Canada 140 years ago was a more intolerant, sexist, and unequal place, but on one important issue it was far more progressive than the Canada of today, and that's on public education.
Nations often like to look back and take pride at the progress they've made over the years, and Canada has a lot to be proud of, our country has moved forward on many important fronts, but in regards to education, it has not. In fact judged by the original intent of early Canadian governments, our education system has actually moved backwards.
This retrograde is not due to new policies being implemented that restrict development or funding, this deterioration of our public school system is because the world advanced and we didn't.
Originally our provinces made all schooling that was necessary for general employment free. Early provincial governments realized that as high school was necessary for employment it should be provided for by the public, without charge.
For decades a high school education was all that was needed to obtain some of the best jobs in the country, and it was free. The Encyclopedia of Canada decribes early Canada:
The regular type of secondary institution became the academic high school, separately housed, but receiving as pupils graduates from the elementary schools, and offering a course primarily suited to preparation for the professionsAnd for quite a few decades, the original purpose of our public school system, to freely provide the education required for standard employment, was fulfilled.
However as our economy became more open and competitive, college, university, and trade qualifications became more and more necessary to become gainfully employed. Instead of our education system moving with our economy and continuing to provide the schooling Canadians increasingly needed for employment, public education was left in the past.
Decades ago Canada repressed women and discriminated against minorities, it was a country that made mistakes, but our original belief that government should fully provide a public good like the education of its citizens in order for them to be employed, to advance themselves and our economy, is not one of them.
Canada doesn't have to be more progressive on every issue than what it once was, but at the very least we shouldn't be worse. Just as our nation originally intended, we should freely provide the standard education required for Canadians to be employed, that used to just mean free high school, now it means public provision of post-secondary education.