For a great many citizens in 19th-century Canada, seeking a better life meant focusing upon learning and scholarship and the relentless drive for universal, free public education. Early in the 21st century some Canadians take their wide-ranging educational opportunities for granted, and greet them with indifference. This attitude is an insult to the strides taken by citizens more than a century earlier

The interactive map: Students in School: 1851, 1881 shows that the number of young people attending showed a marked increase over thirty years. Contemplation of these two maps suggests that small attendance may be attributed to poor access to schools, for the scattered populations along the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay shores of western Ontario were in large part Scottish, and these people were among the most education-oriented of Ontario’s pioneers. A generation later attendance in these counties had surged forward to the top category. Doubtless many a Scottish household was engaged in what today one would call home schooling, with the works of Robert Burns near the top of the reading list.

The interactive map of Female teachers in the Maritimes shows the introduction of women to the profession in the late 19th century. This was controversial in many locales, but necessary both to meet the increasing demand, and economically motivated, as women teachers were paid less.

And Schools with Blackboards (interactive map)? It is intriguing to imagine that each child writing on his or her own slate has a self-directed learning experience rather different from the collective experience of a shared blackboard mounted on the schoolhouse wall. Teaching style must have changed quite substantially at this time, and a new opportunity arisen for the child prodigy – the bright youngster absorbing what children several years older are achieving – to emerge. Imagine blackboard map of, say, 1846 and 1876. The ten-year span mapped here is in the midst of a tight curve of acceptance of an innovation (the S-curve, or logistic curve), very much like the diffusion of personal computers through schools at the turn of the 21st century.