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A Short History of Frontier College

In 1899, the founder of Frontier College, Alfred Fitzpatrick said, "We must educate the whole family wherever the work is, wherever they earn their living." This 'have book will travel' philosophy has been a guiding principle at Frontier College ever since.

At the turn of the century, the needs were felt most keenly in far-flung places like the bush, on the railway and in the mine. So it was there that Fitzpatrick sent his Labourer-Teachers, a group of hardy individuals who worked with the men by day and taught them by night.

Frontier College Reading Tent

With the advent of the Second World War, however, the complexion of work patterns changed. "Technological changes in the workplace after the war meant that education and labour had become inextricably linked," says James H. Morrison, professor of history at St. Mary's University, Frontier College Board Member and former Labourer-Teacher. "There were no hiding places for people who could not read and write."

The labour environment changed irrevocably, with centre stage shifting from rural to urban centres. In response, Frontier College forged a new path, carving a role for itself in community development, technical programs, literacy training and aid for the disenfranchised. While the traditional Labourer-Teacher program was still needed in the field, it no longer formed the core of College activities.

Today, Frontier College adapts to, and addresses, the needs of those on the periphery with the help of a dedicated national network of volunteers. These volunteers tutor people from all walks of life - adults in the workplace, homeless street youth, prison inmates, people with disabilities and newcomers to Canada.

Yet, with its eyes firmly fixed on these contemporary needs, Frontier College continues to uphold its founder's mandate. "Even in a Canada so far removed from a century ago, Fitzpatrick's philosophy still holds true," says John O'Leary, Past President. "We believe that literacy is a right and we will continue to work to achieve literacy for all people, no matter where they are...for the next century and beyond."

Frontier College Volunteers, Supporters, and Partners

You can be part of Frontier College's network of volunteers, supporters and partners. Visit Programs Near You for more information about our activities or to volunteer.

Frontier College Reading Tent

Located in central Toronto, Gzowski House is Frontier College's national headquarters. The Tudor Gothic-revival style home was built in 1913 for Robert Alexander Laidlaw. Many of the original details inside the house are still intact, including decorative woodwork, a beautiful green marble fireplace and an ornate decorative ceiling. Laidlaw, a successful businessman and generous benefactor, donated the house to The National Ballet School of Canada in 1976, and it was given to Frontier College in 1986 in exchange for the College's earlier headquarters, also an old mansion.

Peter GzowskiThe house was named Gzowski House in 2002 in honour of the late Peter Gzowski. A renowned journalist on CBC Radio, Gzowski was a great patron and supporter of Frontier College for many years.