Establishment of the Old Grammar School, High School, Separate School and Collegiate Institute – Some Reminiscences

The programme of the Alumni Association gives 1857 as the date when the Lindsay Grammar School was established, but we are not sure that this is correct. An entry in the minutes of a meeting of the Board of Education held on the 4th February 1857, indicated that the school was in existence for two years prior to that date. We have not had opportunity to make the research necessary to ascertain the true date.

Whichever may be the proper date, it is most creditable to the public spirit and enterprise of the people of Lindsay, and to their confidence and hope in the future growth and prosperity of the town, that with a population of about 700 in 1857, or two hundred less than that two years earlier, they established a Grammar School for the better education of the children. The subsequent history of the town and county shows the wisdom of the citizens who established this school in connection with the Common school then in existence.

Mr. William Daunt was the first master of the Grammar School, while his wife was the sole teacher of the Common school. A frame building which stood between the present Central School and Albert Street provided accommodation for both Grammar and Common Schools. The silhouette of this old unpainted structure still stands out in the minds of men now active in the affairs of life, then boys at school.

In 1861 Mr. Robert Hudspeth took the place vacated by Mr. Daunt as master of the Grammar School. Mr. Francis Whaley had before this assumed the duties of the only teacher in the Common School. About this time the people of Lindsay exhibited their confidence in the future growth of the town by entering upon the erection of the present Central School building for the accommodation of the Grammar and Common Schools.

These schools employed but two teachers, while the new building provided rooms for some half dozen teachers and at either side of the building were left bricks projecting for convenience in adding additions at any time. Up these projecting bricks the writer of this sketch and other boys often climbed in the gladsome days of boyhood. It mattered not to us though the end of a brick did occasionally break off.

About seven years after the building was first occupied these projecting bricks on the west side were utilized in the erection of an addition containing two large classrooms, and although those on the east side still remain unused, they stand as a monument to the foresight of the men who planned the original building rather than otherwise, for though the space was not provided there it was provided in the erection of the several ward schools, subsequent experience having taught that it is better to bring the classrooms as near as possible to the doors of the smaller children. In those days, we in our a, b, c’s walked through all sorts of weather from the most remote parts of the town to the present Central School.

On the fifth day of February 1863, the new building was accepted from the hands of the contractors and shortly after this it was occupied and the old frame building was vacated forever. Soon the attendance grew so that Mr. Whalley found more pupils on his hands than he could attend to. The congestion was relieved and the first expansion in the teaching staff made by Mr. Joseph A. Clarke, a student at the Grammar School, taking the juvenile classes in the Common School from 11:00 to 12 and 3:00 to 4 each day.

Readers, do you remember how we used to line out into the big room in the centre from that double room at the north, with a partition three-fourths or more of the way up the middle, separating the boys from the girls? In the space not closed by the partition sat the teacher’s desk, half on either side of the wall; behind the desk sat the teacher with one eye on the boys and the other on the girls – no wonder he wore spectacles. It required double sight to control such a situation.

Mr. Clarke was succeeded by a permanent teacher, and he himself afterwards became a High School teacher. These three teachers have all gone over to the great majority. So the schools grew one teacher after another being added to the Public School staff and one building after another erected. The name Grammar School in 1871 was changed to High School, and this in 1889 became a Collegiate Institute, and from a school of a single master it became one of two, then of three, and so on, until we now have our present school system with its Collegiate Institute and staff of six teachers, its public schools and staff of twenty teachers, and its Separate School and staff of three teachers, and the Sisters at the Convent.

The Separate School was first opened in 1855, with John O’Donnell as teacher, in a log building formerly used as a church, upon the same site as the school now stands. The log schoolhouse gave way to the present brick building in 1870-’71.

Mr. Hudspeth retired from teaching in 1866 and was succeeded in the Lindsay Grammar School by Rev. A. Murray, recently arrived from Scotland. Mr. Henry Reazin, at present Public School Inspector for West Victoria, who taught until the close of 1870, when Mr. Alfred M. Lafferty, M.A., was accorded the position vacated, succeeded him in 1867 by Mr. Reazin.

During these years the Master of the Grammar or High School was also Head Master of the Public Schools, and after a year’s work Mr. Lafferty concluded that he could not, in justice, either to himself or the pupils, be the sole teacher of the higher school, and at the same time superintend the work of the Public Schools, and accordingly he asked for an assistant. His request was refused; he resigned, and the school lost an excellent teacher.

He was succeeded in 1872 by Mr. Robert L. Dobson, who remained until 1879; under him the school grew and prospered, to be continued under the principalship of Dr. W.E. Tilley from 1880 to 1884, and Mr. Wm. O’Connor, B.A., from 1884 to 1887, when Mr. J.C. Harstone, B.A., became its principal, and has since remained.

The present building was erected in 1888, and on 22nd January 1889, was formally opened by the Honourable G. W. Ross, Minister of Education, and the school raised to the rank of a Collegiate Institute. Under Mr. Harstone the school has had its greatest successes and has prospered and flourished until now it stands in the very front rank among Collegiate Institutes in Ontario.

In the old school days corporal punishment was more in evidence than now, and few indeed were the boys who escaped a frequent “cut of the gad,” nor were the girls exempt. We thought it the most unkindest cut of all when we were so often sent to the bushes to cut a rod to whip ourselves. However, that was abandoned after a time, for it so happened that when sent out for a switch the boys never had knives of their own, but took the teacher’s, and those boys were so clumsy as to quite often break a blade of the knife. The teacher thought it cheaper to cut his own rods than to keep the boys in knives. Wise or unwise in his manner of punishment as this teacher may have been, the great majority of his pupils look back to him as one of the best of teachers.

At the reunion on the 29th December last some of the boys of ye olden time searched the front archway and other places in the Central School building for familiar names. Some of the pencil scrolls are there still, some of them have been effaced by boys of more recent years to make space for their own names, but yet others can never be effaced so long as the same old bricks are in the wall, for the letters have been cut deep with a pen-knife; and yet more can never be effaced so long as memory lives in the lives of their fellow pupils. The enduring way for pupils to engrave their names is by bravery, industry and integrity to impress their characters deeply in the hearts and memories of their fellow pupils and not by defacement of the buildings.

The old pupils recall with much pleasure the Friday afternoon spelling matches debates, recitations, dialogues and songs.

During these 42 or more years have gone forth from the school boys who have become men prominent in every walk of life, and girls, too, who have filled and are filling useful positions in society, but chiefly let us hope that place the highest, most noble and most sacred among the aspirations of womanhood, the place of wife and mother.

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