What’s in the database right now?

Number of schools: 115
Other organizations: 1
Names on memorials: 45,834
Latest additions:
Duke of Connaught Public School
Forest Hill Village Schools
Palmerston Avenue Public School
Aura Lee Club

Earlier posts

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Memorials: Some safe, and some at risk

Toronto neighbourhoods offered both surprises and traditional memorials as we organized 1,508 new names for “back to school” 2017.

A happy surprise was solving the puzzle of an unidentified WWI plaque displayed in a local café. The long-forgotten Aura Lee Club, a social and sports group active from 1887 to 1925, was not a school, but their list included many young men who had attended Toronto schools. We have added their names to the For King and Country database as our tribute to the “sixty-three in all” who died. (Our blog post on the Aura Lee memorial has already attracted the attention of a researcher for the Hockey Hall of Fame.)

An unhappy surprise was discovering memorials from the soon-to-be-demolished Woodgreen United Church (east end Toronto) for sale by online public auction. A small group of us (all members of Toronto Branch) tried to rescue them, but our pooled budgets didn’t add up. Fortunately, the five Woodgreen honour rolls went to a serious collector who has promised to supply us with photographs. The photos and the hundreds of names they bear will become part of our For King and Country database. The fate of three bronze war memorials from Woodgreen is unknown.

Further alarms sounded when we heard of amalgamated Royal Canadian Legion branches struggling to find new spots for memorials they have acquired from various sources. Still a worrisome work-in-progress, but we aim for a happy ending.

The war lists of three grand old Toronto schools: Duke of Connaught (1912); Palmerston Avenue (1889); and Forest Hill Village (1930) are in safer hands. We thank Jane Adair Hamilton who took time after teaching all day to scrutinize and decipher Palmerston memorials—especially the faded Great War scroll of names—and Marg McCann, who updated our Forest Hill photos.

If you hear of any “at risk” Toronto war memorials, please contact us. We may lack dollars, but we promise resourceful efforts to preserve what we can of our city’s irreplaceable history.

Discarded honour rolls from Woodgreen United Church await amid other auction items for pickup by their new owner

 

A Student Remembers Coleman Avenue School

In November 2016, we added Coleman Avenue School to For King and Country. Except for brief mentions in old issues of the Toronto Daily Star and The Globe, information about the “vanished” school was hard to find. Fortunately, former student Donna Adams-Hannigan offered to share her clear memories of Coleman:

I remember the teachers crying while they packed all the books in the last days of school. (1964)

The bell tower had no bell. There were two main entrances, and a separate one for the kindergarten. At the back, the “Boys” and “Girls” doors (with names inscribed above) had stairs leading to the basement washrooms and “gym,” with its cement floor painted shiny grey, and backless benches around the perimeter. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Donna’s older sister heard the principal tell a teacher while organizing drills for the students to shelter in the basement, “We can’t get them all in. There’s not enough room.”

Coleman’s WWII memorial is now at the TDSB archives.

In spite of the rudimentary gym facilities, the girls’ track uniforms boasted gold shorts with a black stripe; white blouse buttoned at the back, with a diagonal banner across the chest spelling out “Coleman” in gold. Donna’s father, Doug Adams, was head of the Home and School when the impressive uniforms were supplied.

The main floor kindergarten faced Coleman Avenue; the Grade One classroom faced west; the combined Grade 5/6 faced Balfour Avenue. The principal’s office (with no secretary) was also on the main floor.

A wide internal stairway led to the second floor. Two right turns led to the nurse’s office, where the window reached almost to the ceiling. A large leather chaise and an enamel and glass cabinet were among the furnishings. Also on the second floor was the staff room, “a secret sanctuary for the teachers,” Donna recalled. “We were all agog when the door opened and the cigarette smoke rolled out.” Along a small corridor was the teachers’ washroom, “another curiosity.” The Grade Three and Four classrooms; the Grade Two classroom—directly over the Grade 5/6 room— had wooden lockers instead of a cloakroom, and a door to the outside fire escape.

Donna added that speculation arose that the school closed because the subway was extending from Woodbine to Warden, but parents had worried that Coleman—no proper gym and a lockable cart instead of a library—lacked the advantages of neighbouring Secord and Gledhill schools.

The school reopened briefly as East End Boys School. It was mainly portables surrounding the school proper.

Donna remembered a main-floor alcove, which held a wreath and poppies. She asked about a war memorial, as her father and her uncle Reg, who had also attended Coleman, served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. Her father, Doug Adams, appears on the memorial. For King and Country volunteer Marg McCann found Coleman’s A.J. Casson memorial at the TDSB Archives.

Good schools—and good neighbourhoods

For King and Country began as a simple project to make available the names of all Toronto students who had served in any war. Our first school “histories” were sketchy outlines only: opening date; name changes; anniversaries or reunions; sometimes a closing date. A pleasant surprise once the project got rolling, was the interest readers took not just in the memorials, and the names listed, but in their old neighbourhoods—as they remembered them—and in the school themselves.

Despite some similarities, every memorial plaque or illuminated manuscript is different. Similarly, no two schools are exactly alike. We patch together descriptions—there is no single, helpful resource to make our research easy—and learn how Toronto schools have always anchored and defined their neighbourhoods.

Today we add five more schools—each with its own story. Readers will recognize many of the names on Oakwood Collegiate’s long list of accomplished graduates. Wellesley closed in 1954, but still gets fan mail on our blog. Donna Adams, a young student when Coleman Avenue closed in 1964, recalls teachers crying as they packed up to leave, and will take us on a virtual tour in an upcoming blog post. We hope students of Hartman Jones (closed before 2006) will fill in the gaps of its history.

One hundred years ago this autumn, the Battle of Courcelette raged in far-off France. Among the thousands of Canadian casualties were six young Scarborough men, their student days not long behind them. The neighbourhood rallied to turn a bleak tragedy of 1916 into hope for the future. They renamed their school Courcelette to honour the six. The school continues its close connection with vets to this day.

Memorials, names, schools, students, neighbourhoods—past, present, and future—all part of Toronto’s story.

North York school and neighbourhood changes reflected at Claude Watson School for the Arts

North York school and neighbourhood changes are reflected in this framed photo at Claude Watson School for the Arts.