Centre Street Common School – 1855

In the year 1855, Oshawa was a community of around three thousand people and had attained the dignity of a village. A few fairly good stores had been built and some well educated people had settled here.

The streets were lanes with the wheel tracks of buggies and other vehicles to mark them. The place was known for miles around and many years for its special brand of mud. It was sticky clay and was a problem for those who travelled around the village. Much of the traffic to and from Oshawa then, was by boat.

A corduroy road[1] was built on Simcoe Street to the harbour and woe betides anyone who got off it in a wet season. Many a horse-drawn vehicle was mired on Oshawa’s streets, “Oshawa’s plenteous mud to admire,” so reported the ‘Vindicator.”

During the year 1855, the best school so far in the village was constructed on the site of the present E.A. Lovell School. It was of white brick and according to accounts, the school that was built there in 1843 was remodelled and a second story, added. The upper floor was not divided into classrooms until later. By looking closely at the picture of old Centre Street School, one can form an idea of its appearance. It was the front portion of the south wing. Apparently no expense was spared, only exterior four walls, a roof and chimneys, a few doors according to that day’s standard, measuring 60ft. by 38ft. was thought to have had good lighting at the time. The total cost of the building was $3 960, that included seats, desks, etc. The rooms were all heated with large wood – burning box stoves. That meant that the janitor would have had to be “up with the lark” on cold winter mornings to have all of the rooms warm and in readiness for 9 a.m. No doubt some of the children would have arrived early as they do today.

The school was described as having had the most modern equipment. What would those same people think if they could see the schools of today! The seats were mostly all double, and somewhat like those in use at the present. Those did away with the backless benches and slanting boards of the former years. The seats and desks were all fastened to the floor. A bucket held the drinking water as in former years and a dipper was kept handy for all to use. It was thought at the time also that the size of the building would be the answer to all of their troubles regarding classroom space.

Most of the population at the time was centred on the intersection of King Street and Simcoe Street. A few of the families lived further away and those children of course, had quite a distance to walk to school.

The boundary lines of the village were then, approximately as follows:

            Northern – the third concession (Rossland Road)

            Southern – Royal Street

            Eastern – Ritson Road

            Western – Park Road

According to the reports I saw in the newspapers, there was considerable absenteeism in school attendance especially during the winter. Besides illness, bad weather and the deplorable condition of the streets were the excuses.

The majority of the children, as in former years did not have the opportunity to stay in school for any length of time. The school ranged from five to twenty-one years. In those days the struggle for existence necessitated many to leave school and take jobs. A number of the parents lacked interest in education and did not put forth the effort to keep their children in school. Only a few of the cleverest ones studied the secondary subjects and prepared themselves for classics in University, the ministry, medicine or law. They went to Toronto to try their final exams if they were fortunate enough to have tuition to get them that far. Teaching was used then as a stepping stone to another desired profession. The education of girls was sadly neglected, not many thought that worthwhile at all. Two Oshawa girls names were mentioned who had obtained Teachers degrees. A few of the parents sent their daughters out of the village to finishing schools.

Mr. Alfred Eckroyd was headmaster (principal) in Centre Street for the year 1856. Classes were held all day, six of the week, and he requested that the school should be granted a half holiday on Saturday. The attendance was quite poor.

In pioneer days the parents had, had a certain amount of control over what was to be taught in the schools. Each school had more or less a law to itself regarding its curriculum. It is recorded that there was much complaining and interference on the part of the parents as to what instruction their children should or should receive, although the parents did not have much “edducashen” themselves. However by 1855, that was being changed and what control they had was being gradually taken out of their hands. The teachers and trustees were taking over more responsibility and government grants were being paid, about $300 per year for Oshawa.


[1] A road across swampy ground, made of logs laid transversely.

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