Sunday, February 6, 2022
For early farmers, getting formal education for their children took a decided back seat to getting the work done on the homestead. When education became an option the local community would usually come together to build a small log school, often with split logs for seating. Prior to 1840 students would attend based on the needs of the farm and so the teacher was often a volunteer and had another means of income. This article looks at the history of one room schools and some of the examples that remain in the GTA. A link is given to each one that leads to more information and Google map links if you wish to check them out for yourself.
The first High School in Peel County was built in 1851 in Streetsville and it still survives. It has been greatly modified over the years but it is the small building at the back in the picture below. Two rooms and the tower were added later as the town grew.
These early one room schools were attended by children who often had lengthy walks to get to class in the mornings. Since extended families often had adjacent farms it was common to attend school with your siblings, cousins, and neighbours. You could spend 8 years with the same students and teacher, in the same classroom. There was no electricity, no running water, and poor heating plus you had to go to the outhouse at the back of the schoolyard to use the toilet. Teachers and students would bring fuel to burn in the winter for heat.
The school in Britannia was built in 1859 and housed children in grades one to eight for 100 years before it was closed. After standing empty until 1982 it was finally restored and is now used as a field trip destination where a class of students role plays a school day from the past. Where the earliest students walked from local farms along a muddy country road, the modern students are bused in along a four-lane highway.
In 1871 the Ontario Government enacted the Schools Act which made education free and compulsory, the first act of its kind in Canada. Each of the provinces was quick to follow suit as they were given responsibility for education under Confederation. Brougham also has a school that served the community from 1859 to 1959 before being closed. It currently is being used as an art gallery while it awaits its fate as part of the Pickering airport lands.
An 1872 document details the rules for teachers and it illustrates a distinct difference in how male teachers were treated compared to females. A single male could have one night per week off for courting, two if he was a regular attendee of the local church. Women weren’t expected to court and could be fired for getting married or indulging in “unseemly conduct”, whatever that was. The log school in Limehouse was replaced in 1862 by a new stone building. As the lime industry grew, the school soon became too small and a second floor was added in 1875. By 1890 it was no longer needed and was closed until 1954 when it was again put into service, although for only 8 years until the school finally closed permanently.
The L’Amoreaux school was built in 1869 to replace an earlier one from the 1830s. Most of the original schools were log or frame construction and usually were small to reflect the size of the community. As the local population grew it was often necessary to build a larger school of a more permanent construction. On a few occasions, the earlier buildings were given a veneer of bricks to reduce the maintenance and help keep the winter winds out.
The original school in Cedar Grove was an 1820 log building on Steeles Avenue. It served until the 1850s when a frame building was erected on the north side of 14th Avenue. In 1869 it was decided to replace this one with a brick building which was constructed across the road. This building almost made it 100 years but closed in 1966. It now serves as the community centre.
Children in Hornby attended class in a log cabin built in 1826 until 1870 when it was replaced with a new building. This too was replaced in 1963 with the new Pineview School on the 5th line.
Meadowvale replaced their early school in 1871 with a board and batten structure that has been used as the town hall since 1968.
The original log school in German Mills was replaced in 1874 with a new building. This school operated until 1962 using the skills of over thirty different teachers over the years. A school bell was used to call students into class and this building still has the original bell in its tower.
The town of Ringwood built a log school in 1838 but as the town grew, so did the need for a larger building. They met the need in 1887 with a new brick building. By 1939 the town was shrinking and enrollment was down to just 13 students. The town voted that year against installing electricity or hiring a music teacher as they couldn’t really afford the $1200 salary of the existing teacher. After the school closed it was used as a church building for a few years.
Boston Mills built a one room school house out of stone in 1888 and operated it until 1969. When it was closed it was moved into the cemetery to be used as a mortuary to store bodies in for the winter until they could be buried in the spring.
Haggerman’s Corners built a wooden school in 1858 but it burned down in 1888. The town commissioned E. J. Lennox, designer of Casa Loma, to design the replacement. For this reason, they ended up with a school that looks somewhat different than the standard one room school. There were even separate entrances for the boys and girls on opposite sides of the building.
Wesleyville started with a log school which it used until 1866 when a frame church building was moved onto the site and became the school. When it burned down in 1899 it was replaced with the present brick building. The school was closed for good in 1967 but is currently being renovated inside.
The County Altases that were published in the late 1870s showed schools every couple of concessions but most of these haven’t survived. The few that remain provide us with a glimpse into the lives of school children 150 years ago.
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