Tag Archives: Mary Street School

James and Jessie Panton

James Hoyes Panton was born on May 7th, 1847 in Cupar, Fife, Scotland. He was the son of Agnes (nee Wilkie) Panton and James H. Panton. When James was but one year old, he and his five siblings came to Canada with their parents. They sailed across the Atlantic in May of 1848, a voyage that took two months!

Hardship continued to plague the Panton family throughout their lives. Only six years after arriving in Toronto, James Panton Sr. had fallen victim to cholera. He passed away in July of 1854 leaving his wife and children essentially destitute. Soon after the death of their husband and father a friend living east of Toronto extended an invitation for the family to come live with them.

The family arrived at the Oshawa harbour on November 29, 1855 and traveled 9 miles north to the village of Columbus. James got used to living in the country and began assisting local farmers transport cattle and sheep to Toronto; he developed an interest in prayer at a young age and began attending the local school. In his memoir James notes that “nothing of striking interest occurred in school life.”[1] But something must have become clear to James through these years as he spent the remainder of his life teaching and working in education.

Late in 1886 the family moved closer to Oshawa and things began looking up for the family. They lived in their house rent free, had a number of animals that James cared for and the children continued with their studies in the country school. Though they only stayed there for a year, James was promoted to the fourth book. By December of 1887 the family had yet again moved closer to town, with the school only being one mile away. “At this early age [10 years], the writer began to show signs of being a good scholar, and by the time he was twelve he had reached the proud position of the best if not the first student in the school. At twelve he had learned six books of Euclid’s elements and had a good knowledge of all the subjects taught in a rural school.”[2]

James and his younger sister Jessie continued to excel in their studies. He notes that they “usually carried off all the 1st and 2nd prizes”[3] after examinations. By 1864 James Hoyes Panton had “succeeded in getting a First Class A[4] unlimited”[5] teaching certificate. He was only 17 years old.

Mr. Panton took several teaching jobs throughout the surrounding areas during the course of his career. His first job was at S.S. No. 2 Reach, near Manchester. He was paid $220 per year but had the expense of his own board. At the end of one year, he received a raise of $60 per year. James taught at S.S. No. 2 Reach for two years before his family finally moved to Oshawa in 1866. It was at this time that he was hired as a teacher at another S.S. No. 2, this time in the village of Cedardale with an annual salary of $320. James noted that many of his students were of American descent and quite clever. In 1868 his sister Jessie was appointed his assistant teacher. Olive French notes that Jessie Panton acted as a substitute teacher for her brother when he had to be absent and that she was just a young girl then.[6]

Jessie was born in 1850 in Cupar, Fife, Scotland and had a similar upbringing to her brother, James. After her time assisting her brother at S.S. No. 2, Cedardale School, she taught at one of the Ward Schools, Mary Street. Jessie was the principal, but on officially recognized because of a “board ruling that the headmasters of the ward schools should be male teachers. Her salary was $500 per year.”[7]

By 1885, Miss Panton had become the science teacher at the Centre Street School, though she was paid $100 less. In 1890, Miss Panton had been teaching ‘natural science’, similar to her brother, for five years. Although she briefly considered leaving, the Oshawa Board raised her salary by $100 per year to keep her in the position.

Jessie Panton continued on as the science teacher at Centre Street School until 1905 when she retired. Jessie remained active in her church, St. Andrew’s United; she never married or had any children. Jessie lived at 84 Division Street, which is currently occupied by the Durham Region Courthouse.

James Hoyes Panton died in Woolwich, ON, on February 2, 1898. Woolwich is near the University of Guelph where he was a Professor of Chemistry. Jessie Panton died in Newcastle, ON, on September 6, 1932.

[1] Autobiography. James Hoyes Panton. P.7

[2] Ibid. P.12

[3] Ibid. P. 13

[4] According to Olive French, a Class A certificate meant that you could teach anywhere in the country but had to have at least five years experience. Class A standing also meant that you obtained higher marks than someone with a Class B or Class C standing.

[5] Ibid. P. 13

[6] Jessie Panton would have been approximately 18 years old.

[7] Ross, Douglas. Education in Oshawa. Alger Press. Oshawa. P.64


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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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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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Public School Routine: 1865/1870 – 1900

“Boots are shuffling

Slates are rattling

And down in yonder corner,

Two pugilists are battling.

By weariness and frustration,

No wonder I grow crusty

In such an occupation.”

No doubt the foregoing quotation described the teacher’s attitude towards his or her work in those days. Possibly it could to a certain extent today.

However by that time there was a vast improvement in the interior of the schools since the days of the log ones. The rooms were finished very much as they are now, the walls and ceilings were plastered and white washed. An attempt was made to improve the lighting, and there were two or three windows according to the size of the room. The seats were becoming more modern in construction, usually they were double. There were made larger or smaller to suit the children’s ages and were all fastened to the floor. Three children sat in one seat when the room was crowded. One can imagine how much work was done. Large wood or coal stoves heated the schoolrooms now, instead of the fireplaces.

Black board space was at a premium in most of the schools and these were not very satisfactory. There were the two types, the one made on the plaster as described in Mary and Albert Street Schools, the other was of wood. Planks were cut to the size, needed, and were joined as close as possible. The board was then planed and sanded smooth. A moulding was fitted around it when it was fastened on the wall. It was then painted black. Some of the boards were made portable. The paint soon became scratched by the chalk and dull with the dust. Some years later these boards were replaced by slate ones, which were very expensive.

The rooms could usually boast of a few maps, generally much the worse for wear and perhaps a globe. A large dictionary was kept handy, but there were few books other than the extra textbooks which were kept on reserve.

By this time the school readers had been made containing more imaginative prose and poetry Literature had been added to the elementary curriculum. The teacher read stories to the classes from any book or periodical he or she might have had on hand, or, a story from a book that some one of the pupils had brought to school. This was a Friday afternoon treat.

The tablets mentioned in the course of study were made of quite heavy cardboard, and were almost two a half feet square. There were words and sentences printed on both sides, to be used for practice in reading and spelling. Some of them had tables in arithmetic. These tablets could be propped up on the black-board or a convenient chair and saved the teacher’s time and black-board space in her daily work with the junior classes.

Often children who had a very low I.Q were sent to school. They should not have been in the classrooms. It was not fair to the children and the teacher did not have the training to handle them successfully. Not much thought had been given to the needs of those children at that time.

Slates were used mostly by the scholars. Those in the senior classes had scribbling books, but there were used sparingly. The slates were all bound with red felt to stop some of the clatter. There were small ones for the tots and larger ones for older children. The pencils were of slate, quite slim and easily broken. When new, they were bound with paper to help keep them in one piece. A pencil held at the right angle on a slate and with the right pressure produce failed to bring a roar from the teacher. A bottle of water and a cloth was kept handy for cleaning the slate, although a few good brushes with the sleeve accomplished fairly good results.

The teacher’s desk was on a raised platform about nine or more inches high and a couple of long benches were placed on the main floor in front of it. In an ungraded school room, the different classes were called, individually, to the front to receive their instructions and they sat on the bench or stood on the floor in front of the teacher’s desk as the case required.

There would not be very many students in the Junior or Senior fourth (Grade VII and VIII). The larger children by that time were kept at home to work, or were “hired out” elsewhere.

The instruction of the classes usually started with the beginners. The teacher called the grade whose turn it was, to be ready to move and he or she meant move too. Then a small hand bell was rung for the class to come forward. Those who remained in their seats were given plenty of work to do, but if there was an interesting lesson being taught in a higher grade, all listened. Sometimes an alert junior would be bouncing up and down in his seat in eagerness, to give the answer that was stumping a senior! If the attendance was large and a convenient corner could be found, a Grade VIII student, armed with a tablet, was sometimes asked to give extra help to some of the beginners who were not making satisfactory progress.

For years, children were taught to read and spell by the A, B, C, method. A child could usually repeat the alphabet by the time he or she entered school. Combinations of words such as cat, rat, and hat were the first lessons. The child learned to recognize these at sight and spell them. Simple sentences were soon introduced along with these words. Thus the lessons went on [    ] introduced. The pupils learned to read by sounding out the letters or combinations of letters. They learned to spell the words at the same time. In some respects this was rather confusing.

All children in those years, learned to write from the start of their school careers. They did not print in the earlier grades as they are doing now. Many of the people then were beautiful writers and took much pride in it. Writing was taught to the juniors by the use of copy books. These had a few ruled lines on each page and words or a sentence were written, not printed on the top of each. A copy was to be made on every line and each one was to show an improvement as the pupil went along. The pens in use, then, had steel nibs and many blots were made when the smallest hands tried to guide them. Those nibs had an aggravating habit of getting caught in the paper.

In the country schools, older boys and girls of eighteen or twenty were allowed to attend school in the winter after the work on the farms was finished for the season. This had been the custom since pioneer days. As a rule most of them didn’t go there to improve their education and only made a nuisance of themselves for the teacher and the younger pupils.

The birch rod, so popular in the early days was gradually ruled out of the schools. Some of the older scholars, on a few occasions had received broken fingers through its injudicious use. The strap became a popular way to emphasize obedience and to stimulate the lazy ones. As a rule the parents did not come to the school and complain about Johnny’s or Mary’s punishment. If a child deserved it he got no sympathy from “ma or pa.” Most children were told, “if you get a lickin’ in school you’re git another when you git home.”

Field days were held only occasionally and a game or two of basketball or baseball were the extent of the outdoor sports. There were no outdoor rinks in the winter on the school grounds. That would have been considered a waste of time and water. Studies occupied the day.

Mr. Dolan was in the school at the time of the “Titanic”[1] disaster and the terrible day of World War I[2]. The schools in the town were all closed during the 1918 “flu” epidemic which was raging at the time when the Armistice was signed.

Mr. Dolan left Oshawa in 1920 to take up the position as principal in the Collegiate of London.


[1] The R.M.S. Titanic set sail from Southhampton, England on April 10th, 1912. Four days later she stuck an iceberg and subsequently sank at 2:20 a.m. on the morning of April 15th. 1517 people perished.

[2] 1914 – 1918

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