Discover the 6 Largest High Schools in Canada (And Notable Alums from Each)

A theme based image of canadian school and education.
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Written by Sanaphay Rattanavong

Updated: July 31, 2023

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The largest high schools in Canada are not very different from those in the United States. Depending on which province you find yourself in, though, they may be labeled differently. Additionally, the structure varies from province to province. Before getting to those largest Canadian high schools, let’s stroll the halls of the Great White North to acquaint ourselves with the differences.

High school education marks the final stretch of mandatory schooling in both the United States and Canada, but the structure and terminology can differ between the two countries.

Imagine being an American student walking into a Canadian high school for the first time. Familiar labels of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years are suddenly replaced with simple grade numbers. High school, now referred to as secondary school, might even start at a different grade. To add to your confusion, many pockets in Canada use the Americanized version and label themselves “high schools.” You’d soon realize that despite sharing the English language and a border, the United States and Canada have quite distinct educational systems.

The phrase " No cuts to education " on a banner in men's hand. Human holds a cardboard with an inscription. Student. Children. Study. Changes. Teachers. Government. Classroom. High school. Classes

For high school, Canada’s student-to-teacher ratio is 18.8 to one, whereas in the US it’s 14.5 to one.


United States

In the United States, high school usually spans four years and includes grades 9 to 12, serving students aged 14 to 18. However, these parameters may change slightly depending on state-specific regulations or school district practices. American high school education divides its structure into four years: freshman for the 9th grade, sophomore for the 10th grade, junior for the 11th grade, and senior for the 12th grade. It covers a broad spectrum of subjects and electives, and students receive a high school diploma upon completing their education.


Canada’s high school education, often referred to as secondary school, varies by province and territory. Like the US, most provinces’ secondary education includes grades 9 to 12, although there are exceptions. For example, Ontario is similar to the US in that high school starts at grade 9 and ends at grade 12. But in Quebec, high school covers grades 7 to 11, followed by a unique program known as CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel), which bridges academic and vocational learning over two to three years before students proceed to university or vocational careers.

Unlike their American counterparts who use distinctive names such as “freshman” or “sophomore,” Canadian students typically refer to themselves by their grade numbers.

Post-secondary education eligibility in both countries requires high school completion, but specific graduation requirements may vary by state or province.

To familiarize an American audience with Canadian education, let us examine some uniquely Canadian terminology:

Secondary School

The Canadian term for institutions where students complete their high school education, generally comprising grades 9 to 12.

Grade 13/OAC

Until 2003, Ontario had an additional high school year known as Grade 13 or OAC (Ontario Academic Credit). It served as a transition period between high school and university, helping students meet university admission requirements. This has since been phased out, with Ontario now aligning with the 4-year high school model common in most US states.


After completing grade 11 in Quebec, students attend a CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) for two to three years. This can be considered a hybrid of the final year of American high school and the initial year of college. CEGEP acts as a preparatory phase before university or as a vocational program leading directly to a profession. This term is exclusive to Quebec and is not used in other provinces.

Provincial Examinations

Certain provinces, like British Columbia and Alberta, mandate standardized tests (provincial examinations) in specific subjects during the final years of secondary school. These exams play a pivotal role in university admissions and significantly contribute to a student’s final grade in those subjects.

University vs. College

In Canada, “university” denotes institutions that offer degree programs (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate), while “college” typically refers to institutions providing diplomas and certificates in vocational or technical fields. This contrasts with the US, where “college” is often used synonymously with “university.” And to further confuse matters, many high schools in Canada, as evidenced below, call themselves “colleges” though their student enrollment covers secondary school students, usually from grades 7 to 12.

School classroom in blur background without young student; Blurry view of elementary class room no kid or teacher with chairs and tables in campus.

The US and Canada spend roughly the same amount as a portion of GDP on education.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Canada’s Largest High Schools

Canada offers a rich and varied educational landscape with numerous esteemed institutions catering to a broad range of interests and academic pursuits. The metric used here to gauge the largest high schools is based on student enrollment. The country boasts many high-quality public schools that have had many notable alumni. The private education sector is equally vibrant, with large institutions like St. Michael’s College School, Upper Canada College, St. George’s School, Crofton House School, and Havergal College offering a blend of strong academics and holistic development.

Online education is also gaining momentum in Canada, and major players like TVO ILC, EBUS Academy, Northstar Academy, Laurel Springs School, and Forest Trail Academy provide flexible alternatives to traditional education. Additionally, the Ontario Virtual School serves as a leading private online institution, boasting a student body that spans nearly 100 nationalities.

While student enrollment is our anchor for assessing school size, it would be misleading to go by that one metric alone.

The Largest High Schools in Canada

1. Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton

Female High School Teacher Asking Question Standing By Interactive Whiteboard Teaching Lesson

In the years just prior to the COVID pandemic, Harry Ainlay High School had been at near-capacity .

©Monkey Business Images/

Harry Ainlay High School, located in Edmonton, is one of the largest high schools in Canada, with approximately 2,800 students as of 2023. The school boasts accomplished alumni such as:

  • Dwayne Rudolph Goettel, a talented Canadian electronic musician known for his work in the industrial music group Skinny Puppy.
  • Kreesha Turner is a Canadian recording artist who gained success with her debut album “Passion” and achieved a number one single on the US Billboard Dance Charts. Her music has been featured on popular television shows and she has received multiple award nominations for her work.

2. Earl Haig Secondary School

Male And Female Drama Students At Performing Arts School In Studio Improvisation Class

Lauded for its arts program, many Earl Haig alumni have contributed to the creative culture of Canada.

©Monkey Business Images/

Located in Toronto, Earl Haig Secondary School integrates the Claude Watson Arts Program into its curriculum, offering courses in dance, drama, music, film arts, and visual arts. By 2022, the school had approximately 2,200 students. Earl Haig has produced notable alumni such as:

  • David Crombie, a key figure in Toronto’s urban reform movement.
  • Dwight Powell, a professional basketball player for the Dallas Mavericks.
  • Herbert Henry Carnegie, a pioneering Black Canadian ice hockey player.
  • David Clayton-Thomas, a Grammy Award-winning Canadian musician, is known for his role as the lead vocalist of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears.
  • Ksenia Solo, a Latvian Canadian actor known for her roles in popular TV series such as Lost Girl, Turn: Washington’s Spies, and Orphan Black. She is also actively involved with Stand for the Silent, an antibullying foundation.
  • Paul Snider, a nightclub promoter and pimp who murdered his estranged wife, Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, before taking his own life.

3. Killarney Secondary School

young asian woman playing violin on black background

Renowned for offering Vancouver’s most comprehensive fine arts program, Killarney gains international recognition for its role in cultivating young, world-class musicians in choral and strings.

©Chris Harwood/

Killarney Secondary School, located in Vancouver, is the largest public secondary school by area in the city. The institution, which emphasizes math and science in addition to its acclaimed Fine Arts Program, has a student population of approximately 2,000 as of 2022. Notable alumni from the school include:

  • Angela Chow, a celebrity for Phoenix TV.
  • Avan Jogia, an actor recognized for his roles in Twisted and Victorious.
  • Milan Lucic, a professional hockey player for the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
  • Carat Cheung, the winner of Miss Hong Kong 2012, and third place winner of Miss Chinese International.
  • Colin Mochrie, an improv comedian famous for being on Whose Line Is It Anyway.
  • Jenna Talackova, a Canadian model and television personality.
  • Kelly Yu, a Chinese Canadian singer and actor.
  • Kurtis Ling, a professional Dota 2 player and 2015 The International winner.
  • Matt Frenette, drummer for the rock band Loverboy.
  • Ra McGuire, singer and songwriter for Trooper.
  • Wai Young, a former Conservative Party MP for Vancouver South.

4. Northern Secondary School in Toronto

School students making robotic cars. Teenager girl at robotics school makes robot managed from the constructor, child learns robot constructing.

An all-around lauded school, Northern Secondary also excels in its robotics department.

©Oksana Klymenko/

Northern Secondary School in Toronto is known for providing high-quality education in a supportive environment. The school typically serves around 1,800 students and embraces the slogan, “Hail dear old Northern.” Notable alumni include:

  • Richard Williams, a highly accomplished animator, director, and writer known for his work on films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • Jeffrey Morgan, a Canadian writer and photographer known for being the authorized biographer of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop & The Stooges.
  • Bruce Palmer, a Canadian musician known for his role as the bassist in the influential folk rock band Buffalo Springfield.
  • Clarke Floody, a Canadian fighter pilot who played a crucial role in organizing the “Great Escape” from a German prisoner of war camp during World War II.
  • Aileen Theodora Williams, a prominent Black Canadian activist and founding member of the Canadian Women’s Negro Association.

5. Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute (MGCI)

High school student hand holding molecule structure in chemistry class

Known for its academic rigor, Marc Garneau assures that students are well prepared for post-secondary life.


Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, located in Toronto, is known for its rigorous academic program and an environment conducive to learning. Student enrollment in 2022 was around 1,800. Notable alumni include:

  • Bechara “Charles” Khabouth, a prominent figure in Toronto’s nightlife industry and a successful businessperson.

6. Cégep Gérald-Godin

photo of Montreal city appears School bus, high governmental buildings and cathedral

Named after the poet and separatist politician Gérald Godin, Cégep Gérald-Godin is appropriately one hundred percent francophone.

©Mohammed Amine BRIGHEN/

Cégep Gérald-Godin, located on the West Island of Montreal, is the first and only French-language public college in the area. It serves approximately 1,200 regular students and 350 full-time continuing education students. The college offers a range of pre-university programs across different fields and career-oriented programs in business administration and computer science. Notable alumni include:

  • Tina Garabedian, a retired Armenian Canadian ice dancer, notable for representing Armenia at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Largest Private High Schools in Canada

The private education sector in Canada boasts several large schools, each known for their unique strengths, broad curriculums, and diverse student bodies.

St. Michael’s College School

Located in Toronto, St. Michael’s is a prominent Catholic all-boy institution with more than 1,000 students. The school strives to maintain its tradition of academic excellence coupled with holistic development.

Upper Canada College

Upper Canada College in Toronto, is another large all-boys school, with a population of around 1,200 students. Known for its rigorous academics and leadership opportunities, it’s one of the oldest schools in the country.

St. George’s School

Located in Vancouver, St. George’s hosts more than 1,100 boys. The school’s mission includes cultivating character, fostering leadership, and empowering students to meet global challenges.

Crofton House School

Crofton House in Vancouver, is an all-girls school with around 900 students. Its rigorous academic curriculum is complemented by a focus on creativity, physical well-being, and social responsibility.

Havergal College

This Toronto school is another prestigious all-girls institution with around 900 students. Havergal emphasizes the empowerment of young women through education, leadership opportunities, and personal growth.

The Largest Online High Schools in Canada

Online education is growing in popularity in Canada, offering flexible alternatives to traditional education. Some of the largest online high schools are:


Ontario’s largest online high school, TVO offers 144 courses recognized by all Canadian colleges and universities. Their flexible and affordable programs make high school education accessible regardless of the student’s lifestyle.

EBUS Academy

EBUS provides a comprehensive full-time curriculum for high school students. This comprehensive program includes a wide range of courses approved by the Ministry of Education, all aimed towards earning a BC Dogwood Diploma.

Northstar Academy

An accredited Christian school, Northstar provides online high school courses. The school allows enrollment at any time of the year and requires a specific credit threshold for graduation, based on the type of diploma.

Laurel Springs School

Laurel Springs is a nonreligious, accredited online high school. It offers flexible tuition options based on full-time or per semester enrollment.

Forest Trail Academy

An accredited online high school, Forest Trail offers a high-quality, interactive online school curriculum with personalized learning courses and online programs to students. The school is an online fully accredited high school regionally, nationally, and internationally. It also accepts international students for online K-12 homeschooling.

Ontario Virtual School

One notable online private school in Canada is the Ontario Virtual School. With a total enrollment of 12,000 students, the school offers a variety of class sizes and has a diverse student body with 30 percent of its students being from outside Canada and representing 98 different nationalities. This speaks volumes to the school’s flexibility and global reach, making quality education accessible to students worldwide.

Group of school friends walking down staircase

In its most recent census, Canada’s population comprised over 450 ethnic or cultural origins.


Other Schools of Interest in Canada

BC Online School

BC Online School is a non-profit independent school operated by Heritage Christian Online School. Catering to over 5,000 students, the school offers a wide variety of online courses for students in grades 8 to 12. BC Online School’s courses meet the standards of the British Columbia Ministry of Education, making it a reliable choice for students seeking a flexible, high-quality education.

Victoria International High School Programs

The Victoria International High School Programs (VIHSP) in British Columbia, provide opportunities for international students to study alongside Canadian students in public high schools. With a total student population of approximately 18,000, it offers students from around the world a chance to experience Canadian culture and education in one of the country’s most scenic cities.

Elite Toronto Private School

Branksome Hall is a prestigious all-girl private school in Toronto, renowned for its rigorous International Baccalaureate program. With a student population of over 900, the school promotes a balanced curriculum of academics, athletics, the arts and community service. Notable alumni include former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and actor Sarah Polley.

The Largest Francophone School in Ontario

École secondaire catholique de Plantagenet, located in Plantagenet, ON, is one of the largest Francophone secondary schools in the province. As a part of the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO), the school caters to a large Francophone population and promotes a rich and diverse Francophone culture.

The Most Prominent Boarding School in Canada

Appleby College in Oakville, ON, is one of Canada’s most prominent co-educational boarding and day schools. Founded in 1911, the school enrolls more than 750 students in grades 7 to 12. Offering a comprehensive curriculum, an international student body, and a vibrant campus life, Appleby has produced many notable alumni, including writer and filmmaker Robert Lantos and Olympian Silken Laumann.

International School of Vancouver

The International School of Vancouver, also known as Bodwell High School, has a population of over 650 students from 40 different countries. The school offers a curriculum that meets the requirements of the British Columbia Ministry of Education while promoting global citizenship. Bodwell’s unique three-semester system allows new students to begin their study in January, April, or September.


While high schools in the United States and Canada share the goal of equipping students for higher education or professional pursuits, the journey to that end varies greatly. From the grade structures and unique terminologies to the larger role of province-specific regulations in Canada, understanding these differences can help foster better cross-border understanding and cooperation in the educational realm. Notably, in both countries, various institutions have nurtured numerous individuals who have significantly contributed to their fields, underlining the vital role of these educational systems. Online education, a rapidly growing sector, further diversifies the educational landscape, allowing for greater access and flexibility. As we continue to navigate an increasingly globalized world, such insights into international educational structures can be invaluable.

RankSchoolStudent PopulationLocation
1.Harry Ainlay High School2,800Edmonton, AB
2.Earl Haig Secondary School2,200Toronto, ON
3.Killarney Secondary School2,000Vancouver, BC
4.Northern Secondary School1,800Toronto, ON
5.Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute1,800Toronto, ON
6.Cégep Gérald-Godin1,200Montreal, QC
Summary table of Canada’s largest high schools.

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About the Author

Embracing the interplay between the arts, nature, and technology, Sanaphay Rattanavong sculpts narratives through both data and human/animal-focused lenses at A-Z Animals, primarily in the realms of weather, culture, cleantech, and climate resilience. His specializations also include creativity and animal intelligence. And cats. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College and has labored for more than 10 years in the trenches of journalistic, blog, magazine, and fiction writing. An outdoor enthusiast who also enjoys the finer things in culture, Sanaphay resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with stints in Toronto, Ontario.

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