School Architecture
Home ] Up ]



Studies: Publications

Educational Resources

Historic Sites in Scarborough Heights

Links for Toronto Links

Scarboro Heights Record

Search This Site

Table of Contents




In the fall of 1832, if he indeed then attended classes, Robert Rae was probably one of about 23 scholars under the supervision of John Dewar in a facility on Lot 18 Concession C. William Skelton recorded that, in 1839, he taught in "a log school house near where the Grand Trunk [Railway] crosses the Kingston Road in Scarborough about eleven miles east from Toronto [Lot 14, Concession D]." Following five or six years at other schools in Scarborough and Toronto, he returned to the Scarborough Village area to teach in "a new frame [school] near where the Markham Road leaves the Kingston Road near Mr. Gates' Inn, a little over ten miles east from Toronto [Lot 19 or 20, Concession C]." This frame school, the second in Scarborough, was built in l843. During this period, as William Skelton recalled in 1896, "the books allowed by the Reverend Dr. Ryerson were Lennies' Grammar, the National Reader, maps and the History of Canada." In 1847 Scarborough Township was reorganized into "School Sections", SS. #9 being that area between Lots 13 and 24 inclusive, Concessions B, C and D (i.e. bounded by Galloway Road, Brimley Road, Lawrence Ave. and the Lake).

In 1860, at a cost of $1,400, a brick schoolhouse was erected on Lot 19, Concession D, on the site of the most recent Scarborough Village Public School. The new brick school, the first in Scarborough of the Gothic design, contained one classroom, and a smaller bell room. The bell room was later enlarged and used as a second classroom. The furnishings consisted of desks, an armchair and teacher's desk, a stove, and several maps. According to the school's log book, the maps were replaced in 1886, and new desks arrived about l890. Several years after the first brick schoolhouse was built in Scarborough Village, Thomas McDonald, (a teacher at SS #6 in 1864 and 1865) expressed his proposals on school architecture. He provides a brief history of the development of the schoolhouse in Ontario, but admits that he is a recent emigrant to Canada (probably from Scotland), and so likely his observations are not entirely his own. However, he discusses in detail the ideal setting and layout of a schoolhouse. Although they arrived too late for the trustees of the S.S. #9 to take notice, they perhaps stood as the standards for later school building projects in the township.


School Architecture

As to the improvements that have taken place in "School Architecture" and School Accommodation in this country perhaps I am the least able, of any, here to speak, from the comparative shortness of time that I have been in this country. But, in reading a report in the "Journal of Education" of a pioneer banquet, held at London, Canada West, sometime last fall, my mind naturally reverted to that time when there were no schools at all in this province, when this Canada was one unbroken interminable forest. Then following (mentally) the car of time, down the grade of a few years, a "shanty," or small house can be discerned here and there scattered through the vast forest. Descending the stream of time a few years more several settlements can be described throughout the province, the inhabitants of which have got sufficiently numerous to combine for the purpose of constructing works of public utility. Among these may be noticed the school house. At first, the small, low, log school house alone can be distinguished the roof of which is covered with rough claw boards or bark, very liable to permit the ingress of both snow and rain. The room is sometimes scanty, and the accommodation miserable, as regards the floor, cleanliness, school materials, desks, seats, light, air, &c. The floor, in many instances, is merely the bare earth and consequently uneven; the indentations thereof holding the water coming in from the roof and various other openings; together with the sweepings making it disagreeable and unhealthy. The books are few and of every variety and name to be found in the country; the quils are of bad quality and worse preparation. The ink is of the worst composition, making the writing scarcely readable. The paper is unruled, and no lead pencils wherewith to rule, only a nail, or the edge of a metal button or where a scholar has been fortunate enough to pick up a piece of lead by chance the melting and casting of which, in a green cabbage stock, has nearly cost him his eyesight, or the beauty of his handsome countenance. The paper is bad and scarce, and slates much more so with few slate pencils but a piece of soft stone picked up by the way, the stem of a tobacco pipe or a piece of another slate broken off. The seats are composed, for the most part, of planks partly rough hewn out of the original tree set upon blocks of wood or stone, which serve for feet; said seats sometimes falling off, or rolling over, blocks, scholars and all to the no small danger of the limbs of the occupiers; to the no small annoyance of the teacher and to the unbounded amusement of the pupils who have been fortunate enough to keep their seats. The desks if any are composed of uneven boards laid as nearly horizontal as may be with a shake sufficient to make it as inconvenient and uncomfortable to write as on board a vessel careering through the Atlantic ocean. The scanty light is supplied, by one or more ill-made, and worse-preserved, windows, or what serves the purpose of windows. And owing to the smallness of the place and other causes, there is [not an efficiency]? of pure air to keep up the buoyancy of the spirits, and drive away lanquor and lethargy.

Coming down the stream of time a few years more, "School Architecture" and school accommodation have improved greatly. The old log school houses I have endeavored to depict, have given place to superior log ones, or what is better, to frame ones, into which many of the improvements of the time have been introduced, making them more desirable and respectable. But hastening onward and downward to our times; and what a change! Can it be credited that in the short pace of fifty or sixty years, such a change has really taken place. A change from an impenetrable forests to rich cultivated fields, and from the poor, uncomfortable log school house, with all its wants and drawbacks, already attempted to be described, to the lordly brick or stone edifice, surmounted by its dome, cupola, or belfry, which is to be seen topping many an eminence, or showing itself through many a grove and having all the conveniences that art and plenty can devise making it healthy and desirable, pleasant and profitable.

Having said as much by way of comparison as time and space will permit, and as much of the health, vigor taste, and principle of the pupils, for the future depend on the site, position, landscape, arrangement and construction of the school house, I will now proceed to make a few remarks upon these, yet without saying upon what plan a school house should be constructed as I am not qualified, not being an architect.

The site should be selected in as quiet and agreeable a position as possible away from the noise and bustle of much frequented roads and thoroughfares, and from the neighbourhood of factories, mills, railways and the likes. It should not be low or near an unhealthy marshy place, containing stagnant water, which, in hot weather, would be apt to breed disease by reason of effluvia arising therefrom; but on the south west slope of a gentle eminence, which is known to be the sunniest and earliest position for a garden or field, and the most pleasant and healthy for a dwelling; as from that direction comes the most delightful summer winds and sunshine. The school house should be protected from the north and north east by a grove, or thick wood, for from those come the coldest blasts and most biting frosts of winter. It should be sufficiently far from the road to escape anything disagreeable from that direction, and yet near enough to be easily accessable by a nice, clean dryfoot path to the school door or doors, if there are more than one. The school grounds should be ample, inclosed, and planted with trees for shade, benefit, beauty, and ornament a part planted with flowers and shrubs together with some neat walks, to promote a taste in the children for neatness and order; a part should be open for play ground; and as great importance has been attached to physical education in all ages and countries by the best educators, I think there should be some provision made for the promotion of physical health and bodily vigor, by the erection of a horizontal or balancing bar, inclined board, ladder, rope, common or rotatory swing, or any other species of gymnastics that would be conducive to the strengthening of the muscles, as well as to afford pleasure during play hours. There should be such a sufficiency of play apparatus provided within the school grounds as would keep the scholars from the roads, lanes, and highways and thereby preserve them from those accidents and profanities to which frequenters of highways are exposed and liable. The school house should be large enough for comfort and health, so as to allow each pupil to sit and move, with comfort at his desk; to leave without disturbing or causing another to rise; to attend to and recite his lessons without being disturbed or disturbing others; and to breath a sufficiency of wholesome air. Each school should be surmounted with a bell, the rope of which should come down somewhere near the master's desk, so as to make it convenient for him to ring the bell without the unnecessary trouble of walking from one end of the school to the other for that purpose.

There should be a master's platform at the north end of the schoolroom from seven to ten inches but not more. The space from the front range of seats to the north wall should be about eight feet, more or less according to the size of the school. There should be a suitable library provided for each school, for instruction and amusement, especially during winter evenings, together with school and philosophical apparatus, such as a clock, barometer, thermometer, compass, maps, globe, diagrams, orrery, &c, &c. These should be kept in a room provided for the purpose, or on shelves inclosed by doors, in the end of the room occupied by the master's desk. To these might be added some material things to illustrate natural history. There should be two anterooms one for the boys the other for the girls. They should be provided with good, strong, malleable iron hooks or wooden pins, for hats, bonnets, coats, and cloaks; also shelves for the reception of dinners, and dinner baskets. The entrance to the school should face the south, as being the warmest. As much as possible of the light should be admitted from the north and northeast, as being most agreeable. The light from the south and southwest is too intense, the strong glare of which not only causes great inconvenience, but often injures the eyesight. The windows should be high enough to give light without interruption, and prevent the pupils sitting at their desks seeing things on the grounds outside. They should be made to open from the top and from the bottom, so as to supply the place of a ventilator. In warming the school room, I think that the open fire place is preferable to the stove. If properly made it is nearly equal to it in the saving of fuel, and far preferable otherwise. It is more cheerful, and by drawing away the impure air out of the school room and furnishing it with an ample supply of fresh, warm air from abroad, it is more healthy. Mrs.Trail in her "HousekeepersGuide," attributes many of the sicknesses and diseases with which we are troubled in this country to the adoption of the stove and forsaking of the old fireplace, and as from the deleterious effects of bad air on the health of teachers and pupils, too much care cannot be taken in the construction of proper healthy, warming apparatus, which, I think, is as necessary to be looked to as the ventilation of the school room so as to prevent the seeds of disease from being sown broadcast among teachers and scholars.

Having said so much on some of the requisites of an agreeable, healthy and pleasant school house, and without referring to many others, such as desks, seats, inkwells, teachers' desk and chair, blackboard, scraper, mat, wash basin, buckets, brooms, fireirons, brushes, &c., further than to name them. I beg to conclude with thanks for your forbearance while endeavoring to convey, however imperfectly my view of school architecture.

Thos. McDonald
Scarboro, Jan. 6, 1866

The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #12