The Ward Schools – Albert Street and Mary Street 1877

The building of these two ward schools could be considered the dawn of modern public school education in Oshawa, as we know it.

Overcrowding had indeed caught up with Centre Street School again. When the school was opened in August 1876, there were 482 on the roll with an average attendance of 384. In May of the same year, one division had 120 pupils. There were not enough seats to go around and some of the children had to sit on the stove. The teachers in the public school part were all expected to handle seventy five pupils. Miss Panton’s room had 60 pupils, they were seated on long benches with no desks, and (desks were provided for all, later on). Miss Panton had only a common table for her own use, on the same level as the scholars. Mr. Tamblyn was obliged to stagger the hours for the juniors, “one half of each haying instruction in the morning and afternoon.” Some of the classes were being held for the juniors in the Son’s Hall. The high school occupied two rooms with two teachers and 66 pupils in the roll.[1]

The trustees and citizens were well aware of what it was going to cost for the new school or schools, but the time had come, owing to the increase in the population of Oshawa that something had to be done. The trustees had discussed the problem at their meetings. Some wanted only one school to be built, but which one in the north east ward? Or the south east ward? Some thought both schools should be built at the same time. Finally a meeting was called for the ratepayers and trustees in August 1876. A vote was taken, and the decision was in favour of building both schools at the same time. It passed with a rather small margin.

It was reported on March 17th, 1826, that a delegation was sent out to purchase lots for the north east ward school. It was the one that many people thought should have been built first. The site chosen was the corner of Mary Street and Colborne Street. The cost was not to exceed $900 from Mr. P.R. Higley. There is “three fifths of an acre and a rod addition on the corner of Albert Street, the price was $700.

The architect for the schools was Mr. Mowat. Both buildings were to be erected on the same plan and for the same cost $3493. The trustees decided this was the most economical way. The schools were to be completed by the fall of 1877. Gall and Dinner were the contractors and W.T. Dingle,[2] the carpenters.

Plans for the schools indicate that it was a  two story red and white brick, 4 rooms each – 26 feet square [with the] entry [being] 16 feet by 26 feet.

The reports were somewhat vague but apparently Mary Street was finished a few weeks before Albert Street. Those who had the contracts were resident of Oshawa. The seats were purchased from the Oshawa Cabinet Company at a total cost of $888.10.

A furnace company asked for the contract to install furnaces in the schools, but the trustees decided that coal stoves were “more healthful, cheaper and less trouble.” Coal cellars were built in the basements and the stoves were purchased from McKay, an Oshawa firm.

The new bells were bought from a company in Seneca Falls, New York, U.S.A. They weighed a total of 340 pounds in the frames; the size in diameter was twenty seven inches. The total cost was $47 including the duty. It was stated that the bells had a good clear tone.

The blackboards were made by sinking a moulding in the plaster and painting the enclosure black. The paint of those in Mary Street soon peeled off. The contractor was blamed for that, he had allowed the painting to be done before the plaster was dry. Messrs. Patte[3] and Wilson were the ones who had the contract for the painting job.

The schools were both completed for just under $5000, each. This made a total debt of $10,000. Debentures were issued at 8%. The school board already had a debt of $3000, making $13,000 in all.

Before the annual school meeting in January of 1877, it was predicted that it would be an interesting one, and it proved to be all that and more. Accusations were hurled at the school trustees. Why did they build both the schools at the same time and run the village into so much debt? John Cowan, who was manager of the Ontario Malleable Iron Works and also a trustee, “delivered” himself as follows, ‘He was opposed to building the two schools, he would rather see the children running the streets than put the town to the expense of building them at this time of depression when they could not afford to pay for them. This would have affected about 200 children, if only the one school had been built. He got a good letter in answer to that one, in the paper January 19th, 1877. The anonymous party who answered him felt that the village could pay for the schools, without too much hardship. This article was under the title “A Specimen of a School Trustee“.

Dr. McGill came in for his share of criticism, He was asked why he had voted to erect the two schools. His answer was, he was not in favour, but voted the way he did because he thought the majority demanded it. He reminded them of the meeting that had been held for rate payers and trustees. Mr. Larke, who was his number one enemy, dared him to run again as trustee and chairman of the board. Dr. McGill withdrew his name. Mr. Larke moved a vote of thanks to Dr. McGill, the retiring chairman, for his long and disinterested services in that position. Dr. McGill made him a neat reply. This may have had political overtones (Dr. McGill had been M.P.P for South Ontario). He probably felt by this time, too, that the he had had enough of school business, he had done his duty over a long period of years, and apparently without much thanks.

Later on the school trustees had some difficulty with P.R. Higley, the man from whom the site for Albert Street School was bought. He would not sign deed at first and after the property was fenced in, he claimed the trustees had taken more land than they were entitled to have. Mr. Shier was the surveyor. The dispute was settled by arbitration, at last, after a couple of years.

Trouble for the School Board

The schools were both completed at a total cost of just under $5000 each. This made a total of $10 000. The property was fenced; he claimed that the school trustees had taken more land than they were entitled to have. He demanded that they return a portion of it to him. Mr. Shier was the surveyor. The dispute was settled by arbitration two years later.

The property next to the school was, at the time, farmland and a clover field was adjacent to the yard. Cattle were allowed to roam through the village at will and they had broken down the school fence and had had a feast in the clover. The irate farmer, who was working the place, threatened to sue the school board for damages claiming that the fence was not strong enough to keep stray animals off his property. The cattle had done much damage to his field. Many complaints were noticed in the “Vindicator” of cattle having made a wreck of peoples’ lawns and gardens.

The teachers of the public schools were in March 28th 1877:

Centre Street            – Mr. Jas. Yeoman – principal

                        – Miss Henderson

                        – Miss Panton

                        – Miss Wallace

No. 2 – Mary Street  – Mr. O’Gorman

                                    – Miss S.J. Hislop (sister of Miss F. Hislop)

                                    – Miss Johnson

No.3 – Albert Street – Mr. Bushe

                                    – Miss McCreight

                                    – Miss Palmer

It was recorded that Miss Fanny Hislop had leave of absence to study for the 2nd class teacher’s exam at this time.

Those teachers on the list in Albert Street and Mary Street were the first ones in the new schools. Some of them had taught before that, in Centre Street School.

There is an item in the “Vindicator” dated September 7th, 1859, “that a resolution had been passed authorizing the chairman of the school board to take legal proceedings against Asa Burke for the balance on the south Oshawa School house, purchased by him from the school board some years ago, if not arranged by him within one week.  He had been paying interest on his debt for some time apparently. Later it was reported that he paid $180.

Another account of the disposal of the schoolhouse was that when it was demolished some of the lumber was used in the construction of the original McGrigor homestead, which has stood ever since on the same site.


[1] The following link contains information about current class sizes in Ontario. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/cst/

[2] W.T. Dingle, known as Thomas, settled in the Oshawa area in 1844. As a young man he learned the carpentry and joiner trade from James Luke, and went on to establish his own building trade business in 1857.  He produced materials for his contracting business in a building that he constructed for that purpose. In December 1862 he was awarded the contract to build a “lock-up” behind Town Hall, his tender being forty-five dollars to do the job.  It is also known that he constructed the woodwork of the Simcoe Street Methodist Church, the Bishop Bethune College, and other important structures in the Oshawa area.

[3] Established in 1871, by Frederick Patte, Patte’s Paint & Wallpaper Shop became an Oshawa landmark for many years.  This business is symbolic of the entrepreneurial spirit which is still strong in the Oshawa community. Frederick Patte emigrated from England to Canada in 1871.  He settled in Oshawa and started a home decorating business.  He constructed the building for his business at 85 Simcoe Street North during the same year.  First called F. Patte, House Decorator and Painter, the business struggled to survive one of the major Canadian recessions during the late 1870’s.

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