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Our Story

We've been delivering literacy programs to people in communities across Canada since 1899. We started by hosting reading camps equipped with books and volunteers to teach people in remote locations. Today, we offer a variety of programs all over the country.

Our founder’s approach was “every place is a learning place,” which established how education and basic literacy was taught throughout Canada. Read our brochure to learn more.

History Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College) played a role in promoting non-Indigenous education. This contributed to the colonization of Indigenous peoples and communities. As an education-focused organization, we’re committed to learning from our shared history. We will move forward in the spirit of reflection, collaboration, reconciliation, and change. 

We adopt the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a plan for reconciliation, including: 

  • Indigenous families and communities keep shared responsibility for their children. This includes the children's upbringing, education, and well-being. This reflects the rights of the child. 

  • Indigenous peoples have the right to form and control their educational systems and schools. This includes use of their own languages. It also includes the community's cultural methods of teaching and learning. 

United for Literacy is working to advance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to ActionRead more here. 

Literacy touches all aspects of our lives. We must recognize the role literacy plays in creating fair communities and societies. We invite our learners, volunteers, partners, donors, and everyone in Canada to join us as we continue to listen and learn.  


United for Literacy: Past to Present

1899
timeline image 1899

Teacher Alfred Fitzpatrick creates The Canadian Reading Camp Movement. Reading tents are set up in remote and isolated communities and equipped with books and volunteers to teach workers in logging camps, on the Canadian National Railway, and in mines to read and write. Fitzpatrick’s approach—every place is a learning place—pioneered how education and basic literacy were taught throughout Canada. This was before other educational and government institutions recognized the importance of literacy outreach programs.

1901

Mrs. Alex Scott is the first woman to teach with The Reading Camp Movement at McFadden’s Camp.

timeline image 1901
1902
timeline image 1902

Alfred Fitzpatrick develops the Labourer-Teacher model after Angus Gray, a University of Toronto student and tutor, grows tired of waiting for his students to come to classes in the evening and joins workers in digging a ditch at Nairn Centre. Throughout the century, Labourer-Teachers were recruited from universities to take up the challenge to work alongside labourers by day and then teach them to read and write at night. Thousands of young Canadians have since served as Labourer-Teachers, tutors, and mentors.

1903

The Reading Camp Movement expands to Saskatchewan with the first Labourer-Teacher, Fred Miller. He works alongside immigrant men as a lumberjack during the day and teaches English and Math in the evening at Shannon Mill Company.

timeline image 1903
1906
timeline image 1906

Alfred Fitzpatrick establishes Canada’s first adult education organization, The Reading Camp Association.

1906

The Reading Camp Association expands to Manitoba where Joseph Wearing works as a Labourer-Teacher with Northern Fish Company.

timeline image 1906
1908
timeline image 1908

The Reading Camp Association expands to Alberta, where university student E.E. Sayles works as a Labourer-Teacher with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad near Edmonton. Mr. Sayles organizes English as a Second Language classes for workers to build their English and work skills.

1909

The Reading Camp Association expands to British Columbia, where university student W.H. Eby works as a Labourer-Teacher with Foley, Welch and Stewart Company on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad.

timeline image 1909
1912
timeline image 1912

Norman Bethune, a second-year university medical student becomes a Labourer-Teacher. He works at the Victoria Harbour Lumber Company in Georgian Bay, Ontario, teaching math, history, hygiene, spelling, geography, and letter writing to immigrant workers.

1912

The Reading Camp Association expands to Quebec where university student S.F. Kneeland works as a Labourer-Teacher with Foley’s Construction Company in Northern Quebec. He teaches basic literacy and numeracy in both English and French.

timeline image 1912
1913
timeline image 1913

The Reading Camp Association expands to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, with A.S. Windsor, a student from Mt. Allison University, works as an education worker on the St. John Valley Railway. In his free time after work, Mr. Windsor teaches his fellow workers basic literacy and numeracy classes in English and French to upgrade their education. In Nova Scotia, D.L. McDougall worked as a brattice man with the Dominion Coal Company, New Aberdeen, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

1917

The Reading Camp Association changes its name to Frontier College, and in 1919 the Ontario Government incorporates the College, recognizing it as a teaching organization like any other college.

timeline image 1917
1920
timeline image 1920

Jessie Lucas, B.A. (University of Toronto) is hired as Secretary and later becomes Bursar, Registrar, and Archivist working for the College until 1963.

1920

Frontier College introduces a homesteading and settlement program in Kapuskasing, Northern Ontario.

timeline image 1920
1922
timeline image 1922

In 1922, the Canadian Government, recognizing the national character of the College, passes a parliamentary Act allowing the College to award university degrees anywhere in Canada. Alfred Fitzpatrick is the first Principal.

1929

Dr. Margaret Strang, an itinerant doctor, in Edlund, Northern Ontario works as a Labourer-Teacher, choosing to travel by horse to reach children and families in remote communities in Ontario.

timeline image 1929
1931
timeline image 1931

With academic pressure from some universities, political pressure from the Ontario Government, and the financial constraints of the Great Depression, Frontier College requests the Canadian Parliament to revoke its degree granting status. Alfred Fitzpatrick retires and Edmund Bradwin is named Principal in 1933.

1934

As the Great Depression continues, unemployment relief work camps are established in every province across Canada. Many Labourer-Teachers are sent to work and study in these camps.

timeline image 1934
1936
timeline image 1936

Alfred Fitzpatrick, B.A.,M.A., O.B.E. dies in Toronto at the age of 76.

1943

During World War II, Labourer-Teachers are sent to assist Canadian and American construction crews to build the Alaska Highway through British Columbia .

timeline image 1943
1950
timeline image 1950

Frontier College expands to Newfoundland, where Eric Robinson, a student from McGill University, works as a Labourer-Teacher on a rail gang in Tickle Head Harbour. After work, Robinson teaches basic literacy and numeracy classes in English, writes letters, and supports his fellow workers in learning. Robinson succeeds Edmund Bradwin, who dies in 1953, as the third Principal of Frontier College.

1960

The Government of Northwest Territories contracts Frontier College to serve Dene and Inuit individuals in minimum security institutions. This is the organization’s first prison literacy initiative, later named Transitions. The Government of Northwest Territories, Department of Education, and Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act also engage us in establishing community adult learning centres. These are later incorporated into the community college system.

timeline image 1960
1962
timeline image 1962

The Labourer-Teacher program expands to Prince Edward Island. Wiley Meekis, a track labourer for the Canadian National Railway, organizes games and teaches English and Math to his fellow workers in the evenings.

1962

Frontier College creates a new Workplace Learning model, where Labourer-Teachers work in several Yukon mines, including Faro, Watson Lake, Clinton Creek, and Carcross. One of the many benefits of this work is to stabilize the workforce and prevent absenteeism at work sites.

timeline image 1962
1971
timeline image 1971

Ian Morrison, a former Labourer-Teacher, becomes the fourth President of Frontier College.

1975

Jack Pearpoint becomes the fifth President.

timeline image 1975
1977
timeline image 1977

Frontier College is the first Canadian organization to receive a UNESCO Medal for its exemplary work in promoting literacy.

1982

Independent Studies is established for adults with developmental disabilities who are working toward greater independence and education, employment, or life opportunities.

timeline image 1982
1985
timeline image 1985

Two former street-involved youth create the Beat the Street program. The program is formed around the idea that if people were going to get off the streets, they needed literacy skills and an accessible way of learning outside of the traditional classroom. Literacy and Basic Skills, including preparation for the General Equivalency Diploma (high school diploma), are taught by staff and tutors. Many graduates of this program become entrepreneurs and trades workers and pursue post-secondary education.

1986

Canadian broadcaster and journalist, Peter Gzowski brings together friends for a fun day of music and golf and to raise money for literacy at the same time. Frontier College’s national office in Toronto is named Gzowski House in his honour.

timeline image 1986
1986
timeline image 1986

After a hiatus, the Labourer-Teacher program expands to farms and greenhouses in Central Ontario. During the spring and summer months, Labourer-Teachers work alongside migrant seasonal workers, sharing life on the farm. After work, they volunteer their time as tutors, mentors, and recreation organizers for their coworkers.

1987

The prison literacy programming expands to Kingston, Ontario, where ex-offenders support fellow inmates in basic literacy and employment skills.

timeline image 1987
1989
timeline image 1989

READ CANADA, a national family literacy initiative is launched to help get families and young children reading.

1990

With a focus on building a reading culture in Canada, the Students for Literacy program is formed. Volunteers from colleges and universities are screened and trained to run reading circles, homework clubs, and reading tents for newcomers and refugees, Indigenous Peoples, and families in their communities. This national initiative begins at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec.

timeline image 1990
1991
timeline image 1991

John Daniel O’Leary, a former Labourer-Teacher and prison literacy instructor, becomes the sixth President.

2005

At the request of The Honourable James Bartleman, Ontario’s first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor, Frontier College leads the creation of summer literacy camps for children and youth in partnership with Indigenous communities. His vision is to have a blend of Indigenous and non-indigenous camp counsellors to promote a sharing of cultures. Since their inception, camps have run in nearly every province and territory to help motivate kids to learn and actively develop literacy and numeracy skills during the summer.

timeline image 2005
2007
timeline image 2007

Sherry Campbell becomes the first woman President (seventh) to lead the organization.

2014

The year-round Community Literacy Catalyst program is established in Indigenous communities. Local residents are hired and supported by Frontier College, to lead the delivery of customized, culturally relevant literacy activities and workshops to other residents of all ages. The program now runs in urban and remote communities across the country.

timeline image 2014
2016
timeline image 2016

Stephen Faul becomes the eighth President of Frontier College.

2020

Physical restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic require the organization to move entirely to online tutoring for the first time in its history.

timeline image 2020
2022
timeline image 2022

Frontier College changes its name to United for Literacy, reflecting the ambitious next chapter in its history.

2022

Mélanie Valcin becomes the ninth president of the organization.

timeline image 2022
2022
timeline image 2022

The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, joins us in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Frontier College charter being approved.

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