The 1920s at SS No. 3
Home ] Up ]



Studies: Publications

Educational Resources

Historic Sites in Scarborough Heights

Links for Toronto Links

Scarboro Heights Record

Search This Site

Table of Contents



Historical Inquiry and Communication 
Oral History -- Education


Expectations: The student will:

  • formulate questions, interpret and analyze information gathered through research, articulate assumptions, and then communicate results of their inquiry

  • compare and contrast school activities today vis a vis school activities in the 1920s and 1930s

  • design, develop and implement an Oral History Interview Project "Education: 1925-1950"

Rich Task Exercises:

First read the entries on this page (below), all pages linked to the Education main page, as well as any relevant information that appears at other linked pages at various locations in the text below. You should also go to Search This Site and perform searches using words such as "Education", "School", "Learn" and "Oral History". Use your language skills to define other valuable search criteria.  Refer also to the Subject Index and "New this Month" pages. With respect to the Oral History Interview Project, read the McCowan Society Strategy as well as one or two of the following sample projects:

In completing the assignment below, be sure to address all of the Expectations above. As usual you must clearly state all of your assumptions.

  1. Compare and contrast elementary school activities today vs school activities in the 1920s and 1930s. 
  2. Describe some advantages of the one-room school.
  3. What would be the biggest disadvantage of the one-room rural school? Explain the criteria that you used to select the biggest disadvantage.
  4. You are a 10 year old student in a one-room school. Describe your strategy to maximize your learning.
  5. You are an Educational Consultant. You have been asked to design a new model school that will be used in a remote mining town with a small population. It is expected that only 30 to 40 school age children will be living in the town over the next 20 years. You've heard about the old style "one-room school" education.  But now you need to know more -- a lot more. You will first design, develop, test and then implement an Oral History Interview Project "One-Room School You will interview people who attended one room schools in rural settings. You will attempt to find out "what worked well for education" and "what did not work so well" in a one-room school. (Note: Treat this like any design problem -- you need a design brief, initial list of requirements ... etc.)


The following oral histories were gathered by Nancy Weir McCowan. 


Educating the Weir Family in the '20s and '30s
As Told to Nancy Weir McCowan


When we lived at Browns Corners at Finch and Markham Road, our local school was Scarborough School Section (S.S.) Number 3 on the northwest corner of Finch and Neilson. The following are a few anecdotes, mostly about schooling at  #3, as related to me by members of my family. Neil was born in 1912, Jack in 1914, Blake in 1915, Ches in 1917, Peggy in 1918 and Ruth in 1922. I was born in 1930 at the Brown's Corners farm, lot 18 concession 3, Scarborough. The boys were born on the Malvern farm, lot 16 concession 3. My own notations are in (brackets):  

Blake Weir:  

I started to school when I was just about seven because of when my birthday was.  At that time, the juniors used to start in the spring after Easter or in September.  My birthday was in November.  They said I was too young to start in the spring and so I had to wait another year almost and started in September.  We had a lot of fun at school.  I rode a horse to school a couple of years in the non-winter periods - fall and spring.  We had one horse that could find its way home after we had arrived at school.  (I asked Blake if he had been able to train the horse to go and pick him up after school, and he said, 'Unfortunately, no.')

There were roughly forty kids at school spread over eight classes.  We did not get much individual attention, I guess, but we were always learning what the other classes (the older kids) were learning.  I really think it was a pretty good way to learn.

I guess we used to give the teacher a hard time.  For the first five years I had just the one teacher.  Miss Heuson was her name.  She was an excellent teacher.  Alex Cowan was the Caretaker at #3 when we went there.

One day Ches and I skipped school to go to an Auction Sale.  It turned out that Dad was at the sale.  When he saw us he asked if we had permission from the school to be there.  We said, 'No'. Dad telephoned the teacher and said, 'If you don't strap them at school - I will.'  The next day the teacher called us in and gave us each a few taps, far lighter than we would have been given at home.  That teacher's name was Sam Cawker.  He was only there a few months as a replacement for the teacher who was ill.

In those days we had to 'Try our Entrance' to get into High School.  At that time I was pretty young - only twelve.  I tried my entrance and I failed by about twenty marks.  You could send two dollars in to the Department of Education and they would mark your papers over again.  So Dad sent the two dollars in.  We got a letter back saying "We couldn't read his papers the first time and we are not going to try again."  (Blake is noted for his indecipherable handwriting.  It has improved with age.)  This meant that I repeated Senior Fourth a second year (Grade 8 now).  I had only been in it about six months the first time.  As there were eight grades in one room, we used to skip a lot of classes.  I was in Public School from age 7 to 13.

I attended Agincourt Collegiate Institute (A.C.I.) for three years.  It was quite a distance to get there so it depended on the weather just how we went.  We walked a few times; we rode bicycles;  we went with some other kids in a car or some others went with us in a car.  In the winter time we sometimes went with horse and cutter.

When I got to be sixteen years of age, Uncle Os (Oscar)  Hall said to my Dad, 'I need a hired man.'  Dad said to him, 'Well, Blake won't work at school, so take him.'  So I left High School and went to work on the Hall farm at the south-west corner of Ellesmere Road and Markham Road."  (where Centennial Arena now stands).


Neil Weir:  

I was going to S. S. #3 when they had the Fiftieth Anniversary. They had the One Hundredth in 1972.  I was there.  Dad went to the same school.

When I started to school my first teacher was Miss Forsythe from Agincourt.  I got along fine that year but the next year I had Miss Hannah and that is when I got my first licking at school.  I was in second grade or Senior Primer as they called it then.  She brought some of the big girls to the front for instruction - Florence Little, Ila Hastings, Della Hastings.  Ila sat down in one of the seats just ahead of me and her petticoat came down through the crack in the folding seat.  When she went to get up I was waiting and I reached down and grabbed her petticoat.  She went up and then she came crashing down to the seat.  I had to go out into the entrance - I had to wait for some of the others to come in.  Morgan Thornbeck came in howling his head off after the licking he got for some reason.  He was two years older than I was.  I thought, "This is going to be rough".  So I went out -- the licking was just like being tickled compared to what I got at home.  It didn't bother me too much.  Miss Hannah got fired eventually because she couldn't handle the kids.

After that we had Miss Benn.  She was also one much like Miss Hannah who could handle the strap pretty well.  I can remember one day that the sun was shining on my desk and I wanted to move.  She suggested that I move into Irene Feeney's seat which was just ahead of me.  I wasn't wanting to move into Irene's seat and so I sat back down in my own seat.  I got the strap twice that day.  I went out into the schoolyard at recess.  Charlie Irwin told the teacher about something I had done or hadn't done so I gave him a good trimming.  He was a year or two older but he wasn't used to rough stuff.  I got strapped for that.

Then there was the time that Morgan Thornbeck and I had been fighting for about three days about something or other at noon hour.  I don't remember what it was about now.

Miss Heuson was there about four years and I never got the strap from her at all.  She did lick some but I didn't get it.  There was this fence at the east side of the school yard.  It was a Maple Leaf Fence and it was in bad shape. (The wire along the top of the fence was a series of curves with a little metal Maple Leaf within some of the curves.) She and the Trustees made a ruling that nobody was to climb this fence.  We were down around the shed and I grabbed Morgan Thornbeck's hat and threw it over the fence.  He was going to go up to tell the teacher if I didn't get it.  So I climbed a fence, but not that one.  You couldn't hurt the one that I climbed very much.  The teacher took me into the school and made me stay in.  When I came out at recess some of the boys said to me 'Neil, we are going to go over the fence and we want you to go and tell the teacher.'  They were up in the higher grades - the Couperthwaites, Horace and Archie Little, Jim Little - the big boys.  So that was the only time I ever told the teacher in my life.  There were about twelve to fifteen of them and they hit the fence all at once and they just flattened it onto the ground.  So I went in.  She had to know that it was a put-up job.  It took her from recess to  four o'clock in the afternoon to strap all the boys.  She would do two at a time and then have to have a rest.

After I left public school I went to Danforth Technical School for two years.  During the week I lived in Toronto with my mother's parents (the Halls) on Patricia Drive.  We used to walk from Patricia Drive just west of Main Street to Greenwood Avenue where the school was.  There would be two or three fellows walking together.  On Friday nights I used to come out on the old Trolley Car on Kingston Road right to the end of Markham Road and walk home about six miles.  It was a long walk.  Now the kids can't walk two blocks or they have to be picked up.

Peggy Weir Lawrie

About 1934 or 1935, in the days when we had to pay a fee to try our Departmental Examinations at High School, my parents gave me a five-dollar bill to cover the cost.  (It was probably the only cash they had, as money was scarce.)  We had moved away from Brown's Corners by this time. I had three miles to walk to school so I had to leave very early to give myself time.  When I got close to the corner of Kennedy Road and Ellesmere Ave., a gravel truck stopped and I was given a ride to the corner of Midland Ave. and Sheppard Ave.  I had no purse, so I had put the money in one of my books.  I went directly to Mr. Lawrence, the Principal, to pay for my two examinations, and, to my horror, the money was gone!  Mr. Lawrence offered to loan me the money.  It was still early, so I said that I would walk back to Midland and Sheppard to wait for the driver to return from Conlin's pit which was east of Malvern and south of Sheppard on Conlin's Road.  I didn't have long to wait - the driver stopped, opened the passenger door, and called, 'Did you lose something?', as he handed over the $5.00 bill.  I often thought  perhaps that $5.00 would have meant a lot to him as well as to our family.

When Mitchell F. Hepburn came to power as Premier of Ontario, one of the first things he did was to cancel the fee for trying the Departmental Examinations.

Ruth Weir Pike

Fairs, concerts and picnics --these were the three main social events to which we looked forward (or not!) during the school year at S. S. #3. 

The School Fair (which included all Scarborough public schools) took place in late September or early October at Agincourt Fair Grounds.  It was a time to show off your own farm and garden produce, art work, handiwork and baking, etc. (or Mom's or Dad's if you were the cheating kind!)  Also, we performed the hated drills - the girls dressed in navy pleated serge bloomers and white middies; the boys in dark trousers and white shirts.

At one fair, I (being the tomboy type) was playing leap-frog (along with friends) over the posts which defined the track area.  Unfortunately, I didn't leap high enough, and caught my bloomers on a post.  There I hung, upside down in a most embarrassing position!  When I was able to right myself, I discovered that the ripping noise I had heard was indeed the crotch of my pleated serge bloomers.  In intense shame, amid laughter and hoots from my fellow "frogs", I slunk off to my Aunt Lois's house nearby.  She was kind enough to repair the seam, 'tut-tutting' the whole time.  'Why my dear' she admonished, "You might have ruined yourself.'  I didn't understand at the time, but sixty years later, as the mother of five and granny of eight, I presume no harm was done!

Another year I was chosen to recite at the fair in front of a crowd of people.  I was all decked out in "blackface" and held a big slice of watermelon, while rolling my eyes and emoting in some strange accent.  Imagine!  If one did that today, she would not only be holding watermelon, but wearing it, along with eggs and other sundry items.

The concerts were held just before Christmas, and families were invited.  In the previous months we practised our little plays, recitations and songs, usually after school as I recall.  The big excitement of the evening was the arrival of Santa and his bag of goodies.  All through the program there were announcements about his progress, then at last in he came with bells a-jingling.  He 'Ho Ho Ho'd' as he handed to each child a brown paper bag containing one tissue-wrapped orange, a few hard candies, and perhaps some nuts.  Believe me - we really looked forward to these treats.  Remember, it was during the Great Depression.

The school picnic was held in June, just before the start of summer holidays.  We usually went to a local park, perhaps Cedar Grove, although I seem to recall once going all the way to a park in Oshawa.  There was always a place to swim, races and games, and a lunch of sandwiches, cakes and lemonade.  Sometimes we had ice-cream cones or bananas - a real treat in those days.  The greatest thrill of the day, as I recall, was our ride to and from the picnic site in a stake-back truck.  This would be unthinkable and illegal now, but seemed great fun at the time.

We had good and bad times in that little red, one-roomed school, SS#3, but thankfully we remember mostly the times we can look back at with laughter.


Blake Weir:

At school, Ches (the youngest brother) was always thinking up some hellery or other, anything to make the kids laugh.  He was in Grade Nine at Agincourt High School.  The school was new and not everything was in place.  There were some blackboards leaning up against the front wall of the room.  This particular day, Ches got in behind the blackboard when the teacher was not looking and started to make faces at the class around the end of the board.  Mr. Charles Lawrence, the Principal of the school, caught him and made him stand up.  He proceeded to try to shake him and instead of Ches moving, Mr. Lawrence found himself going back and forth.  He said in disgust, "You Big Brute".  Ches became known as 'Weir, the Brute'.   Ches was sent home for a few days.  After the new year a Short Course in Farming was being held in Agincourt.  Ches was a member of the York County Junior Farmers, Unionville Club.  He decided to go to the Short Course and he never did return to High School.


Our brother, Chester , died on February 6, 1989, so unfortunately we do not have any stories about school days in his own words.  He was the master story teller, many of which would be unprintable. Ches probably did fairly well in school but education just did not interest him.  He loved farming and if he could do that, he was happy.

Being the youngest of the family, and having moved away from Brown's Corners when I was only three years old, I did not really remember anything about the school, SS#3.  I have heard many times from my brothers that Miss Hueson's favorite saying went something like this: "I know a poor little boy in Oshawa who is starving and would love to eat that sandwich you don't want." I drove past SS#3 on May 11, 1992, and the building showed the name - Whitefield Christian Academy , a Ministry of the Toronto Free Presbyterian Church. The school had been renovated and looked quite handsome.


 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #9