Although compulsory attendance laws had existed at the time the Ontario Department of Education was created in 1871, by the following decade it was evident that those laws did not succeed in enforcing urban children to attend their classes. In 1887, just 50 percent of school-age children in Ontario were regularly enrolled, due in part to job opportunities in milling and manufacturing towns open to children labourers. In the early 1880s, for example, an estimated 11 percent of the Toronto work force were children. Children worked as many hours as adults, but were ideal for employers because they were paid lower wages for menial labour.
Beginning in 1891, Ontario legislation required children between 8 and 14 years of age to attend schools. Truant officers were appointed and given permission by the provincial government to enter factories and shops where children were employed to enforce the attendance laws. Overtime, more children began to regularly attend school as employment opportunities declined and classrooms became more accommodating. In addition, parents became more aware of the economic value of education for their children and family.
In 1921, the Adolescent School Attendance Act increased the age of compulsory attendance to 16 for children from urban areas, but exemptions were common. Legislation was still not strictly enforced depending on the circumstances of the child and the child's family. In fact, many children and their employers disregarded legislation to enter the workforce during World War II.
Jean Barman, "Child Labour," Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed June 19, 2019, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/child-labour; Robert M. Stamp, The Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 37-39.