• Jared Warren


When the Galt Grammar School was founded in 1852, only two courses of study were originally advertised and offered: Classics and English for $4 per quarter, and English alone for $3 per quarter. In the realm of education, Classics refers to the study of the language and literature of Ancient Greece and Rome, which includes the translation and recitation of works of the great philosophers and historians of antiquity from the original Greek or Latin into English. In the 19th century, the study of Classics was seen as the ideal means to train the mind to meet the needs of all fields of study, and constituted what was called a "liberal education." Students who were classically trained were considered gentlemen, distinguished and refined, and had a special claim to political and social leadership. In Upper Canada, schools that offered Classics were generally named grammar schools, as opposed to common schools, which generally taught the rudiments of English and Mathematics.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th century, a classical education was required for entry to universities in Britain and Canada. Any student who possessed a knowledge of Classics, especially Latin, had the opportunity to proceed to university and acquire a learned profession in fields such as law and medicine. Initially, a number of educators overwhelming endorsed the status of Classics in education. Egerton Ryerson in the provincial Department of Education made daily attendance in Classics a crucial prerequisite for grammar schools to receive funding from the government in 1865. However, by this time there also existed criticisms of Classics' exalted place in higher education: beginning in the 1850s, educators in steadily increasing numbers criticized the supremacy of Classics in the curriculum until, ultimately, the subject had to share its position with studies in English, Mathematics, Science, and History, which by the end of the 19th century reconstituted a "liberal education." Classics, however, remained a requirement for admission to university.

Latin would eventually dominate in the study of Classics over the next few decades. But by the 1930s, education reform included the further displacement of Latin as a requirement for university. By this time, Latin was widely viewed as unnecessary, elitist and restrictive while other subjects more ably demonstrated their utility in the modern era. Despite continued attempts to argue its usefulness in building the minds of high school students, by mid-decade it was clear that Latin could not be made compulsory in secondary schools. Furthermore, by 1938, Latin was no longer a requirement for entrance to university provided a student had a knowledge of French or Mathematics.

Galt Collegiate Institute and Vocational School (GCI) continued to offer classes in Latin up until at least the 1970s. However, each decade from the 1930s saw fewer students enrolled. Those with intentions to proceed directly to university after high school were more likely to take a course in Latin, particularly if they were planning to study law or medicine.

Today, the study of classical languages and literature remains in Ontario's high school curriculum as an elective course. It is not widely available to students, however, because of the lack of teachers trained in Ancient Greek or Latin, in addition to scheduling conflicts and its perceived irrelevance in the 21st century. Since 1994, the number of Ontario high schools offering courses in Latin dropped from 159 to 60 by 2010.


Kate Allen, "Latin lovers fight to keep the language in Ontario schools," The Star, 28 December 2010, accessed 31 August 2019,; Theodore Michael Christou, Progressive Education: Revisioning and Reframing Ontario's Public Schools, 1919-1942 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 104-114; R. D. Gidney & W. P. J. Millar, Inventing Secondary Education: The Rise of the High School in Nineteenth-Century Ontario (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990), pp. 14, 15, 167; T. H. Wholton, One Hundred Years: An Outline of the History of the Galt Collegiate Institute and Vocational School (1952), p. 1.