Harmony School was one of the oldest pioneer institutions in the district and was established in 1829. The first one was built of logs and as far as it is known, it was on or near the site of the present one. It may have been more or less a private school at first for the children of the few families who had settled there. Many changes have taken place in the community since then.
The name of Farewell will be connected with the school for all time. Ackeus Moodie Farewell was the son of Abraham Farewell who came to the district from Scugog in 1800. The family originally came from Kent, England.
No one knows who the first teacher in the school was, but in the year 1831 or 1832, Miss Wealtha Ann Shipman, later Mrs. Ackeus Farewell taught there.
Mr. and Mrs. Farewell celebrated their golden wedding and George Farewell aged 95 and residing in Harmony at present, can recall being a guest at the celebration. He said that his grandfather mentioned that, before they were married he used to see Wealtha Ann coming out of the school, wearing a pink sunbonnet. She was the teacher. Other grandchildren in the family were present and remembered the same.
Another remark passed by one of the Farewell brothers was that “soon after the log school was built they started sawing for another one.” The next school, a frame building, was erected in 1852. The land for the site was donated by Ackeus Farewell and it was surrounded by a picket fence.
An item appears in the “Vindicator” on October 21st, 1857, stating that George M. Farewell was successful in passing the first class teacher’s exam with a class B standing.
I have gathered most of the following information from the minute books of the school meetings, dating from January 28th, 1861. These books were very kindly loaned to me by Mr. Clarence Greentree of this city.
In November 1861, the following item was noted that “the job of building a wood shed and girls’ privy was auctioned on the school ground.” I suppose in that case the lowest bidder received the contract.
Public examinations were held in Harmony school as well as in the others around the township. In June 1862 it was reported in the “Vindicator” that Mr. Henry Reazin and Mr. James Churchill of the Oshawa Central School were present and conducted the exam. Many of the parents attended as well as Mr. Robert White, one of the trustees. The children showed very good progress; Mr. J.S. Duffy was their teacher. Ninety books in all were presented to the children for prizes, by J.E. Farewell. He gave a speech of encouragement to the pupils. Messrs. Reazin and Churchill also gave appropriate addresses.
It was also reported that Mr. James Churchill formerly of the Oshawa Central School, was engaged as teacher in Harmony in December 1862. He was offered a better salary. Oshawa lost many good teachers owing to the poor salaries they handed out.
On April 1st 1863 another public exam was held in the school and was conducted by Mr. Henry Reazin. When giving his address after he had finished with the exams, he called attention to the “dilapidated condition of the school building.” “It had to be propped up at one end to keep it from falling down; it was now time to build another.” He said he would like to see galleries built in public schools for use if extra classes were needed. His speech met with the approval of the audience.
In the earliest register in presentation in the school, fifty-eight pupils were enrolled; thirteen of them were Farewell’s. The attendance was noticeably lower in the spring and fall when many of the children had to remain at home to help on the farms.
In 1865, it was proposed at a school board meeting to charge the children 75 cents per quarter for fees. This however was ruled out and the school was declared free. In 1871, a law was passed in Ontario declaring that all common (Public) schools must be free. Oshawa and Harmony were ahead of the Department of Education in this matter, by a few years.
The pump on the school grounds seemed to have been out of business quite a number of times. It must have been either the fault of the pump or the children. There [are?] bills of repairs that had to be paid.
Also, it was recorded that Harmony school was receiving money from Clergy Reserves. In 1869 it was $36.00. It was said to have been getting less all the time, the last payment recorded was in 1905.