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Number of schools: 120
Other organizations: 3
Names on memorials: 47,679
Latest additions:
St. Michael’s College
Newman Club of the University of Toronto

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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.

The Mystery of Chilton Street School

This plaque hangs in Rose Avenue School, 675 Ontario Street, (south of Bloor Street East, between Parliament and Sherbourne Streets) in Toronto’s St. James Town. Chilton Street does not appear on current maps of Toronto. There is a Chilton Road in East York, but it is several kilometres northeast of Rose Avenue School. Did Chilton Street disappear when the neighbourhood’s Victorian buildings were replaced by densely-packed high rises in the 1960s?

“For King and Country” comes across many “vanished” schools (which we hope to have on our website soon) but Chilton Street School has not shown up in sources consulted so far. Was it a private school, a Sunday school—note the “In God we Trust” reference—an early “special needs” school, or a school outside Toronto’s boundaries? It’s tempting to scour even more Toronto Board annual reports to solve this mystery, but memorials and school histories are waiting to be finished…

So, dear readers—put on your deerstalkers and track this down for us—and perhaps find out a bit about “Mr. & Mrs. Jason Smith” as well.

Rose Avenue School opened in 1884 and will soon be on our website.

Rose-Avenue-Chilton-Street-

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…I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916.
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean.
—Eric Bogle “No Man’s Land (The Green Fields of France)” ©Larrikin Music

Plaque at McMurrich Public School, Toronto ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

This plaque at McMurrich Public School started the search for Ernest Jones. ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

Our first recorded memorial to an individual was that of Ernest Jones, whose plaque hangs at McMurrich Public School. He was the school’s only First World War death.

Although he enlisted in Smith Falls in 1915, 18-year-old Ernest was born in Toronto to Thomas and Elizabeth Jones. His attestation paper gave his mother’s address as 34 Arlington Avenue, just two blocks from McMurrich school. He was five feet, five inches tall, with blue eyes, “ruddy” hair, a “ruddish” complexion and no distinguishing marks. He was a plumber.

A little more than a year later, Ernest Jones was dead at age 19. His grave in Adanac (Canada spelt backward) cemetery is within sight of the remains of Regina Trench, “the ditch of evil memory,” where he died.

Note maple leaf on the gate to Adanac (Canada spelt backwards) Cemetery, near Courcelette, France. Regina Trench, where Ernest Jones died, crossed the road a little to the south of the cemetery. Commonwealth War Graves Commission workers can be seen replacing plants and shrubs for the winter. About one third of Adanac’s 3,186 burials are Canadians.

Note maple leaf on the gate to Adanac (Canada spelt backwards) Cemetery, near Courcelette, France. Regina Trench, where Ernest Jones died, crossed the road a little to the south of the cemetery. Commonwealth War Graves Commission workers can be seen replacing plants and shrubs for the winter. About one third of Adanac’s 3,186 burials are Canadians. ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

Ernest Jones was one of 24,029 Canadian casualties of the Battle of the Somme. His short life followed the pattern of many young men of his generation who died in “the war to end all wars.” He was not long out of school. He had prepared for his future by learning a trade. He was a private, with a plain, unassuming name. His gravestone gives his initial “E” only—no first name. The “E” could stand for Everyman.

“In Remembrance” wooden crosses with poppies in the centre, carefully placed by visitors, dot the military cemeteries of Belgium and France. It seemed fitting to buy one such cross at the Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, Belgium, for a grave in a peaceful cemetery amid the green fields of France.

Ernest Jones, your old school still remembers you. We hope you died quick and we hope you died clean.

Ernest Jones’s marker in Adanac Cemetery. The grave reference (1.E.4) was located on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website, using the McMurrich plaque death date. ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

Ernest Jones’s marker in Adanac Cemetery. The grave reference (1.E.4) was located on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website, using the McMurrich plaque death date. ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

Thousands of hand-inscribed “In Remembrance” crosses dot Flanders Fields cemeteries. A modest thank you from “For King and Country.” ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

Thousands of hand-inscribed “In Remembrance” crosses dot Flanders Fields cemeteries. A modest thank you from “For King and Country.” ©Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society