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Vanished Schools and Vanished Times: Wellesley Public School

A great uncle’s school certificate sparked a search for one of Toronto’s “vanished” halls of learning. Opened in 1874, Wellesley Public School sat like a fancy wedding cake on the north east corner of Bay and Wellesley Streets in downtown Toronto. The “most handsome and best-furnished school building in Toronto” featured the “mod cons” of its day: running water, good ventilation, cloakrooms, blackboards, and individual desks for students. Wellesley was one of just three Toronto “advanced schools” that offered Fourth and Fifth Book classes. (The other two schools were Lord Dufferin and Ryerson, which both opened two years after Wellesley.)

Wellesley Public School, Toronto, in about 1876 (Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Room X 64-78 Cab)

Wellesley Public School, Toronto, in about 1876 (Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Room X 64-78 Cab)

Following the Irish National Series of readers, students were not divided into grades, but grouped according to which reader or “book” they were in. The readers had lessons on all subjects, as well as stories, and poems pupils were expected to memorize.

Eleven-year-old Thomas Jackson got credit for punctuality and regular attendance on his second-class certificate. He also had a stern reminder that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs IX: 10) and “Learning refines and elevates the mind.” If not yet intimidated, young Tom perhaps squirmed under the watchful gaze of Socrates and Newton. Education was not to be taken lightly in 1880s Toronto. Disney characters and action heroes on lunch bags and backpacks were unknown in the days of Biblical quotes, physicists, and ancient philosophers.

Thomas Jackson's 1888 second-class certificate from Wellesley Public School, Toronto (author's collection)

Thomas Jackson’s 1888 second-class certificate from Wellesley Public School, Toronto (author’s collection)

The certificate’s St. John’s Ward—bounded by College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street, and University Avenue—became “The Ward,” and is now the Discovery District. Two signatures are probably those of Toronto Public School Board members: F(rank) Somers (1881-91) and John Kent (1888-90). Inspector James L. Hughes, who also signed, had a long career in Toronto schools. Among many accomplishments, he saw that Toronto was the second city in the world to have kindergarten as part of its regular program, beginning in 1883.

Operating as a school until 1956, when students moved to Church Street School, the once-proud Wellesley, grimy with years, then housed the Ontario Water Resources Commission until damaged by fire in the early 1960s. In 1967, the 33-storey Sutton Place Hotel replaced the demolished Wellesley. The Sutton Place closed its 400 rooms on June 15, 2012, soon to be refurbished as The Britt, a 600-unit condo.

Schoolboy Thomas Irving Jackson (photo taken at Park Bros., 328 Yonge St., from author's collection)

Schoolboy Thomas Irving Jackson in a photo taken at Park Bros., 328 Yonge St. (author’s collection)

Information from this simple school certificate tells us of vanished and vanishing times.

Thomas Jackson taught school briefly, joined the U.S. Signal Corps and went to Cuba, where he died, aged 23, of yellow fever in August 1900. His heart-broken mother and seven older brothers and sisters couldn’t part with the small tokens they had of him. Thus this paper record of Wellesley Public School survives.

Much background information on Wellesley Public came from: Centennial Story: The Board of Education for the City of Toronto 1850-1950. Toronto: Thomas Nelson & Sons (Canada) Limited, 1950.

Note: A WWII memorial has recently been located for Wellesley Public School.

22 comments to Vanished Schools and Vanished Times: Wellesley Public School

  • Glenda Johnston

    I went to this school from Kindergarten to Gr 4 – Gr 5 I was sent to Church St Public School – at that time a large part of the first floor was for polio patients – there was a photo published in the Star “School’s out” that I would dearly love to get my hands on

  • Glenda Johnston

    I still have my report cards from Wellesley PS

  • Martha Jackson

    Further to Glenda Johnston’s comments about polio: On January 30, 1950 the Board reported on Wellesley School’s orthopaedic classes for “crippled children of normal intelligence.” There were 73 pupils; four classes; six teachers. The children travelled on three large buses. One group attended from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; a second group from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students followed the regular course of study “as far as their disabilities will permit.” Physical Training classes taught them “to stand, walk, write, talk, and otherwise gain control of muscular co-ordinations fundamental to educational training.” Department of Public Health doctors gave “special attention” to the children. Occupational Therapy student nurses assisted the classes “under the direction of the regular teacher, Miss Hampson, who is also a trained occupational therapist.” (From information on p. 259 of Centennial Story cited above.)

  • Keith Thompson

    My father Victor Thompson was the caretaker of Wellesley School from about 1949 to 1953 when the school moved to a new building, Sunnyview, in northern Toronto. He and the principal Harvie Maurie both moved to Sunnyview. I often roamed the halls of the school on weekends when dad was looking after the boilers. At least on one occasion we and friends viewed the Santa Claus parade from the vantage of the second story windows.
    Keith Thompson
    Canmore Alberta

  • I attended K-2nd (1954-56), then went to Church Street for 3rd-6th (1957-60).

  • Jane

    Thanks for letting us know, Mike. You will have seen a lot of changes on that corner!

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    I attended Gr.4 with Mrs. Deveral, Grs. 5,7,8 with Mr. Alexander Graham Morrison, a great teacher, who later became a Master at lakeside teacher’s College. Gr.6 was an exchange from England. Left halfway, taken over by Mr. Morrison. We in Gr.7+8 were responsible for the handicapped class in a fire drill, taking the students down the ramp on the Bay St. side. The fire alarm was a rope on the second floor between the 4th and 8th Gr. classrooms. Miss Moore was a principal for some of that time. When the school closed Banting Inst. used it for a while. The schoolyard was segregated: lining up to enter up long staircase hollowed out with the tread of many students. Milk was delivered daily in bottles with paper caps. Cloakroom a great asset. We vied to clean the erasers; we banged them on the outside walls leaving chalky smudges. Marjorie Chestnutt, Sharon Gill, Annette Wollens, Maryann Jefferies, Pat Fraser, Diana Steer, Vija Janis, Loretta Pankiw, Wendell Neal, Jim Stott, Bill Bird, Donald Coleman, Graham Robinson. My best school years. Lived at 40 and a half Irwin Avenue.

  • Jane

    Thanks for those very vivid memories, Anne! Do you recall seeing any war memorials on the walls?

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    Hello Jane, So sorry, I do not remember seeing any memorials on the walls. What years were you there? Who were your teachers? Do you recognize any of the names I mentioned? Here’s 2 more. Sharon Gully and Isobel Dixon, and Patricia …..Another girl named Kathleen, whose family had a fish and chip south of Wellesley on Yonge. It was the only time in my childhood that I lived in one place for so long. My stepfather worked SKF, a Swedish ballbearing firm with offices located at the corner of Bay and Irwin. The company owned 3 houses on Irwin:#42, #40 and #40 and a half. We moved in at Christmas 1950. Rent was $40. a month. No furnace, only coal stoves in each room on thee main floor.

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    To Mike Yoshida, If you have a sister named Virginia, she was a good friend of mine. I attended a birthday party at your house on the corner of Nicholas and Irwin. Your Grandmother filled the front garden with tulips and one year some kids put firecrackers in and blew them all up. We used to play hide and seek behind your house.

  • Jane

    More interesting memories, Anne! Thanks. (I didn’t attend Wellesley. I’m a project volunteer.)

  • I lived on Charles St.W. until I was 9 and attended K – gr.4, 1946-1950. I remember the interior of the school vividly the high windows with cupboards below in kindergarten, the long beautiful staircase. Have written a little about those times on my blog.

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    Hello Ruth, I do not know blog etc. e-mail is my only craft on the computer. All my life I have wanted to own one of those long, low wooden boxes that were at the base of the chalkboard. It held the yardstick and chalk etc. If you had to go to the board and were short, you could stand on it and to write whatever. In gr. 6, the principal was Miss Mary Moore. Short grey hair and business suits. We had to go into her office individually, stand in front of her desk and read a long list of words. The only one I mis-pronounced was fatigue. I gave it the French pronunciation, a throwback to my year in private school in England.

  • Jimmy McDonald

    I went to this school too. I don’t remember it being as big as it looks in the photo. I just recall there being ramps to get in the building, and there was a Rolls Royce dealer across the street.We lived on yonge st. north of wellesley.

  • Martha Jackson

    Interesting details, Jimmy. Any recollections of Remembrance Day assemblies?

  • Sharon Brintnell nee Gully

    Dear Anne and others

    I just read the posts and I think the “Gill” should be “Gully” as I too was there with you. I later became an occupational therapist noting the post on the Orthopedic children. I am a professor at the University of Alberta.
    Also there were Sandra Powell, Freddy Keenan, Morris Vaillancourt, Jan Fuchs, Virginia Yoshida just to name a few.

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    Hi Sharon, Sorry for the misspell. I hope misspell is spelled correctly. I remember you very well. I was envious of a hoop skirt you wore sometimes. Although it was difficult to manage sitting down at the desk. Yes, Sandra was a friend, Jan experience some difficulty with his surname. I always thought Jim Stott was gorgeous, with a James Dean attitude. Bob Bird? Graham Robinson? Do you recall Diana Steer, Stella Aronavitch? and Janis ?. Isobel Dixon and Pat English?
    I became a teacher at Duke of York School-Dundas and Jarvis, then Lord Dufferin as Special Ed Primary at Parliament and Dundas. That was an education in itself.

  • John fergus macdonald

    Going further back from previous comments; my Great Grandfather must have been one of the first principals of Wellesley Public School. I believe he was recruited from Perthshire (Perth) Scotland and emigrated to take the position. I cannot find any history to collaborate. He built a home on Isabella street and raised 6 sons and 3 daughters. Received a 99 yr lease land grant on an island on Lake Rosseau near Windermere where the family spent their summers during July and August. I believe his name was John Adam Macdonald. Any info would be appreciated. He is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery–west side just south of Merton street. Family plot with a very large tombstone.

  • Martha Jackson

    When your great grandfather, Adam Fergus Macdonald, aged 69, retired from teaching at Christmas time, 1905, the Toronto Daily Star (Nov. 4) devoted a full column to his career. Some highlights: He was born in the parish of Muckart, Perthshire, and remained a “Scotchman, with an accent suggestive of the land of the heather,” who quoted Burns. The article lists the Scottish schools Adam attended—studying Latin, Greek, and French—and taught at, before coming to Canada in 1856. He was a teacher in Markham Township, then Eglinton; joined the Toronto Board at Louisa Street School before being appointed principal of Wellesley in 1877. The names of many former students who went on to successful careers are also given. (An estimated more than 10,000 had passed through his charge.)

    The detailed article—written in the flowery style of the time—is available online through the Toronto Public Library website. (The complete Toronto Star covers 1894-2011.) Type in “Pages of the Past.” Search terms used to find this article were: “Wellesley street school” and “Macdonald.” (Dropped “Perth” as a search term because there is a school by that name.) For King and Country guessed at a date range of 1890 to 1910, which narrowed the search a bit.

    Try the Star for Adam Macdonald’s obituary, which would likely give family info.

    You are luckier than many of us, John Fergus Macdonald!

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    where is pat fraser / she married wally French, an art student I believe.

  • Harold Wright

    I graduated from Wellesley PS in 1956 and went on to Jarvis with quite a few other members of our Gr 8 class which had been taught by Mr. Morrison. In fact, I had the honour of being our class valedictorian and gave a great speech written by my father – a fact noted by Mr. Morrison when I showed him what I was going to say. I was also a pupil in the orthopaedic classes for the last three years before the “crippled kids” were transferred to Sunnyview PS which we shared with the pupils with hearing impairment. I came back to Wellesley for Gr 7 and Gr 8 having Ronald Wright as our Gr 7 teacher. A number of us attended Ronald Wright’s retirement party which took place on the top floor of the Sutton Place Hotel which had been built on the site of Wellesley PS. I have great memories of the teachers and the principals of both versions of Wellesley PS. Mr. More, principal of the orthaepedic school, and Miss Moore, principal of the regular school from which I graduated were both capable and kind administrators. I am still in touch with classmate Jim Miller and another Wellesleyite, Gordon Chong, who was in the year behind us. I also remember Virginia Yoshida who lived at St. Nicholas and Irwin, a couple of doors from Douglas and Betty Chin.

  • Anne Branson nee Cunningham

    Hello Harold,
    I was interested to read your note. Can you describe the Ron Wright you spoke of? I lived in the Beach for a number of years, and there was a teacher in the neighborhood of the same name. He had 4 sons. One was killed accidentally as a young child at a rally of some kind. Very tragic. Ron had black curly hair and was quite good looking. Do you remember Jimmy Chin? His family lived at #8 Irwin Ave. I loved Wellesley and my friends there as home life was unstable. I finished Gr.8 there in 1955. I have vivid memories of Hurricane Hazel- October 15, 1954.

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