• Jared Warren

Founding of the OSSTF

By the end of World War I and into the 1920s, expectations of teachers in Ontario to meet the needs of students in a more modern age, as well as preserve moral values among the new generation of youth in what was increasingly viewed as an alarmingly libertarian era, and in all things be experts in their profession, eventually led to the emergence of professional teachers’ organizations. For one, salary increases during the war did not match the rise in the cost of living, and female teachers continued to earn significantly less than male teachers. Female public school teachers were the first to organize in 1918. Within the next few years, teachers’ federations began to appear in Ontario.

During the Christmas holidays in 1919, high school teachers from Toronto, Hamilton, and Western Ontario met in secret to found the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF). Within a year, about 90 percent of the province’s secondary school teachers were members, despite opposition from government and education officials who opposed “unionism” and conflated it with communism. Conservative citizens’ groups campaigned to defend children from teachers who were suspected of preaching radical ideas.

Staff of the Galt Collegiate Institute, June 1924.

Despite some initial gains towards better salaries in the 1920s, enthusiasm for the movement soon petered out and some members drifted away. Consequently, teachers’ federations found they lacked control over decisions on curriculum, text books, and examinations, which remained firmly in the hands of the Department of Education. It was not until the Teaching Profession Act of 1944 that the teachers’ federations like the OSSTF were legitimized and membership in one of them made mandatory of Ontario teachers.


Robert M. Stamp, The Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 100-104, 180.