What’s in the database right now?

Number of schools: 112
Names on memorials: 44,326
Latest additions:
Coleman Avenue School
Courcelette Public School
Hartman Jones Memorial School
Wellesley Public School
Oakwood Collegiate Institute

Earlier posts

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

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.

A Memorial Mystery—Solved.

An enduring mystery at an east end Toronto café is the memorial shown here. Names on a bronze plaque with dates (1914-1918) indicate a tribute to those who died in the Great War. The inscription reads:

Our comrades / Who / Sixty-three in all / “Played the game” / Even unto death

Who were these comrades? Most such plaques name a school, a church, a business, a regiment—or in some way tell what group is remembered. The café owners don’t know the plaque’s history. Was this even a Toronto group?

Aura Lee Club war memorial plaque

The memorial that gave few clues to its origin

We started our search with the less common names. Library and Archives Canada’s digitized World War I attestation papers give addresses of enlisted persons or their next-of-kin.

Familiar addresses popped up: Huron Street, Summerhill Avenue; St. George Street; Sussex Avenue; Brunswick Avenue; Walmer Road, and so on. All pointed to “Old Toronto.”

Religious denominations varied (Attestation Papers, p.1 or p.2): Church of England; Presbyterian; Methodist. Not a church memorial.

Occupations also varied (Attestation Papers, p.1): chauffeur; bank clerk; student; furrier; draughtsman; chemist, and others. Not the memorial of a business.

Pre-war military experience (Attestation Papers, p.1) mentioned Queen’s Own Rifles; 48th Highlanders; The Governor General’s Body Guard. Again, not one cohesive group.

Our own “For King and Country” database revealed former students of North Toronto Collegiate Institute; public schools such as Rosedale, Dewson, and Winchester; more than seven for University of Toronto Schools (UTS)—one of our schools-in-progress—but not one specific school that had perhaps misplaced a memorial.

Toronto Star article about the Aura Lee Club

The news item that named the club—Toronto Daily Star, Jan 16, 1915.

Not a church; school; business; military group. What was left? Perhaps a social or fraternal club—probably with emphasis on sports. The “comrades” had “played the game” even unto death.

Sifting through (ProQuest) digitized Toronto newspapers—available online through many Ontario public libraries—was slow, but productive. Our search term “Herbert Klotz” (a name from the memorial) brought up a headline: 16 Aura Lee Men for the Empire. In the article about club members going off to war were three other names from the plaque: Percival Gibson; Richard L. Lyall; Bertram T. Nevitt.

Our new search term, “Aura Lee Club,” found the November 1917 death notice of Gunner G.A. Renfrew, also named on the plaque—and confirmed his club membership.

The Aura Lee Club, three acres of land around Avenue Road and Roxborough Street West—with a branch in North Toronto—had a whirl of social and sports activities: dances; tennis; canoe trips. Founder and long-time president, James Edmund Jones, had dedicated his book: Camping and canoeing: what to take, how to travel, how to cook, where to go “to my comrades of Aura Lee Camp.” City groups used the grounds for rugby and skating.

Aura Lee’s junior and senior hockey teams in the Ontario Hockey Association (O.H.A.) played many games at Arena Gardens (also known as the Mutual Street Arena)—between Dundas and Shuter streets—from 1916 to 1926.

Death notice for George Renfrew

Gunner Renfrew’s death notice mentioned his Aura Lee Club membership.

Seventeen members went on to play in the National Hockey League; four were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Aura Lee Club was founded in 1887. The competitive athletics part of the club began about 1903. In 1925, the property was turned over to the University of Toronto for use by its preparatory school (UTS).

Hockey, canoeing, other sports and social events evoke the lighter side of a Toronto club’s life, but this memorial shows the darker side—naming 63 comrades who went from the playing fields to the battlefields and didn’t come back.


NAMES FROM THE AURA LEE CLUB PLAQUE
Gordon Applegath Charles McHenry
J. Russell Aikins Roy F. McMurtry
E. Lambert Bach Sidney McWhinney
Roy Bailey George H. Morang
Beverley Ball William Munro
Quintin W. Bannister Bertram T. Nevitt
E.O. Bath G. Courtland Noxon
Fred J. Blakey Donald Osborne
Edward B. Booth Paul Pettit
H. Stewart Boulter John H. Pipon
Wilfred Britnell John A. Proctor
Norman A. Brown William Proudfoot
J.P. Cavers Gaynor Reid
Duncan Chisholm George Renfrew
Walter W. Conyers Roy R. Riggs
Melville Crawford Francis Rolph
Beverley Crowther John E. Ryerson
Lindsay Drummond Alex W. Scott
Douglas Q. Ellis J. Murray Skeaff
George Evans Dr. Harry R. Smith
Thomas Freebairn Langley W. Smith
Eric Clarence Gardner W. Burton Tait
Percival Gibson W. Gordon Tait
Carl Heebner Geoffrey B. Taylor
Fred J. Hore Jack Topp
Francis C. Howard E.C. VanEeghan
Fred Hutty N. Eden Walker
Ralph Jones Frank Waltho
Herbert N. Klotz Arthur C. Williams
Basil R. Lepper Lynn Wright
C. Gordon Likens William B. Yuille
Richard L. Lyall