The Beginning of Our Modern Schools

In the few years of its existence, the Union School building on the corner of Royal Street and Simcoe Street was allowed to fall into a bad state of disrepair. One gentleman said after he had made a visit that he “did not know whether to come in by the hole by the door or by the door.”

The trustees decided that the days of the log schools were over, and more substantial buildings would have to be erected in the future. The hamlet was considered large enough by that time to support the cost of such buildings.

During the year 1843, a large piece of land was purchased on Centre Street and the first school house to be situated on the site of the present E.A. Lovell one, was erected. It was built of brick.

In the same year, another brick school was built two doors north of Colbourne Street at a point spoken of as “fronting the Wellington homestead on Simcoe Street.” The first teacher was Mr. Sloan, a Scotch man of the old type who was thoroughly acquainted with the use of the birch rod. He called his pupils by such endearing names as “baubling ediots” and “spalpeens.”[1]

Things did not go as smoothly perhaps, as they might have expected. The early school boards had a variety of decisions to make. For a time one of their teachers “the cruel despotic Chestnut” who followed Mr. Sloan held a reign of terror.[2] Parents protested the teacher’s severity and the trustees warned him repeatedly. Finally he resigned voluntarily because of having been ordered to read the Scriptures aloud to the school on Saturday Mornings. I might add here that the schools were in session all day on Saturday. Mr. J.B. Keddie, father of Miss Helen Keddie, a onetime principal of Mary Street School had reason to remember Mr. Chestnut and his birch rod. Mr. Keddie and some other elderly gentlemen recalled him when they had a visit together and even in their old age they longed to get revenge.

By the year 1848, Oshawa was a settlement of over two thousand people and around thirty persons were in business here. There was a school named the “Oshawa Seminary” in the hamlet at the time. The teachers were Tyler C. Moulton and J.A. Gimlett. They taught English, higher Mathematics and languages. They advertised for pupils in a paragraph inserted in the local newspaper. The fees were 1 pound, 10s per term and board could be had with good families for 7s 6d per week.

By the year 1857 Oshawa was a community of three thousand people. It had attained the dignity of a village. A few stores had been built and some well educated people had settled here. However most of the streets were buggy tracks and cows roamed through at will. Education had been taken out of the direct control of the parents.[3]

Trustees for schools were being elected and government grants were given, about $300 for Oshawa. Small children entered the school at the age of five, no one could attend after twenty-one. Not many went anyways after they had grown to the size that they could be of help at home or take employment elsewhere. Only a very few of the most clever ones were taking up the advanced subjects to prepare themselves for classics in University, the ministry, law or medicine. They went to Toronto to try the final exams if they were fortunate to have tuition to get that far. Teaching was used then by many as a stepping stone to another desired profession. They were mostly all boys in the higher grades up to this time. There seemed to be no room for girls in those halls of learning. They were sent to Toronto to finishing schools if their parents could afford it.

[1] Douglas Ross. Education in Oshawa. P. 10

[2] Douglas Ross. Education in Oshawa. P. 19

[3]  During the 1840’s and 1850’s there was an extensive legislation passed on schooling in Upper Canada.    In October 1844, Sir Charles Metcalfe appointed Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson to the position of Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada – the highest position in the Department of Public Instruction for Upper Canada. Upon his appointment to the Department of Public Instruction Ryerson set out his goals for public education; a system of education based in Christian faith, a universal system of schooling – providing elementary and secondary education, British and Canadian in nature, foster patriotism and serve the needs of Upper Canada’s social and economic life, must be the concern of the government. When he took office – 2,500 elementary schools in Canada West – financed by government grants, property taxation and tuition fees. Schools were run by locally elected boards of education and supervised by a central Education office.  “Did not create school system but inherited it” – Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Building of the school system was cooperative – success was due in part to high opinion of his aims – by parents, taxpayers, school boards. Ryerson’s first two years in office were spent touring Europe and the British Empire researching education systems. He visited schools in Holland, Italy and France and Germany.


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