Schools and Suburbs: Educating Etobicoke in Metro Toronto, 1945–Present and Beyond
Jason Ellis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of British Columbia

Primary Discipline

History of Education
At one time Canada’s inner suburbs like Etobicoke (pronounced e-ˈtō-bi-ˌkō) were springboards of opportunity. In the first two decades or so after World War II, these communities enabled two investments that helped to vault families into the expanding middle class: the purchase of an affordable house and a quality, free public education for their children. However, in the time since this heyday, inner suburbs have fallen victim to mounting income inequality and crumbling school infrastructure. Both problems are accelerating at the precise moment that the suburbs are becoming more racially diverse than ever. Since few studies of suburban education in Canada exist, it is not clear how suburban school systems and communities are faring with any of these changes.My project, a mixed-methods, historical case study considers the historical development of one suburban school system in a metropolitan context, as well as that history’s legacy for the immediate present. The project is concerned with the conscious policy decisions that local school officials, suburban planners and private developers, provincial Ministry of Education officials, and a host of others made as they built and managed Etobicoke and its schools over several generations. I trace these decisions, and their causes and effects, through archival sources such as minutes of school board meetings, government policy documents, planning reports, municipal and school board budgets, census data, and other historical sources.This project takes up three main, interrelated questions: (a) What are the effects of changed suburban demographics and resulting declining enrollment and school closures on Etobicoke’s school infrastructure? (b) What are the historical relationships among suburban schooling, homeownership, opportunity and social mobility, race and immigration, and income inequality in this community? (c) What can be done? Or, what does the study of the past tell policy makers that can help them to make better decisions for Etobicoke and other suburbs in the present?
About Jason Ellis
Jason Ellis is a historian of education and assistant professor in the Department of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia. His research interests are urban and suburban educational history and policy, opportunity and inequality, early-twentieth-century school reform, and the history of special education and disability. Ellis’s forthcoming book, A Class by Themselves?: Children, Youth, and Special Education in a North American City—Toronto, 1910–45 (University of Toronto Press, 2018), brings special education’s curious past to bear on its constantly contested present. The book situates special education’s early history squarely in the competing agendas of benevolence and social control that gave rise to it as a one-time reform. It is these competing agendas, the book points out, that continue today to define the debate about special education. Ellis holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in History from York University in Toronto, a B.Ed. degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, and a B.A. in History from Queen’s University. He has published in Teachers College Record, History of Education Quarterly, and Disability & Society, among other journals. He is currently working on a project that takes up questions of schooling, metropolitan planning, and opportunity and inequality in Canada’s rapidly changing inner suburbs.

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