The Birth of an Association
In February 1944, an organizational meeting was held at the Notre Dame College in Ottawa to create a new provincial Catholic teachers' federation, to which all English Catholic teachers in Ontario would belong.
The first Annual General Meeting of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association was held April 11 and 12, 1944, at the Royal York hotel in Toronto. Delegates adopted a fee of $2 for regular members, of which 62.5 per cent was to go to the provincial treasury and 37.5 per cent to local units.
On September 8, 1944, the Association was incorporated. The signing of the Letters Patent took place at a drug store at the corner of Echo Drive and Pretoria Avenue in Ottawa, because a notary public was required, and the druggist happened to be a notary.
What was the situation of Catholic schools in Ontario in 1944?
The separate school clause appeared in Ontario legislation in 1841, enabling residents of a township professing a religious faith different from that of the majority in the area to establish their own schools. The whole Catholic community supported the creation of separate schools in which their religious beliefs would permeate the school day.
The constitutional guarantee of separate school equality with public school boards was enshrined in the British North America Act of 1867. Nevertheless, financial inequality plagued the separate school system until the advent of provincial per-pupil funding in 1997.
Lack of funds meant that, compared to the secular public boards, Catholic school boards had greater numbers of teachers with no or lower qualifications. Programs such as Kindergarten and special education were more limited. Boards’ survival depended on the large number of sisters, priests, and brothers who comprised half the teaching force in 1945.
In those early days, OECTA was mainly concerned with the welfare of its members, including salaries, job security, and pensions. Lay teachers earned less than their counterparts in the public system, religious teachers even less. In 1947 the Association decided to push for a minimum salary of $1,500 per year for lay teachers, and $800 to $1,000 for religious teachers. In comparison, the average wage of a male manufacturing worker that year was $2,176. Balancing the diverse interests of lay and religious, male and female teachers, required all the skill of OECTA’s first leaders.