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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.

10 comments to A Student Remembers Coleman Avenue School

  • Eric Whitehead

    Donna – I attended Coleman Ave PS in the early sixties. There is next to nothing available online as information. I am currently writing a bit of an autobiography and would like to know what you can remember about Coleman. Do you have any photos from those years? Do you know exactly (address) where it was on Coleman?

  • Martha Jackson

    Hello Eric,
    We have notified Donna about your query, and hope that she will be able to answer you here. I recall being disappointed at finding so little about Coleman in online searches of the Toronto Star. The Toronto Telegram (1876-1971) is not online, but available on microfilm at Toronto Reference Library as another possible source. Ask East York branches of the Toronto Public Library if they have any local history in vertical files—unpublished collections of clippings, photos, reminiscences, etc. kept in filing cabinets.

  • Donna Adams

    Hi Eric
    I recently posted on Facebook my kindergarten picture.
    I’m Facebook friends with a Coleman classmate I’ve not seen in person since those days.
    I’m certain my mom has pictures somewhere. What kinds of pictures are you looking for?

    All my memories of Coleman are good ones.

    When did you attend? Teachers names? (Miss. Page, Mrs. Hamilton,, Mrs. Mathews)

  • Liz Albrecht Bisset

    Hi Donna, Eric and Martha. I am currently the VP at WJ McCordic School – which is at 45 Balfour. We have some photos of Coleman School hanging in the office here. Everyone who works here is newer to the area – so we don’t know about the history of Coleman or how it might relate to our site. McCordic is a special needs school for children with severe Developmental Disabilities and complex medical needs. Do you know if the current WJ McCordic School was built on the site of the former Coleman School? Although we face Balfour, our playground and the rear of the school are on Coleman. We’d love to have someone drop by to tell us a bit more about Coleman School and possible connections. Then we could feature something in one of our school newsletters this year.

  • Linda

    I attended Coleman school late 50’s early 60’s. Mr. SANDERSON AND MR. LONGMERE ARE 2 OF The PRINCIPALS I remember. MRS. EADE WAS THE GRADE6 TEACHER. MISS Walker was my wonderful grade 3 &4 teacher. I have school photos packed away along with other school memorabilia. Hope this is helpful. Linda

  • Martha Jackson

    Replying to both Liz Albrecht Bisset and Linda: We continue to be interested in the history of Coleman Avenue School and of William J. McCordick School, which opened in 1973 near the site of the vanished Coleman. Unfortunately, we still don’t have the exact location on the property of the two schools. For King and Country visited William J. McCordick in 2016. We did not expect war memorials because of the school’s opening date, but through an obituary, found some details of Mr. McCordick’s career. He began teaching mostly First-Nations students in a northern Ontario mining community. The “school” was a railway car, as there was no traditional school building. After further teaching, Mr. McCordick became a business administrator in East York, and was the first Director of Education for the Metropolitan Toronto School Board. There might be further information in the local history section of nearby East York libraries, or in community newspapers. (We have searched back issues of the Toronto Star without much luck.) Mr. McCordick had descendants, but we don’t know if any still live in the neighbourhood. We would be interested in digital copies of any photos that you might unearth, Linda. They might solve the mystery of the exact location of Coleman! Good to hear that you are promoting the history at McCordick, Liz. Are there any long-time inhabitants of the neighbourhood who could speak to your staff or students? We will continue to post anything we find, but as you can see, gathering info can be a slow process.

  • Patricia Wright

    My two brothers (twins) Arthur and Donald, my sister Marylee and I attended Coleman Ave. PS in the 50s. Mrs. Rutherford taught grade 3, Mrs. Matthews taught grade 2, Mrs. Jules(?) was the kindergarten teacher. Mr. Savage was the principal.
    My parents operated a uniform business and made all the sport’s uniforms in the 50s. I do have one photo of a girl’s team wearing those uniforms.
    Best luck in your research.
    Patricia

  • Janet Adams

    Wow l remember the twins and a lamb they had as a pet. I live in the States now but l always visit Coleman l remember the chestnut trees that l remember being such fun to collect in the fall. Donna is my younger sister. I often think of kids l went to school with and wonder what happened. I just loved Coleman. l remember the summer activities. Crafts, games older students looked after us all. I loved the summer school.
    Bless all the former Principals,teachers and students. My last year my teacher was on medical leave so we had an amazing teacher read “The Pilgrims Progress”, l never forgot that and the lessons l learned have helped me in life.
    Hi to Jamie Waters and Rodney Crook.
    Bless All !

  • Janet Adams

    I played with the twins. l think they were in my class. They had a pet lamb. I remember Chestnut trees in the school yard and summer school and girls called trainers and afternoons in the summer had activities in the school yard. It was so much fun. ln the winter there were skating rinks in the school yard. Jamie Waters and Rodney Crook were boys in my class. l am Donna Adams’ older Sister we do have older sister Corinne wow what memories l want to say we planted a tree in Fenton is park with a plaque but that could have been another school.

  • walter trumble

    I attended Coleman in the 50s with brother Len and sister Maree. We won the city hockey championship with barely enough kids to make a team. The headlines in the newspaper proclaimed the smallest school in city wins the championship. I can still remember the thrill at Maple Leaf Gardens when we won. My biggest reward in grade 6 was ringing the recess bell every day (manual pull).

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