Closure paved way to widening of Sheppard Avenue, writes Susan Goldenberg
North York has the distinction of having had Toronto’s last functioning one-room little red schoolhouse – Oriole Public School on Sheppard near Leslie, open for 132 years, from 1826 to 1958.
There were four buildings over the years. The first, built in 1826, was built with logs. The second, in 1848, the third, in 1874, and the fourth, in 1910, were all red brick. In 1910 there were 30 pupils, up from five in 1906. Prankster students occasionally kicked the wood-burning stove hard to fill the school with smoke, forcing the cancellation of classes.
The school eventually acquired modern heating and lighting and a large library, amenities which little schoolhouses of old lacked.
At the time of its closing in 1958, Oriole’s entire enrolment was only 20 pupils, the lowest since 1944. There was only one student in Grade 5.
Shortly before the school closed, Myrtle Kidd, who had been the sole teacher for thirteen years of Grades 1 to 8, told the Toronto Telegram: “A rural school such as ours can give a child many things that can never be found in a larger school. We’re sort of one big family. The younger children are often helped by the older ones in the higher grades. This teaches the little ones to look to their elders for assistance and advice and it gives the older ones a sense of responsibility.”
She also noted that she benefited as a teacher: “Teaching in a larger, graded school could never be as rewarding as my work here. I see the same faces year after year and can watch the children as they climb the education ladder.”
After its closure as a school, the building was occupied by a moving firm. It had to vacate in 1966 when the property was expropriated by the Metro Toronto roads department to make way for the widening of Sheppard Avenue. The movers retained the school belfry bell, rejecting bids as high as $200 for it.
Another North York one-room little red schoolhouse, Zion Public School on Finch near Leslie, in operation from 1869 to 1955, has been preserved as a historic site.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on December 31, 2020, on toronto.com.