The birth of the tradition
The oldest independent girls’ boarding school in Canada is Bishop Strachan School, founded in Toronto 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, an 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 were also extremely influential. In Canadian education, girls’ schools were the leading edge of a focus on individual growth and expression. Throuughout their history, they sought to to provide, in the words of Deryn Lavell, the current head of school at Bishop Strachan School, “an opportunity for each girl to understand who she is, her place in the world, to become an independent young woman, to have a chance to learn leadership skills, [and] to find a voice in a multiplicity of voices.”
The benefit of gender-based instruction
Gender-based environments receive a lot of attention among parents and in the national media, and it’s understandably one of the top questions on parents’ minds when choosing a private school. For girls, that’s especially true, and often for good reason. Despite the advances in the rights of women, traditional gender roles nevertheless are often unwittingly reinforced in academic and extracurricular 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.
Girls’ schools have been shown to have a role in disrupting the 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.
An environment of possibility
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 run 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.
On this page, find a list of girls' schools in Ontario.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many Ontario girls' schools are there?
There are 14 Ontario girls' schools that are Our Kids trusted members.
How much is tuition at Ontario girls' schools?
Tuition fees for Ontario girls' schools range from $350 to $70,625 per year with an average tuition of $32,477 per year.
What’s the largest school?
Of the Ontario girls' schools, the largest is Havergal College with 1000 students in Grades JK to 12.
Are Ontario girls' schools good?
We interviewed both parents and students. You can read reviews about Ontario girls' schools on this page.
Is there a private school expo where I can meet with Ontario girls' schools?
Yes. You can meet with private schools and education experts at the Our Kids Private School Expos held every year in September and October. These events are designed for both parents and students. Find event details and ticket info here.