Looking for an all-girls boarding school? Consider Branksome Hall, a leading all-girls day and boarding school in Toronto.
While boys’ schools have a longer tradition in Canada, the things that single-gender schools offer today, in some fundamental ways, reflect the academic tradition that arose within the girls’ institutions. Boarding schools, in particular, have provided leadership in addressing the challenges associated with developing and supporting a diverse student population, and providing students with the skills they'll need for success after graduation.
The oldest independent JK to Grade 12 girls’ boarding school in Canada is Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, founded in 1867. From the beginning, the school was lead by a series of forthright women who had lived at the boundaries social and intellectual life, and experience that they brought to their role as educators. In the 1870s, Mrs. Anne Thomson, then principal of the school, addressed the students at convocation saying “Remember girls, you are not going home to be selfish butterflies of fashion. The Bishop Strachan School has been endeavoring to fit you to become useful and courageous women. I believe you will yet see our universities open to women. Work out your freedom, girls! Knowledge is now no more a fountain seal’d; drink deep!”
Thomson’s views were revolutionary for the time, and they found a welcome home at Bishop Strachan. She became one of a long line of headmistresses who would define the life of the school as challenging and progressive, a place where girls and women would continue to work out their freedom, and drink deep, just as Thomson hoped they might. She travelled to schools in England and the US seeking strategies and techniques to modernize the school’s curriculum. She began a program of financial aid, the first of its kind in Canada, offering bursaries and scholarships to broaden the student base. She worked to create a community with a reputation of achievement, not privilege. During her time, the school sent more students to university than ever before, this at a time when very few women went to university at all.
It was through that kind of forthright leadership that girls’ schools differed most significantly from what was happening elsewhere. While all-boys schools could be brutal in the pursuit of conformity, the girls’ institutions were quietly empowering girls to do more, and to demand more of society as well as themselves. The women who taught at girls’ schools were modern and accomplished, and they imparted the values of education. They lead by example, providing a window onto a world of possibility.
The world that Thomson, Walsh and others worked within is long gone. Yet, while there have been huge advances in the rights of women, traditional gender roles nevertheless are often unwittingly reinforced in academic and extra-curricular settings. Science and technology are more likely to be promoted to boys than to girls; English and the arts are more likely to be promoted to girls than to boys. Athletics, the prom, and many other aspects of student life can reinforce traditional roles and expectations.
Christina Brasco is a scientist, a graduate of Yale University and now a member of GE’s aviation team. There she develops data solutions and applications, and then works with engineers to implement them. Her experience of being a woman participating in fields that are still predominantly male has lead her to take part in mentorship programs, such as Girls Who Code, in order to motivate young women to consider careers in math and science. “The misconception that boys are better at math and science is something many girls have ingrained in their brains from a very young age. As a result, fewer girls elect to take advanced math and science subjects in middle and high school.” She continues:
“Young women who do pursue these subjects often find themselves isolated as one of a very small number of girls in a class, making connecting with their classmates more challenging. Finally, those who pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs after graduation end up in fields that are even more overwhelmingly dominated by men. Overall, girls and women are filtered out of STEM classes and fields in the classroom and the workplace.”
That tendency to skew expectations based on gender is difficult to avoid, both within the classroom and in the larger community of the school. Jessi Klein, head writer for “Inside Amy Schumer” has said that in her childhood, as now, “the idea of what it means to be a girl [is that] you’re supposed to be this other. You think of ‘female’ as not the primary voice.” That perception can be reinforced, unwittingly and unintentionally, by the daily progress of school life. When the whole school attends a boy’s football playoff game, for example, there is an implication that the boys’ team is the real team, one to which the girls’ team is secondary and ancillary.
Also true is that coed schools more readily reflect societal expectations of girls, something that then carries over into professional life. Caroline Paul was one of the first women on the San Francisco Fire Department, and she wrote about her experience for the New York Times. She worked on a rig in tough area of the city. “I’ve pulled a bloated body from the bay, performed CPR on a baby and crawled down countless smoky hallways.” She expected people to question her physical ability, and perhaps girded herself for that, yet found that the question she heard more than any other was “Aren’t you scared?” She writes that “fear is expected of women. This fear conditioning begins early. Many studies have shown that physical activity — sports, hiking, playing outdoors — is tied to girls’ self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk.”
Boys are typically conditioned to face their fears and to strive to overcome them. Girls, more typically, aren’t. It’s an anecdotal understanding that was supported in a 2015 paper in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. The authors concluded that “girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.” And, as Paul notes, there is a significant cost, well beyond an impact on physical fitness; By unwittingly treating girls as more fragile, we caution them away from important developmental experiences and ultimately “we are failing to prepare them for life.”
“We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, ‘I’m too scared.’”
Still, the fear may not always be superficial, but instead a product of the kinds of expectations we make of girls. Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, and through the experience of teaching girls in that setting she found that while we teach boys to brave, we teach girls to be perfect, something that can discourage creativity and engagement with new tasks and ideas:
“We immediately see in our program our girls' fear of not getting it right, of not being perfect. Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her over and she'll say, "I don't know what code to write." The teacher will look at her screen, and she'll see a blank text editor. If she didn't know any better, she'd think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she'll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn't get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she'd rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”
Saujani believes that part of the teaching task, both in STEM settings and beyond, is to socialize girls to be comfortable with imperfection. “We have to show them that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous.”
Girls' schools continue to provide an opportuity to challenge those kinds of expectations, and to provide girls an opportunity to work outside of them. As such, girls' schools continue to set the agenda in Canadian education by embracing the leadership role that was established by the first girls' schools more than a century ago. A impressive reminder are two alumni of Branksome Hall that appeared on the cover of "The Read," the school's alumni magazine, in 2016. For the first time in the school’s history, the magazine featured two men: Andrew Sprung and Reed Wanless. Both graduated from Branksome in 2004.
“Something about being in a single-sex environment, to a certain extent, allowed me to put off more fundamental questions about my gender and identity,” says Sprung, something he believes was a benefit to his developing sense of self. Rather than feeling a need to define himself, at Branksome he found a space to simply be who he was, to present himself honestly, without the kinds of questioning that may have occurred in other settings.
Wanless agrees. “It’s not easy but you can get through it. If you’re open about yourself, and you trust the people around you a little bit you can become who you are and live a happy life.”
At Branksome both were supported by a program of gender identity, formally and informally. Both Sprung and Wanless found the space to grow into their identities, something that served as as foundation for their later gender transitions.
“This is a continuation of the work we do every day at the school, which is supporting students to be the best they can be,” says Karrie Weinstock, Branksome’s deputy principal. That they were celebrated on the cover of the alumni magazine provided an important message to those within the school community and beyond.
Girls’ schools have been shown to have a role in disrupting patterns and the messages that accrete around an understanding of gender, ability, and possibility. Studies by the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE) and others have shown that girls in a single-sex environment are more likely to explore non-traditional subjects and activities. Absent from boys, girls perceive new areas of opportunity, something that is encouraged by the presence of female mentors and role models. In other ways, participation is the result of little more than the environment itself. To be the best hockey player in the school—rather than the best female hockey player in the school—can provide an added motivation. Girls are more likely to join a robotics club, for example, when they don’t risk being the only girl in the room, or when participation won’t be read as an act of defiance to a perceived status quo. Certainly, that’s the tradition that girls’ schools in Canada continue to this day. It’s not about isolation, it's about providing a space for a greater freedom of interest, engagement, and identity.
 Jessi Klein in interview with David Brancaccio. Esquire Classic Podcast: Esquire Magazine in partnership with PRX Public Radio Exchange. Episode 2. Released October 18, 2015.
 O'Neal, Elizabeth E.; Jodie M. Plumert; Carole Peterson. "Parent–Child Injury Prevention Conversations Following a Trip to the Emergency Department." Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsv070. First published online August 13, 2015.
 Caroline Paul, “Why do we teach girls that it’s cute to be scared?” New York Times. February 21, 2016. p. SR8. Print headline: "It’s Not Cute to Be Scared."
Geoffrey Vendeville. "Exclusive all-girls' school Branksome Hall embraces trans graduates." Toronto Star, January 26, 2016.
Each day we challenge and inspire girls to love learning and to shape a better world."
Branksome Hall (est. 1903)
Branksome Hall is an all girls school in Toronto, from JK to Grade 12, including 56 boarding students. Tuition ranges from $28,995 to $31,245 for day students. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$32,570 to $64,305|
St. Margaret's School (est. 1908)
St. Margaret's School (est. 1908) is an independent school in Victoria, BC, offering empowering education for girls from JK to Grade 12. At SMS, girls don't just get equal opportunity; they get every opportunity. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$14,180 to $65,490|
Trafalgar Castle School (est. 1874)
Located in Whitby, Trafalgar Castle School is an all-girls day and boarding school inspiring students in Grades 4-12. For nearly 150 years, Trafalgar Castle girls have become women of impact. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$22,545 to $59,515|
Queen Margaret's School (est. 1921)
Queen Margaret's School is an independent day/boarding university preparatory school in Duncan, BC. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$6,250 to $46,700|
The Bishop Strachan School (est. 1867)
Located in Toronto, The Bishop Strachan School is Canada's oldest independent JK to Grade 12 day and boarding school for girls, welcoming students from Toronto and around the world. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$32,860 to $62,250|
Havergal College (est. 1894)
Havergal College is an all-girls school in Toronto for students in JK to Grade 12. Preparing Young Women to Make a Difference Since 1894. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$32,750 to $59,875|
The Sacred Heart School of Montreal (est. 1861)
Since 1861, The Sacred Heart School of Montreal, the city’s only all girls English Catholic high school, has been graduating exceptional leaders. Grade 12 will be offered beginning in 2019-2020. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$16,795 to $52,814|
Buffalo Seminary (est. 1851)
Independent day and boarding school for college-bound girls. Our STEAM curriculum is unique, and creative, independent thinking is valued. Located in Buffalo, NY, girls access the best of city living. [View profile]
|Accelerated||US $21,900 to US $52,750|
Our boarding school guide has advice specific to finding boarding schools in Canada. For insights that are more general (on how to evaluate school options) we recommend you review our hub on choosing a school. You can also read our guides to questions to ask private schools and questions students get asked at school interviews.
Private school expos are ideal launching pads for your school-finding journey. All expos are held in the fall at a number of centres across Canada. There are three expos hosted in Ontario, one in Toronto, one in Halton-Peel, and one in Ottawa. Expos are also held each fall in Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary. All are opportunities to speak with administrators from leading boarding schools within the regions in which the expos are held.
Word-of-mouth is another powerful tool in your school-finding arsenal. The Our Kids private school discussion forum allows you to discuss your options and debate topics around gifted education. You can use our community of parents, educational experts, alumni, and schools to help answer your questions and stimulate your thinking.
Attending open houses is obviously a great way to learn more about a school and get a feel for the environment. For some advice on open house visits, go here. For questions to ask that are specific to boarding programs, refer to our main boarding school hub.
Broadly speaking, the cost of boarding reflects the cost private school tuition in general, though with premiums added to cover housing and meals.
Many schools offer financial aid, including scholarships and bursaries. Financial aid is needs-based, and financial aid programs are created as a means of broadening the student base and attracting students, independent of means, who will contribute most to the culture of the school. Generally speaking, the larger and more expensive schools provide the most aid.
You can read more about financial aid and scholarships in our dedicated guide.
Below you'll find the range of costs at all girl baording schools:
|Tuition (boarding school)||Students receiving financial aid||Grade eligibility for financial aid||Avg. aid package size (annual)|
|5%||7 - 12||$15,000|
|$38,600 to $49,300|
|$54,395 to $59,515|
|$42,100 to $55,200||34%||K - 12||$3,000|
|$59,530 to $62,250||7%||7 - 12||$15,000|
|7%||7 - 12||$16,000|
|$52,814||25%||7 - 11||$5,900|
|9 - 12|
|Founding date||Endowment||Admissions rate||Enrollment||Enrollment|
Average class size
Special needs support
|Liberal Arts||International Baccalaureate||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||12 to 22||Withdrawal Assistance||Heavy integration|
|Traditional||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||10 to 20||No support||Medium integration|
|Liberal Arts||Standard-enriched||Supportive||Resource Assistance||Heavy integration|
|Progressive||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||18||No support||Medium integration|
|Progressive||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||16 to 20||No support||Heavy integration|
|Liberal Arts||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||18 to 22||No support||Medium integration|
|Traditional||Standard-enriched||Rigorous||14 to 18||Resource Assistance||Medium integration|
|Liberal Arts||Accelerated||Rigorous||9 to 1||No support||Heavy integration|
|Admission deadline||SSAT required||Interview required||Acceptance rate||Next open house|
|Day: Dec 4, 2015|
|9 - 11||JK - 12||100%|
|Preschool - 12||65%|
|4 - 12||100%|
|Preschool - 12||80%|
|Day: Nov 30, 2018|
|JK - 11||40%|
|Day: Nov 30, 2018|
|7 - 12||JK - 12||50%|
|7 - 11|
|9 - 12||9 - 12||60%|
|Math||Science||Literature||Humanities Social Sciences||Foreign Languages||Fine Arts|
|Traditional Math||Equal Balance|
|Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Creative|
|Traditional Math||Equal Balance||Traditional||Equal Balance||Equal Balance|
|Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Communicative||Equal Balance|
|Traditional Math||Inquiry||Social Justice||Pragmatism||Communicative||Creative|
|Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance|
|Traditional Math||Equal Balance||Traditional||Equal Balance||Communicative||Creative|
|Traditional Math||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance||Equal Balance|
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