• Jared Warren

Vocational Education at GCI

When A. P. Gundry was appointed as the new principal of the Galt Collegiate Institute in 1914, a hope existed among the teachers and school trustees that, under his guidance, a vocational education program would be established at the school. The onset of World War I, however, temporarily halted any further progress in turning GCI into a vocational school until the following decade when the Board of Trustees, in 1922, called for tentative plans for a new school building that would comprise of additional classrooms for machine shop and woodworking, drafting, cookery, dress-making and millinery, as well as improved science laboratories, an assembly hall and gymnasium.

Funding for the new building was approved in November 1922 and the contractors began work shortly thereafter. By August 1925, construction was complete and the last payment made. The Galt Collegiate Institute was now a Vocational School.

Machine Shop Classroom at Galt Collegiate Institute, 1924. (GCI Archives).

Educators already recognized the growing necessity of vocational and manual training programs by the end of the 19th century. Galt, for example, was expanding in terms of population and industry, and skilled labourers were increasingly required as technological innovations of past decades caused apprenticeship opportunities to dwindle. Early advocates of vocational classes, however, faced opposition from educators who wanted to preserve the academic tradition of high schools and instead settled, initially, for the introduction of evening classes or financing the construction of specially made technical schools.

Mindsets changed steadily as industrial towns grew and the need for skilled labourers became greater. Finding employment as a school drop-out was increasingly difficult. Beginning in 1911, a series of federal and provincial acts were initiated to provide financial support to new manual and vocational programs in Ontario public schools. Immediately following the First World War, the federal government passed the Technical Education Act, which appropriated $10 million "for any form of vocational, technical, or industrial education which would promote industrial development or enhance the lives and/or contributions of the workers." High schools took advantage of the available funds to offer vocational courses and, coupled with increased attendance brought on by new compulsory attendance laws, ushered in a construction boom that was not matched until four decades later. By 1928, more than a quarter of all Ontario high school students were enrolled in full-time vocational programs, and high schools were being outfitted with additional facilities like cafeterias, gymnasiums, swimming pools, rifle ranges, and metal lockers. The Galt Collegiate Institute was no exception.

Machine Shop Classroom at Galt Collegiate Institute, 1924. (GCI Archives).

Drafting Classroom at Galt Collegiate Institute, June 1926. (GCI Archives).

Vocational education suffered during the Great Depression when available funds from federal and provincial grants was scarce. Consequently, vocational classes were not often outfitted with new equipment. Vocational classrooms at GCI, however, played an essential role during World War II when they were used by the Royal Canadian Navy to train engine room artificers, as well as by the Galt Aircraft School to train technicians to be absorbed by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

High unemployment among unskilled labourers and rising occupational requirements in manufacturing, trade, and service sectors of the economy in the 1960s encouraged the federal government to pass the Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act, which offered financial assistance toward vocational programs and vocational schools. The funds were used by school boards to help build new schools and additions so that, by 1967, 335 new school facilities and 83 additions were constructed in Ontario. In addition, by the end of the decade, Ontario high school students saw the traditional school models of separate Academic, Commercial and Industrial departments disappear with the introduction of the credit system. Under the credit system, students were given greater ability to select courses from either department.


Theodore Michael Christou, Progressive Education: Revisioning and Reframing Ontario's Public Schools, 1919-1942 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 17-18; K. F. Jaffray, "The Galt Collegiate Institute, 1914-1926," Waterloo Historical Society Reports, volume 3: 1922-1927 (1927), pp. 179-184; Robert M. Stamp, Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 43-44, 112-113, 143-147, 203, 222.