Author: Jennifer McCulloch

Publication Date: 2009

Edited: 2022



Historic Guelph V48P70Last Boy Scout Troop, Guelph, circa 1905.

(Photo courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, Group Photo of 1st Boy Scout Troop, Guelph, ca. 1905 (C6-0000948)).


A strategic and progressive militarization of boys occurred within Ontario's school system from the late-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century, in order to instill the proper values and physical substance in the adults of the future. The objectives were to substantially improve physical and mental characteristics and to expand upon,


"A realization that the first duty of a free citizen is to be prepared to defend his country... special importance is to be attached to the teaching of military drill generally to all boys."1


Guelph, Ontario was among the communities where this agenda represented the purposeful construction of gender by the education system to pre-ordain boys - from the elementary school level through to the high school level - to become future soldiers in order to assist the nation. Foreign wars had profound effects on the education of children in that education was no longer just about creating 'proper' manly-men and 'docile' women as in the past. Concerns with military conflict prompted the Ontario school system to include in its pedagogical objectives the creation of future soldiers. This objective became increasingly important in the school system. This goal was often achieved with the influence of outside forces, such as the Federal Department of Militia and local organized groups. Moreover, the aspiration to create young soldiers within the education system involved a series of developments and shifts which spanned the late-nineteenth to the early-twentieth centuries in Ontario.


Historians have often focused on militarism within Ontario public schools, but they are sometimes forced to overlook important details due to a lack of available primary sources. For example, research related to this topic in Kitchener and Waterloo is difficult due to the decision of the local public school board to burn archival materials. The study of Guelph is easier due to the availability of school-related archival and secondary research sources that contribute substantially to the understanding of the process of the militarization of boys within the school system. In Guelph, this process was due to an adherence to the Strathcona Trust and the popularity of military drill via cadet corps. This essay will place developments in Guelph within the context of regional trends in south-western Ontario from 1857 to 1937.


Even before Confederation, the objective of the militarization of boys began mostly with the desire to produce proper citizens, which was then transformed into the desire to create future soldiers. The initiatives of this program were intentional and desired to,


"Inculcate virtues of physical courage, self-reliance, sportsmanship, and loyalty in young boys."2


Canadian government records demonstrate that the debate over military drill in the public school system actually began in 1857. There were many reasons why this issue was brought up in the House of Commons at that time, including funding, defense, and the obvious lack of physical development among Canada's young men, especially when compared to those of Britain and the United States.3 These concerns were supported by the Minister of Militia and Defense Egerton Ryerson, whose idea it was to inject, through government funding, military drill in the school system, specifically in the province's grammar schools.4 The creation of the Royal Military College in 1874 facilitated the move to militarism in Ontarian society, and also created an awareness of the lack of military training among young boys in the public school system.5 It was not until 1877, in the wake of the American Civil War that the Department of Education recognized that military drill could be a useful asset to the school system and thus, the future of the country.6 This same pattern was apparent in Canada in the wake of the Boer War, as it became evident that Canada would soon need to adopt its own military identity.7 Thus, physical fitness became a priority within the Ontario school system in order to encourage young boys to pursue a physical lifestyle so that they could fulfill their future military role.


The construction of 'masculinity' is representative of the culture, ideas, traits, and practices of a specific time and place.8 In order to understand how and why young boys were targeted within the school system, it is imperative to understand what masculinity and militarism were in the early-twentieth century and how they were then applied to the school system. Historian Mark Howard Moss addresses the concept of Britain being Canada's mother country and how this, in theory, affected the values and ideas of a young Canada.9 This dependence on Britain had a strong impact on the citizens of Ontario with regard to the rearing of their children to be proper citizens in accordance with the British Victorian 'cult of manliness.' This cult contained certain values and social behaviours that men were expected to follow, including a certain temper and a code of conduct.10 These guidelines were influenced by the church, government, and media and, not surprisingly, they were then applied to education. At the turn of the century, 'masculinity' within the school system consisted of patriotism, discipline, and good work habits - children were seen as future adults and would therefore need to possess useful skills for later in life. In the late-nineteenth century, G. Stanley Hall was an influential figure in educational philosophy and policy. He believed that education should adapt to the complex nature of boyhood and that it should incorporate activities that would appeal to boys' 'primitive instincts,' such as boxing and camping.11 These aspects contributed to the growing awareness of masculine boy culture as it would be considered and recognized in many further events.


The increasing construction of masculinity had many side effects and brought to life fears regarding the rearing of children in individual homes and in school systems. Parents wanted their children to grow up to be model citizens and they feared a perceived rising tide of juvenile delinquency. Thus, increased militarization with its emphasis on discipline and respect for authority was viewed as a positive force. Similarly, parents and educators supported the associations and groups that emerged in the late-nineteenth century, including the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and sporting teams, which were designed to deter good young boys from becoming bad young boys.


The Boy Scouts of Canada date from the turn of the twentieth century and focused on young boys and the encouragement of physical fitness and respect for God, King, and Country. Lord Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys Handbook was well-received in Galt, Ontario, when its first official troops were assembled in 1908.12 The influence of war increased the popularity of the Boy Scouts, as parents became worried about the future of their children, and their country as a whole. A Galt resident, the father of Edward Willard, was concerned for his son's well-being during the Great War due to his vulnerability, as evident in his permit sheet to join the organization.13 This sheet allowed young Edward to join the Boy Scouts in Galt on July 16, 1915, demonstrating that the middle class was concerned for their children during the Great War. Publications with militaristic overtones increasingly became evident at this time as well. Guelph published its own magazine, The Canadian Boy, which included a monthly column highlighting the success and camaraderie of another youth organization, the Boys' Brigade.14 Both organizations reinforced the idea of the perfect future citizen and had regimens that ultimately contributed to the militarization of young boys in Ontario.


Groups such as the Scouts and the Boys' Brigade, came to represent a means of guaranteeing a healthy and law-abiding citizen. Therefore, if boys could be corralled into this training through the implementation of the same activities in the school system, then the chances of these children becoming perfect future citizens would increase.15 A push for military drill also protected boys from effeminate tendencies as identified in a Guelph Mercury editorial:


"Without drill... we will be seeing in Canada... afternoon classes for boys in crochet work and knitting."16


Such sentiments contributed to the militarization of young boys within the public school system as the targeting of masculinity increasingly developed into an emphasis on military drill and training in Ontario schools.


The issue of why scouting and military movements took place in schools must also be addressed in order to understand why the desire to create future citizens transformed into the desire to create future soldiers. It is apparent that even by the early-twentieth century, schools were seen as unable to teach young children how to be proper citizens. Governor-General Earl Grey summarized this point in a speech on school training, as reported in The Globe on December 23, 1910, when outlining the criticisms of the average public school,


"The Scout movement tends to supplement the insufficienty of our educational system by implanting in your boys the ideals they do not seem to learn in their schools... which... promises to be a real blessing to this country."17 


It is therefore obvious that even before the Great War broke out in 1914, there was a belief that the school system was inadequate to produce young soldiers and proper citizens of the future.


While the Scouting movement and other forces were attempting to create future soldiers, the Ministry of Education was hard at work injecting militaristic aspects into the school system. By 1871, the first military training was introduced into the curriculum under a provision of the School Act of that year. This act led to the formation of cadet corps in high schools and vocational institutes, a short step away from including public elementary schools.18 In 1862, Drill Associations were also created and marked the origins of the Canadian Cadet Movement.19


In the late-nineteenth century, Cadets Corps consisted of boys aged 13 and older. Thirty-four cadet groups were established in Ontario by 1879. Certain events in Canada, such as the Riel Rebellion 1885, led to the growth in the number of drill clubs.20 In 1909, the Cadet Instructors Cadre emerged within the militia and consisted primarily of school teachers, but was later disbanded.21 The creation of this cadre demonstrates the association of militarism and the school system in the early part of the century and the influence of male teachers on the children. It is clear that many factors influenced the introduction of militarism in the school system and that it occurred prior to the World Wars.


Historic Guelph V48P75

Photo courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, 1st Boy Scout Troop, [L9-?] (F5-03213).


None of the previous development within the school system, nor external influences, had the same effect as the Strathcona Trust on the introduction of militarization within the school system. The Trust as the first national program of physical education introduced in 1909, represented the frugal beginnings of government-sponsored, militarily-influenced physical education in the public school system with regard to young boys, and to a lesser extent girls. Correctly named, the Strathcona fruit for the Encouragement of Physical and Military Training in the Public schools of Canada, The Trust represented not only a financial fund, but a new curriculum which would establish a clear relationship between the Ontario Ministry of Education and the federal Department of Militia.22 After much consideration of the military position of Canada, it was evident to Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia, that a cadet program for young children within the school system was the only way to ensure that Canada would be ready for Britain's call to war.23 A donation of 500,000 dollars by the Right Honourable Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom, would allow Borden to implement his dream since Lord Strathcona was,


"Particularly anxious that the special value of military drills... bring up the boys to patriotism and to a realization that the first duty of a free citizen is to be prepared to defend his country."24


Borden had great faith that the Government of Ontario would adopt the Trust and spread its benefits across the province. This was not the case since Premier James P. Whitney did not originally accept the terms of the Strathcona Trust. Due to Whitney's lack of support, the conditions of the Trust were re-written to allow the Ministry of Education to have more power. These new terms would later be accepted by Whitney.25


It is evident that the Trust, with its emphasis on cadet training, was not implemented exclusively to increase the physical fitness of young children in school, but that it was directly targeting boys to create the soldiers of the future. The Syllabus of Physical Exercises for Schools issued by the Executive Council of the Strathcona Trust portrays the program as one, "With a view to preserving uniformity in instruction of Physical Training in the Public Schools of the Dominion."26 The outward appearance of the Trust was of a beneficial program that would allow youth to be influenced in a strategic way to create health and vibrant young men, instead of as a program to contort boys into Canada's militaristic future. The increasing importance of military training within the school system is evident in the salary increase of drill instructors which went from three-hundred dollars in 1909 to five-hundred dollars by 1913.27 By 1912, Guelph Collegiate Institute had its own drill sergeant, Captain Jones, who began to circulate among classes to teach physical activities to the students. The school inspector believed that there were advantages to having military drill within the school system because he observed the formation of, "Manly, self-reliant, and unselfish characteristics," among the boys.28 By 1913, teachers were beginning to receive their own training in physical exercise, and it was noted by the inspector that the Strathcona Trust had been distributed roughly by school population. The Trust was not large, but it was to encourage school boards to do everything in their power to promote physical education and to get the school system to adhere as closely as possible to the Strathcona movement.29


Part of the funding from the Trust was reserved to fund prizes for those groups and individuals who demonstrated exceptional physical and military skill. The cadets of Guelph were substantially rewarded after being inspected by an officer from military headquarters and were complimented on their appearance and the skill of their drill.30 The monetary prizes given to outstanding youthful military demonstration indicate that incentives were introduced to influence the militarization of boys across Canada. The introduction of the Strathcona Trust was not accepted by everyone, but it is evident that it did contribute substantially to the militarization of boys that occurred in the Ontario public school system.


With the implications of the Trust now obvious, it is important to recognize what this, as well as previous militarization, meant for Ontario's youth within the school system. The examination of wartime propaganda reveals a pattern of intent to recruit 'boys' into the war effort, which can be interpreted as a proposal for young boys to enlist in the glorious army in the future. Wartime propaganda released to the public in 1914 often demonstrates young men eager and excited to go to war. It is no coincidence that the young men in one poster were dressed in uniforms similar to those of the Highland Cadets of Guelph.


It should also be noted that the language used in wartime propaganda was directed at young men, by utilizing and glorifying the words "Boys," such as, "Line Up Boys! Enlist Today," and, "Boys Come Over Here - You're Wanted," are phrases found on two wartime posters which can be interpreted both as appeals to boys old enough to enlist and to those not old enough to enlist to continue their military school training. 


Historic Guelph V48P77

Image Left: "Boys come over here, you're wanted," [United Kingdom] 1914-1918.

Image Right: "Line up boys! Enlist to-day," [United Kingdom] 1914-1918.

(Photos courtesy of the Archive of Ontario).


Those who had not gone to war were still subject to the war, and the discourse surrounding it. According to the Wellington County School Board, teachers were required to instruct the students on the events of the war and to make it part of all history classes and exams.32 It is also evident that at this time many young boys left school before the examination period to assist in the war effort at home. Special provisions allowed young men to leave school and still graduate as long as they had worked for a total of eight months. Between 1916 and 1918, a total of 626 pupils left Guelph public schools under the belief that their efforts at home would contribute to the war effort, something that they were unable to do on the frontlines at their age. This suggests that the importance of participating in war - whether as a soldier or as a home front worker - was instilled into young boys by the school system.


Post-WWI Ontario public school students were also subjected to militarism due to the results of the war and the actions that followed. Many teachers served in the Great War, as demonstrated in The Roll of Honour of the Ontario Teachers who Served in the Great War, which was issued by the Minister of Education.33 Here, teachers were honoured for their role in the war, especially those who lost their lives, and this resulted in even greater emphasis being put on young boys in the educational system. These honoured men were publicly recognized for their heroism, and would therefore have created a link between the students, the war, and the heroes who fought for their country; thereby reinforcing the prestigious role of militarism within the school system. A school in Guelph was created out of the excitement of a victorious war, 'Victory School,' erected in 1919, which is now called Victory Public School. Children who attended this school were instilled with the ideals of a victorious allied effort and that with dedication they too could become soldiers of the future.34 Some high schools contain rifle ranges today as mementoes of this militarization in the school system.


In Guelph and elsewhere in south-westem Ontario, the militarization of boys within high schools and public schools was deliberate and intended to create ideal soldiers for a progressive Canada.


"Field Marshall Sir John French had always been an ardent advocate of the principle that youths and boys were destined to become officers in the army [and] should commence special military training at the earliest possible age."35


This opinion did not emerge during the Great War, nor did it disappear after; in fact this opinion spanned most of the late-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Militarism was a complex process and involved issues such as juvenile deviance, the influence of the education system, and the concept of 'masculinity' which young boys faced in Ontario society. At a time when play and sports within the school system were not part of the curriculum, the Strathcona Trust created an outlet and answer to the push for militarism within the public school system.




  1. "Constitution of the Strathcona Trust," Recreation in Ontario Historical Files, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Garry J. Burke, "Good for the Boy and the Nation: Military Drill and the Cadet Movement in Ontario Public Schools," (Ph.D dissertation, University of Toronto, 1996), p. 106.
  4. Ibid, 107.
  5. Canadian National Defence, "Royal Military College of Canada,"
  6. James L. Gear, "Factors Influencing the Development of Government Sponsored Physical Fitness Programmes in Canada from 1850-1922," Canadian JournaI of History of Sport and Physical Education, No. 4 (1973): p. 1.
  7. Mark Moss, Manliness and Militarism: Educating Young Boys in Ontario For War, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press Inc., 2001,),p. 22.
  8. Mike O'Brien, "Manhood and the Militia Myth: Masculinity, Class and Militarism in Ontario, 1908-1919," Labour/ Le Traville 42 (Fall 1998): p. 115.
  9. Ibid, 2.
  10. Moss, Manliness, 21.
  11. Julia Grant, "A Real Boy and Not a Sissy: Gender, Childhood, and Masculinity, 1890-1940," Journal of Social History 37, no. 4 (Summer 2004), p. 6.
  12. Cambridge Daily Reporter, February 20, 1982.
  13. "Canadian Boy Scout Permit," July 16, 1915, Cambridge City Archives.
  14. Moss, 85. The Boys' Brigade was a church-oriented group of young men thought to be based on the influence of British paramilitary organizations. Ontario Premier G. W. Ross considered the Brigade to be, "One of the very best organizations to train young men for public usefulness."
  15. O'Brien, Militia, 120.
  16. Cynthia R. Comacchio, The Dominion of Youth: Adolescence and the Making of a Modern Canada, 1920-1950, (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier Press, 2006), p. 114.
  17. "Earl Grey on School Training,", December 23, 1910, / PageViewasp.
  18. Archives of Ontario, "Evolution of Education."
  19. Canadian National Defence, "Cadets Canada," [accessed February 2009].
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Anna H. Lathrop, "Contested Terrain: Gender and Movement," in "Ontario Elementary Physical Education, 1940-1970," Ontario History, Vol. 94, no. 2 (Autumn 2002): p. 165.
  23. Burke, Good for the Boy, 234.
  24. Lord Strathcona to Sir Frederick Borden, March 13, 1909. Public Archives of Canada, MG29 45, Vol. 24, File 6-11, quoted in Garry J. Burke, "Good for the Boy and the Nation: Military Drill and the Cadet Movement in Ontario Public Schools," Ph.D dissertation, University of Toronto, 1996.
  25. A. H. U. Calquhoun to Sir James Whitney, January 24, 1910, F 5-1 container B273275, "Correspondence of James P. Whitney," Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
  26. Syllabus of Physical Exercises for Schools, (Toronto: The Copp, Clark Company, Ltd, 1911), p. i.
  27. Annual Report of the Public School Inspector and Statistics of the Guelph Collegiate Institute, Wellington County School Board Fonds, Box 55, 1909-1913.
  28. Ibid, 1912.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Annual Report of the Public School Inspector and Statistics of the Guelph Collegiate Institute, 1975.
  31. Ruth McKinnon, "How Can the Ontario High School Boy by Working on a Farm this Summer Help Himself, the Farmer, and the Empire," in The Publications of the Champlain Society: Ontario and the First World War, 1914-1918, ed. Barbara M. Wilson (Toronto: The Champlan Society, 2013).
  32. The Roll of Honour of the Ontario Teachers who Served in the Great War, Box 59, Wellington County School Board Fonds, Guelph.
  33. Pamphlet, "Physical Training in the Public, Separate, Continuation and High Schools, and Collegiate Institutes," (September 1927, OISE, Toronto).
  34. "British Field Marshall Urges Early Training,", January 3, 1914, http: / / PageView.asp.