Canadian School Uniforms: Regional Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see boys lining up for school in Saskatchewan during 1916. The railroad opened up the province to European immigration. Large numbers of Eastern and Central Europeans took advantage of free land offers to create farms on the prairie of soythern and central Saskatchewan.

Canada is divided into five major regions: the Maritimes (Labrador, New Bruswick, , Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), Quebec, Ontario, the prarie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), and British Colombia. There is also the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, but the populations are very small. Canbada does not have a centrakized educatiin system. Like thge United States, each province have the exclusive responsability for education. The Québec system is really distinct from other provinces. Clothing styles could differ significantly on a regional basis, especially during the 19th century. Outside of Quebec, the rest of Canada has had a strong British influence, and this was very evident in the private schools where uniforms were often required. Public schools generally did not require uniforms and boys tended to primarily wear American-styled clothing.

New Bruswick

A Canadian reader reports, "I think I have a photo or two, they may be postcards, I'm not sure, of a local private school here in Saint John. It was a boys only school, later it would be combined with the nearby girls private school. As far as the average public school wear, most of the photos I have are at a distance. The photographer was more interested in the building than the pupils, but I have some shots of inside classes too. Odd, but I have never seen any old photos of students in the hallways of schools." [HBC Note: Two factors are involved here. One early photographers were often more interested in the buildings than the children. In many cases the children were ckeared out of the way to take the photograoph. Another factor is the inadequacies of eraly film. Slow speeds meant the children had to hold still. Note how often they are formally posed at their desks with their hands folded and not working.]

Nova Scotia

The major fortification in Halifax is called "The Citadel". They have a program for school children to expereince what life was like in the fort during the 19th century for the soldiers nd their children. The clas is sent photographs and written material to prepare them for the visit. She describes the actual visit, "My students attended an enactment of a school session. The boys dressed up in kilts, and the girls wore smocks. They wrote on individual blackboards in a room dimly lit with kerosene lamps. They saw a slide show which told the story of a child from the period, and sang a song in honour of Queen Victoria." HBC does not, however, how common it was for boys in Nova Scotia to wear kilts in the 19th century. Available images from the 1920s show the boys commonly wearing short pants and knickers.


A HBC reader writes, "I went to a boys' private school in Toronto and we wore a traditional British school uniform. These are still worn today, but caps are no longer worn. My school was the Crescent School. Some older pictures on the wall of the school from the 1930s up to the 1950s show boys in very traditional British uniforms wearing green blazers with white piping and the school crest on the pocket, white shirt, green and white striped ties, green and white striped English-style school caps, grey shorts, grey knee socks and black shoes. Even with the cold winters, the younger boys wore shorts and the older boys wore long trousers. By the 1970s, when I was there, the uniform was modified to consist of long grey trousers for all ages, white shirt, green and white striped tie and green blazer (with no piping) and the school crest on the pocket and black shoes. Caps and shorts were abolished. This style of uniform is common to all private schools in Ontario. The Crescent School has a green blazer, Upper Canada College has a navy blue blazer and Royal St. George's School has a red blazer, all containing the school crest on the pocket. During the hot weather in June, the boys are now allowed to wear a less formal uniform consisting of optional grey shorts with a white golf shirt with the school crest on it instead of the usual white buttoned shirt and school tie. This is a very recent development. This type of more informal design is also slowly being adopted in some public elementary schools."

Prince Edward Island

Many Americans will be familiar with schoolwear at the turn of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island because it was the setting for the Ann of Green Gables books which do provide an accurate description of clothing and there are many school episodes. Of course the many TV and productions vary in accuracy.


There are some special aspects to schools in Québec. The Province has both English-language and French-language schools. Both are under province jurisdiction. Québec as a state is oficially unilingual French. Advertizing in in French only. Other provinces of Canada are unilingual in English. [HBC is not sure that the other provinces have laws prohibiting French advertising.] New Brunswick is the only province that is bilingual. There are in Québec separate schools for French and English speakers, but religion is not a factor. In hospitals you can be cured in both languages. Those who are English-speaking from at least one parent go to English schools. But any immigrants go automatically to French schools. But after secondary school, an immigrant can attend an English-language CEGEP and also an English-language university like McGill, Concordia, or Bishop. They are also open to French speakers who want to study in English. Also any English speaker can attend a French-language university where all the work is done in French. We have only limited information on school clothing at this time. HBC has no indication that French boys in Québec wore smocks to school as was common in France. Smocks may have, however, been worn at orphanage run by French nuns in the early 20th century. The limited number of images that we have suggest that the children into the 1950s dressed rather formally for school. Boys in the 1920s were wearing knicker suits with long stockings. Boys in the 1950s were wearing short pants suits and kneesocks.


Saskatchewan is the middle of Canada's three prairie provinces. It has important mineral and timber resources, especiallyin the north and extensive agricultural development in the south. There are numerous rivers and lakes. The province was first explored by Europeans in the late 17th century. The French by the mid-18th century had established in the mid-18th century, butvsoon after the British seized Canada from the French. The fur industry was conducted by the North West and Hudson Bay Companies which essentially governed the territory. Canada's rise to Dominion status brought territorial rights (1869). Saskatchewan was at first part of the Northwest Territory. Louis Riel staged a rebellion (1884-85). The Canadian Pacific Railroad reached Saskatchewan (1882). Free land grants attracted European immigration. The children of some of those immigrants can be seen here (figure 1). The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation played an important role to promate farm and labor legislation.


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Created: 7:39 PM 8/8/2005
Last updated: 7:39 PM 8/8/2005