The Oshawa Public Schools: 1881 – 1920

By the year 1891 all the subjects being taught in public schools now, were also taught in the schools then.  Health was then termed physiology.  Over the period of years to the present day methods of teaching, books and school courses have seen many changes.  They are too numerous to be dealt with in any detail and are continuing to change all the time.  This applies to the secondary schools as well.

The members of the school board were very disappointed in the numbers of parents attending the public examinations.  It was felt that it showed a great lack of interest.  These public exams had been held in Centre Street School down through the years at least until shortly after Mr. Lyman C. Smith took over as principal in 1882.  Some comments were noticed in the “Reformer” condemning them.  Students should be allowed to write or answer orally, questions submitted to them “in an atmosphere where there were no distractions or causes for nervousness outside the usual ailment.”  Public examinations were finally discontinued in the early 1900s.  After that, the only exam in the presence of anyone was in reading on the “Entrance Exams”  (high school entrance) candidates were required to read, in a separate room, aloud to the presiding officer, usually the principal of the school.  In those days all children both inside and outside of the town went to Centre Street School to try the entrance exams.

When Mr. Smith took over as principal of all the public schools in Oshawa in 1883, he introduced the normal school system of study in order to build up the secondary schools.  It met with opposition from some of the parents, of course.  Parental interference has been a factor to be dealt with in the schools shall we say since schools began.  After all it is they, who pay the bills, so I suppose why not?

In the later 1800s, coal furnaces were installed in Centre Street School, replacing the wood burning box stoves of the former years.  During the years 1881 to 1910 Centre Street School was again crowded and classroom space had to be found elsewhere.  The high school was occupying half the surround space in the building.  The Sons Hall was being pressed into service for junior classes. There was a small white clapboard church (the old Christian Church) situated in Memorial Park, about opposite the front door of the present E.A. Lovell School.  The trustees obtained the use of it for classes.  Later it was bought and moved to the Centre Street School grounds in 1906.  It could be called the first annex to a school building in Oshawa.

During these years, early in the 1900s, the schools in town did not have many things that we have today.  There were no school excursions, vocational classes, auditoriums, basements, playrooms or cadet corps.  Pupils scrambled into Centre Street School, willy-nilly – no gong to call or gramophone to induce orderly marching.  The boys wore homespun trousers, heavy sweaters and toques that looked liked elongated stockings with a long string and tassel at the end.  There were no mini-skirts worn by girls either.  They wore high laced shoes and the skirts were nearly ankle-length.  What a contrast to the garb of today.  However the schools of those days turned but good lawyers, doctors, teachers and successful business men.  To mention a few – Dr. T.W.G. McKay, R.S. McLaughlin[1], Dr. D.S. Hoig[2] and, Honourable Gordon D. Conant were pupils then.

Before this time applications for a principal in a school, by lady teachers, were turned down.  However, after some misgivings, the school board selected Miss Annie Andrews to take charge of Mary Street School.

By the year 1909, the population in the town was increasing rapidly and four room additions had to be built on Mary Street and Albert Street schools.  More classroom space was required.  No further ones were added.  King Street School built in 1909 was of modern construction.  It had eight rooms and was the first one to be built with all modern improvements, lighting, fire-proofing, playroom capacity and equipment.  It could accommodate three hundred students.

In 1916, South Simcoe School was constructed. It was the first one to be steam heated; all the others were heated by hot air furnaces.

During the three years following 1919 – four new schools were built at a total cost of $700, 000.


[1] Col. R.S. McLaughlin, founder of the McLaughlin Motor Car Company and General Motors Canada.

[2] Local  M.D.

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