Centre Street School – Old and New

I shall now describe Centre Street School as I remember it, not long before it was to be demolished. The old school had its beginning in those far away years from 1843, when it was a one story brick building. A lot of school history was made during the time of its existence.

It was no gem of architecture, they couldn’t afford many frills, and utility was the main consideration.

The walls inside the whole school were whitewashed and the woodwork was painted a colour that could be called “battle-ship grey.” The floors had been originally of rather rough lumber and were very dark. Signs of hard-wear were very much in evidence throughout the whole building.

The front entrance was on the east side facing Centre Street and it had double doors. This was the teachers’ entrance. The girl’s entrance was on the north side and it was protected by an overhanging roof similar to a veranda. The boy’s entrance was on the south side.

A quite narrow stairway came down from the second story to the main hall on the ground floor. This was just inside the front door. There was a small utility cupboard under the stairs. Most of the cloakroom facilities for the pupils were a few hooks placed around in convenient spots. Some of the class rooms opened into one another and of course this added to the confusion. The windows were not of modern design, but the lighting was not bad.

At first the building was heated by stoves in each room. In later years two or three huge coal furnaces were installed. One was on the main floor in one of the classrooms in the wing on the northeast corner. Large resisters distributed the heat. Quite heavy pillars were in the classrooms on the main floor to support the weight of the building. Slate blackboards were installed in all the rooms.

When the town water supply was available[1], space was excavated under the centre of the building for the installation of washrooms. Taps and sinks were in the hall on the main floor for the drinking water.

The school bell, in the tower, could be heard for a long distance. Late-comers were often seen racing down the street anticipating no doubt what was in store for them when they arrived. The bell rope hung down in one of the rooms beneath. Very often a child was appointed to look after the ringing of the bell at the required times. He felt very important when given that task; it was an award of merit.

The wood-work on the outside of the school was painted green and the front door was red. The bricks didn’t look as if they had ever been cleaned.

 A person living in Oshawa today (1967), said that when he was a boy attending that school, he had seen snow in the corners on the floor of the main hall downstairs. No doubt with the years, the buildings had separated enough to make cracks in the walls where the snow sifted through. This was likely where the additions had been joined. The school building was a fire trap of the first order. However, for all its faults there were many people who regretted to see it go, it was an old landmark for many years, a link with the past.

From the year 1850 – 1855, the following teachers were in Centre Street School: Mr. James, William Cowan and Thomas Kirkland. Most of the teachers did not stay in the schools much more than a year, some of them only a few weeks. It was reported later that Mr. Kirkland [had only] visited Oshawa (he had come from Ottawa.) The teachers who held degrees came from England or Scotland. Mr. Kirkland was principal of the Toronto normal school for some years.

[1] In 1904 the first pumping station and municipal water supply was introduced. Mains were built from the lake to Oshawa, through Cedardale.


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