Who Was Janet Metcalfe: Canada’s First Kindergarten Class in KW

In November 2017, trustees from public schools in the Waterloo Region District School Board were given the opportunity to name a new public school, which was then being constructed at the corner of Seabrook Drive and Amand Drive in Kitchener.

According to The Waterloo Record, the public school board reviewed over 190 suggestions for its new school, including current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nellie McClung and Gord Downie.

In late November, trustees decided on naming the school after Janet Metcalfe, a Canadian pioneer of kindergarten education. Janet Metcalfe was the first kindergarten teacher in Canada, and her legacy and teachings have shaped the way educators perceive public education to this day.

Before her death in 1935 at the age of 82, Metcalfe left more than a mark in the Waterloo Region educational system. Before she became a teacher in Kitchener, or what was originally Berlin, Metcalfe taught in Galt and in Stratford.

Eventually, in 1882, Metcalfe was assigned to teach the first kindergarten class at The Central School in Kitchener. The school was home to Canada’s first public school kindergarten classes, later followed by classes opening in Toronto in 1883 and Hamilton in 1885.

The Central School — later renamed to Suddaby School — opened in was built in 1857 in downtown Kitchener on Frederick St, where it still stands operating as an elementary school today. 

Jeremiah Suddaby, of which Central School was named after following his death in 1910, was the first principal of the model school for training teachers in 1877.*

It is now indicated by local historian Todd Bowman’s records that Suddaby’s public school work, along with Metcalfe’s, played a significant role in the principles of the national education system throughout the late 19th century.

Later in her career, Metcalfe was transferred from the kindergarten department at the Central School and became the principal of Margaret Avenue Public School, which was built in 1894 and became the fourth public school in the original city of Berlin. It now sits at 325 Louisa Street in Kitchener.

Metcalfe continued to teach young students and work as an educator in Waterloo Region for over 31 years, until her death at the age of 82. News of her death was published in the front page of the Waterloo Region Record. A public funeral for Metcalfe was held at Schreiter Sandrock Funeral Home, now known as the Westmount Memorial Celebration Centre.

On Sept. 4, for the first time, Janet Metcalfe Public School opened to students between kindergarten and grade seven. It has space for approximately 550 students at a cost of $16 million. It is now the largest public elementary school in Kitchener, according to CTV, and construction is set to be completed by mid-October.

While our Region may appear to be in a constant state of change, it’s important to remember those who contributed to it’s foundation. We’re each contributing to the history of this Region, Janet Metcalfe is no exception.

*With notes by Todd Bowman, author of “A Man of Sterling Worth: Searching for Jeremiah Suddaby.”

Corrections were made to this article on Oct. 12, 2018.


Student Journalist of the Year - JHM award winner, Kaitlyn has worked previously as The Cord’s senior news editor. She’s also published articles for VICE and Shameless.