chapter 8 (p.173-203) examines the historical origins and development of segregated schools in Ontario. Putman addresses the colonial and Euro-centric ideologies underpinning all of the educational policies, legislation and amendments made by Ryerson as Superintendent, and later Chief Superintendent, of Education. This chapter specifically focuses on Ryerson’s direct role in the discriminatory state-led exclusion of Black, Indigenous, disabled and female students from public education. 


Shadd, A. (2007). No "Back Alley Clique": The Campaign to Desegregate Chatham's Public Schools, 1891-1893. Ontario History, 99(1): 77-95.

The author is a descendant of the well known abolitionist Shadd family and is writing about her own family’s history. Using a chronological narrative structure, Shadd documents the two-year struggle to desegregate Chatham’s public schools. In 1891, Black residents of Chatham formed the Kent County Civil Rights League to fight for equal treatment under Canadian law (p. 81). The first issue they tackled was the right to equal education. King Street was the only public school to admit Black students. Located in the far east end of town, the segregated school was largely inaccessible and poorly attended. In 1893, Chatham schools were desegregated due to the League’s legal and political activism. The article draws on a range of archival materials including a 1852 letter from the Committee of Coloured Citizens of Chatham to Ryerson outlining how the (in)actions of white school officials left 100 Black children without access to any schools (p. 85).  Also included is an archival image of students in an integrated class (p. 93).


Winks, R.W. (1969). Negro school segregation in Ontario and Nova Scotia. The Canadian Historical Review, 50(2): 164-191.

Winks examines Ryerson’s role in the creation of Black segregated schools in Ontario. Ryerson is depicted as a politician whose personal opinions had to be set aside for the Christian majority and to maintain his position of power.  Described as a “genuine friend to the Negro”, Ryerson nonetheless sanctioned segregated schools to appease the white majority and to prove that British institutions did not “deprive” humans of their rights on the basis of race (p.174). Petitions and letters from members of the Black community outlining their grievances and demanding better school funding and desegregation received a sympathetic hearing from Ryerson though he would offer “no satisfactory remedy” (pg.174). Ryerson’s complacency and support for separate schools was criticized by the Black community and by abolitionists in both Ontario and America (p.178). Winks notes that while school segregation generated little debate in the Ontario legislature, significant battles were waged in the courts as Black parents sought confirmation of the right to access public education. 


This infographic looks at anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in public education in Ontario