Sending your child off to boarding school isn't typically Canadian. We've never really embraced the boarding culture in the way the British do. The costs can also weigh on the decision – although scholarships and bursaries are available for some.
So why do some Canadian parents do it? The high standard of education and diversity of programs across the country are certainly a draw, but the "why" varies with each student. These Canadian families all chose boarding schools for different reasons.
Lakefield College school
Lakefield, Ont. Co-educational. Boarding: $53,950 to $58,500 a year.
In the McKnight family, the request came from the children. While their first daughter had a great experience at their local Toronto high school before university, their middle daughter Alison wasn't thriving in the big classes. After a successful summer at Ashbury College in Ottawa, Alison asked her parents for boarding school in her grad year because she liked the structure. It made her feel secure and confident since the rules were so clear about when you were in class, when you studied and when you had free time.
"Private school wasn't on my or my husband's radar, let alone boarding school," says Karen McKnight. "In my first career, I was a public-school teacher. We were taken aback by this, but wanted to support her. While it hurt to let her go, it was much more about her than us."
It helped that Alison chose Lakefield College, since the McKnights already had friends with a daughter there going into Grade 12 and had heard from them how their daughter blossomed. Then a few weeks into Alison's term, the McKnights arrived for the fall fair at Lakefield, along with their son Carter, a Grade 9 student at their neighbourhood school.
"Carter's face lit up the minute we drove onto the campus," says Ms. McKnight. "He's a real outdoorsy guy. After going off to find our friends' son, who was starting Grade 9 at Lakefield, he went into the school store and bought a Lakefield sweatshirt, putting it on his sister's account. Then he asked his friend to introduce him to the headmaster, shook hands with him and said, "I'm Carter McKnight, Ali McKnight's brother and I'll be coming here next year."
Then he told his parents what he'd done, saying, "I was meant to come here." Carter was accepted for grade 10 and is now in his grad year at Lakefield.
"It's been life changing for Carter in terms of leadership," says Ms. McKnight. "He went to the Round Square International conference in India and is head of his house. The experience he's had at Lakefield, he couldn't have had anywhere else."
While Ms. McKnight felt there was a lot of judgment around their decision to choose boarding, she says they have a great relationship with their children.
"People think you're sending your kids away, as opposed to providing an opportunity for them to be the best they can be," says Ms. McKnight. "It's different than how we raise kids these days. We coddle them, drive them everywhere and are so involved in their lives. I'm guilty of that. For them to be able to create this independence is amazing."
St. Margaret's School
Victoria. All girls. Boarding: $38,600 to $49,300 a year.
As global nomads, the Hewitts tease their daughter Jessica, 17, that she was made in Angola, born in Alaska, spent her first eight years in Egypt, followed by Scotland, Texas and Saudi Arabia.
"Then we tell her she's Canadian," says Carmen Hewitt. "Jessica had actually never lived or attended school in Canada until last year when she started at St. Margaret's in Victoria, even though she's a Canadian citizen."
Ex-patriated from Canada for the past 20 years because of Neil Hewitt's job in the oil industry, the Hewitts currently live in Saudi Arabia, although they maintain a cottage on Vancouver Island. The company provides schooling up to Grade 9, at which point all of the employees' children can choose to go to boarding school or the nearby one on the grounds of the American Consulate.
"Jessica could have gone anywhere in the world, but she wanted to come home to Canada," says Ms. Hewitt. "She's actually called a third-culture kid – a kid who grows up in a country other than the country of their passport. Her former class is dispersed over the world right now."
After being accepted by several schools, Jessica chose St. Margaret's because it is all girls, which she feels makes life easier in residence. Although she is enjoying school, she has had some homesickness.
"That's a hard one for her because where is home?" says Ms. Hewitt. "There's just the three of us and we've done all this wandering around the world, so we're a very close-knit family.
"Our reasons for choosing boarding school are mainly employment related and for the quality of education, but we also wanted her to have roots in Canada and Canadian friends. When you're a third-culture kid, you have a different perspective of the world. It's not always the same as your peers at home. We wanted her to be able to bridge that gap."
Class Afloat – West Island
Lunenburg, N.S. Students sail a tall ship to 20 ports on four continents while earning full credits for grades 11, 12 or first-year university. Boarding: $48,000 to $52,800 a year.Chris Bedford first heard about Class Afloat when his son Aiden was only eight years old, but the idea stuck with him. A friend who sent his daughters on the program had talked about how transformational it was for them.
"I thought this would be a great program for him when he's old enough," says Mr. Bedford. "We're a family who travel and do adventurous things, so sure enough, that's what he chose."
Aidan, now 18, completed the program two years ago and now son Justin, 16, is doing his Grade 11 year on board. He set sail on Sept. 3 out of Amsterdam with the Calgary-based family there to see him off. Two weeks later Justin was in Lisbon. While Mr. Bedford acknowledges it's an awful lot of money, he feels one gets tremendous value.
"As young people, they get to have a world view, build a global network of relationships, acquire confidence and a greater sense of community and tolerance," he says. "It's hard to put a price on that.
"I'd have loved to have done this at their age," says Mr. Bedford. "You also get to follow them around, live vicariously through them and visit them in strange locations. We're going to Buenos Aires in November to catch up with our son. It's pretty emotional when you're standing on some wharf in a part of the world that isn't your own and your ship comes in with all these students in their school uniform on deck."
More from the Private School report