Learning Unit: Education
Home ] Up ] Curriculum -- 1890 ] The 1920s at SS No. 3 ]



Studies: Publications

Educational Resources

Historic Sites in Scarborough Heights

Links for Toronto Links


Scarboro Heights Record

Search This Site

Table of Contents




If you were to add an expectation to the Ontario curriculum documents about the importance of learning about the evolution of education, what would it be? And then how would you go about your research to achieve that Expectation? 

Some Regional and Contextual Background Information

  • In all liklihood, Robert Rae would have studied the classics at home, under the direction of the Minister of St. Andrew's Church and, perhaps, Mr. James Russell, a well-educated Scarborough teacher

  • The Sisters of St. Joseph for the Diocese of Toronto in Upper Canada purchased approximately 50 acres from Robert McCowan in 1916 for a new school and convent.

  • Refer also to D.B. McCowan, The Successful Teacher, 1830-1988, Scarborough Historical Society, 1988. (Three generations of McCowans were educated in the old School Section #9, later known as Scarboro Village School )

  • Refer to this overview page regarding education and then follow the child-links

  • Go to our Search page -- use your language and thinking skills to define helpful search criteria  

The “Imperfect System”, 1840

... purchase 30 acres of land... near where the Village of Malvern now stands but in order to accomplish the desirable object of purchasing land for a permanent home, it was necessary that the children should commence work at an early age even before they had acquired the ordinary Common School education that was available under the very imperfect system that existed in the country at that time. When I was sixteen years of age I was unable to write my own name and at that time had acquired no knowledge of arithmetic or grammar but I had completely mastered the Shorter Catechism at the age of seven and by studying at home and attending Sabbath School and Bible Class conducted by the late Dr. George, I was well grounded in Scripture subjects and doctrine.

About the year A.D. 1840 the family moved from the Kingston Road and settled on the thirty acres of bush land they had purchased on the east side of Markham Road. I was then fourteen years of age and altho small for my age I was then able to do a good deal of work and the thirty acres of bush land was in due time converted into a fairly productive little farm within easy reach of Toronto markets about fourteen miles distant where the widowed mother and family were able to make a good comfortable living.

After I was sixteen years of age I attended school about six weeks each winter until I was nineteen years old during which time I acquired a fairly good Common School education which seemed to create in my mind a strong desire to study for one of the learned professions. Consequently I commenced the study of the classics and made rapid progress in the study of the Latin and Greek languages, but after prosecuting the study of these languages for about a year I decided to turn my attention to mercantile business...

Autobiography of Robert Rae (1826-1912)
From a first-person manuscript provided by his great-granddaughter, later published in the third-person in the Biographical Record of the County of Lambton 


A Private School, ca 1865

Gram [Hannah Ashbridge McCowan] said she had gone to a private school -- now I wish I knew where. She liked to talk about Latin with me, and to work out with me word meanings from their Latin derivatives.

Margaret Heron Carr, 1990


Kindergarten, 1916

This afternoon, we were down in the field to see them lay the corner stone. They expect their school is to be finished a year from this November. Today was the four hundredth anniversary of the Sisters of St. Joseph, also their coming to this country. They are going to have a kindergarten, so I guess we will have to start Margaret. Won't it be handy!

Ruth McCowan Letters, October 15 1916


Walking to SS 9, Scarborough Village, ca 1925

Most of the time, Bob, Jack, cousin Walter and I walked to #9 school through the fields. We had a path behind the barn, across the Stobo’s, then back of Muir’s to Bellamy. From there, we went across Edith Ave, through a vacant lot to Mason Road and then up to Eglinton. If it was very cold or raining, Uncle Ashley used to drive us.

In the spring when it was muddy, Papa (my grandfather) came over to our place in the morning and often would ask me my spelling words. Then, when it was time to start for school, he’d shout “Hurrah Boys” and he would walk with us down the highway to Muir’s corner at Bellamy Road . We had to go in single file in the same order -- Bob, Jack, Walter and then me. Papa would take my hand and carry my school bag. There was quite often a humbug candy for each of us when he left us at Muir’s corner.

Dad always warned us that if we got the strap at school, we would get it again at home, so I think we were all pretty well-behaved at school.

Helen McCowan Thomson, 1990


A Local School Benefactor, 1931

A new prize was given this year for the highest aggregate in Upper School Science and Mathematics, by the late Mr. Robert McCowan.  Clare Annis and Edward Bonner ranked for this prize, but it was awarded by reversion to Douglas Loveless...

Scarboro lost one of her prominent citizens, and our school one of its benefactors, when death came to Robert McCowan on January 16, 1931. The late Mr. McCowan was for many years Councillor and Reeve of Scarboro Township. A man with genuine sympathies for his fellows, and a high sense of public service, he succeeded in making a vast circle of friends.

A proof of Mr. McCowan’s devotion to the good of the community may be found in the fact that he established a scholarship in our school to encourage intelligent study and hard work. To the widow and family, we express our sympathy.

The Scarboro Bluff, 1931 (The Year Book of what is now called R.H. King Academy)

School Section Amalgamation, 1944

Many of the schools in Scarborough were one room with only one teacher for all grades. Our old school, SS #9 in Scarboro Village, had four teachers by the mid ‘40s. The school sections were independently administered by several Trustees.  A good deal of the local people, including our parents, were opposed to the school section amalgamation that was being championed by Mr. Halbert, the Inspector. He proposed that the old School Sections, including our school, should be combined into much larger administrative “School Areas”. The poorly-managed schools and the one-room schools stood to benefit the most from amalgamation. Many felt that #9, a well-run larger school, would actually suffer. At the ratepayers meetings, Mr. Halbert managed to overcome the local opposition and amalgamation went ahead. Dad had been a Trustee of Number 9 school for quite a few years.

Bill and Bob McCowan, May 2001


Learn While You’re Young

“Learn while you’re young” Dad always said. I took this advice quite seriously. Once I knew that universities existed, there was never any real question in my mind that I would go to one -- of course I would. I know I wasn't much of a communicator, so I doubt if Dad actually realized this when, one day at the saw-horse (I was 11 or 12 at the time), I wasn't pulling my end of the cross-cut with enough enthusiasm. He gave me a blast: "Boy, you'd better get a good education, because if you have to work for a living, you'll starve”. Of course, Dad was talking about the hard physical labour to which he'd been accustomed on the farm.

Confessions of D.B. McCowan, cited in
Bill and Nancy McCowan Fortieth Anniversary Album


Individual Exercises

1) Write a 200 word fictitious story about you as a hard-working youngster in the pioneer days longing for the chance to attend school to obtain a good education.

Class Discussion

1) Discuss the importance of “Benefactors” for schools and education in general.

The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #6