Morse Street Public School

Photograph by Julia Patterson

Photograph by Julia Patterson

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE EARLY DAYS OF MORSE STREET PUBLIC SCHOOL

On September 17, 1873: The Toronto Public School Board began search for a school site “at or near Leslieville” for inhabitants in eastern portion of St. Lawrence ward living south of Queen Street (then known as Kingston Road).

From the Globe July 8 1881. School Section #6 was in the Township of York (north of Queen). The Willow Street School was in the City of Toronto, south of Queen Street.

From the Globe July 8 1881. School Section #6 was in the Township of York (north of Queen). The Willow Street School was in the City of Toronto, south of Queen Street.

On Feb 18, 1874 they selected a site “west of Messrs. Leslie and Sons Nursery” on the north east corner of Eastern and Pape. The two-room school was first called South Park Street School, but was soon officially named Leslieville School. The school was also sometimes referred to as Willow Street School. Pape Avenue was known as “Willow Street” because a huge willow tree grew at the corner of Queen and Pape. (Basketmakers lived on Willow Street, using the thin branches or osiers to weave their wares.) The Willow Street School was in the City of Toronto, not the Township of York. What is today known as the Leslieville Public School on Leslie Street was not the same school and not under the City of Toronto School Board. The Leslie Street School was under the York School Board until 1884 when Leslieville was amalgamated with the City of Toronto. Confusing now and probably confusing then I think.

Publisher of The Toronto Telegram, John Ross Robertson wrote: “Morse street is named after George D. Morse, a cattle dealer, who was drowned in the Don.” [1] “A new street, to run from the Kingston road to Eastern Avenue, is contemplated. It will start nearly opposite Logan’s line, and will be called Morse street.”[2] But the first house wasn’t built until a few years later. “The first house is now being erected on Morse-street, an avenue only recently opened.”[3]

In 1884 when Leslieville north of Queen Street was annexed by City of Toronto, some street names changed to avoid duplication with streets in the old City of Toronto. On Feb 7, 1884 the City of Toronto’s Leslieville School had its name changed to the Eastern Avenue School—presumably to avoid confusion with the Leslie Street School. That school had been under the York Township Board but now fell under the Toronto School Board. A Morse Street site was purchased for a four-room school to replace the Eastern Avenue School. In 1885 the Eastern Avenue School and site sold by public auction.  Richard Cunningham Windeyer (1831-1900), was chosen as architect.[4]

.”…the site in question was a part of a swamp, and that if the school were erected there it would need a cast-iron cellar,” said a trustee.”[5]

By John Willson, 1900.

By John Willson, 1900.

None of the Tenders Acceptable.

Contractors’ figures too high. 

The Building and Sites Committee of the Public School Board met yesterday afternoon, when the tenders for the erection of a new school on Morse-street, St. Lawrence Ward, were opened. While the tenders were being examined, some remarks were passed by one of the members about the site chosen for the new school.  Mr. Metcalfe accused Mr. Roden, the chairman, of having falsely stated that the site in question was a part of a swamp, and that if the school were erected there it would need a cast-iron cellar. The chairman, he said, had told a falsehood about the site. It was a very suitable one, and he did not see why any obstacle should be thrown in the way of erecting a school there. While St. Lawrence Ward paid as much taxes as any ward in the city it had the worst school accommodation. When the Rose-avenue School was being built the present Chairman had not thrown any obstacle in the way of that work, because he was interested in that section. Mr. Roden said he had not said anything against the site for the Morse-street School. Mr. Metcalfe said he had not got the Chairman’s support in the matter, and he did not care to have it. Mr. Roden said if Mr. Metcalfe was going to get mad about it, perhaps he would not be able to get the matter passed through the Committee. Addressing the other members of the Committee he said the appropriation for this school was $6,000, and as a third of that amount had already been expended in the site, he did not know if they could recommend the erection of the new school in the St. Lawrence Ward, as they would not have sufficient money left.

THE TENDERS TOO HIGH.

It was found that the lowest of the different tenders for plumbing, carpentering, glazing, etc., amounted altogether to $9,700. The Committee decided that this was more than they could afford to spend for the Morse-street school. The plans were accordingly handed to Mr. Windeyer, the architect, whose was instructed to make some alterations in them that would lessen the cost of the building. There were over twenty tenders for the work.”[6]

In December 1885 the new school opened. In 1886 Morse Street School listed for the first time by the Board of Education with 222 pupils enrolled. In 1889 there was the first addition to Morse Street School.

In 1890s, Leslieville grew rapidly.  All the schools were overcrowded.  Two temporary school rooms opened: at St. Clements’ Anglican and Queen St E Presbyterian. Older students had to walk to the Leslie Street School even from as far north as west of Pape all the way up to Danforth Ave.  This was too far for the smallest children to walk.

“The residents of the East End who live west of Pape avenue are up in arms over the proposed change in the removal of the kindergarten scholars from Carlaw avenue to Leslie street school.  At present all the children who are attending the kindergarten school live west of Pape avenue, which would make an additional walk of about three-quarters of a mile to a mile and a half.”[7]

Four new rooms in Leslie street school opened.  The school now had eight rooms and was full. 82 students moved from the Morse street school to the Leslie street school. “This school is now one of the best in the city, having all the modern improvements and conveniences.”[8]

It had, at that time, 253 students. There was an average of 50 students a room, a student-teacher ratio that would be unthinkable today. The limits of Leslie street school have been extended west, including both sides of Pape avenue.  This was done in order to close the temporary rooms at St. Clement’s church and the Presbyterian church. There were now 395 students at the Leslie street school.  Nearly 50 would-be students could not go to school because of lack of space.  Older students had to walk to the Leslie Street School even from as far north as west of Pape all the way up to Danforth Avenue.[9]

Attendance continued to increase.  More children were going to Leslie Street School, Morse Street School – Leslieville schools, but also schools across the City. “East of the Don” had some of the most crowded schools in Toronto. The schools in this area were:  Leslie, 404 students, seven rooms; Morse, 519 students, eight rooms.[10]

But going to school was exciting for many.

“The cantata entitled “Queen Winter and Jack Frost,” rendered by the pupils of Morse street school, under the direction of Miss E. Williams, the principal, last night in Dingman’s hall, was a decided success in every way. The hall was well filled with the friends and parents of the children, who showed that they were delighted with the way all performed their several parts by heartily applauding every act.

The Masters Jordan rendered valuable assistance as accompanist and cornetist respectively. Messrs. H. Gilby, G.T. Pendrith and J.C. Clarke took the part of the Shepherds, and Mr. Pendrith the part of the Storm King in a very satisfactory manner. Everything passed off without a hitch and the enjoyable entertainment was brought to a close about 10 o’clock by the singing of the National Anthem.

Inspector Chapman was present and made a short complimentary speech to the children.  Ex-school Trustee A.E. Hagerman took the part of the Master in good style.”[11]

“The junior pupils of Morse street school gave a pleasing cantata entitled “Queen revel,” under the direction of the principal. Miss Williams, in Dingman’s hall, Friday night. The audience, which was a good one, were delighted with the entertainment. Trustee Fitzgerald presided and gave a short address. Ex-Trustee A.E. Hagerman, who still takes a deep interest in school affairs, was also present and gave a happy congratulatory speech.”[12]

“The sub-committee of the School Board on School Limits met at Morse school yesterday afternoon to investigate the over-crowding in that district and to see what can be done to remedy the difficulty. There are only eight rooms in the school and they are all over-crowded, except the senior fourth, and there are over 70 children in the district who cannot be admitted through lack of room. The Bolton avenue school, too, although four new rooms have been added, is greatly over-crowded, as many as 82 scholars being in one room.”[13]

Morse Street Playground — Festival August 28, 1915 City of Toronto Archives

Morse Street Playground — Festival
August 28, 1915 City of Toronto Archives

Morse Street Playground — Festival August 28, 1915 City of Toronto Archives

Morse Street Playground — Festival
August 28, 1915 City of Toronto Archives

In 1895 there was another addition to the Morse Street Public School. Attendance continued to increase.  In 1896 the kindergarten class at the Morse Street School had over 90 children.[14]

”The Morse street school has an overflow class-room in the Sunday schoolroom at Queen street and Carlaw avenue. There is no school accommodation between here and Kew Beach, a distance of two and a half miles.

At Kew Beach they want a two-room school and site. At present there are two junior classes in the school-room and chapel of the Kenilworth avenue Baptist church. The rooms are full of bewildering cross-lights from stained-glass windows. The dim religious light is not good for school purposes. The windows are on the casement plan and must be opened the whole length or not at all.

Is it worthwhile to spend $100,000 in removing the little tots from their daily graves and torture-chambers? Is it good policy to have their eyes and their lungs sound? The school children of Toronto have contributed nobly to a sick children’s hospital. Will the city Council endorse an expenditure which will take 1,473 from ’surroundings’ that may eventually send them to the place where their pennies went?”[15]

 “MORE SCHOOLS, SITES WANTED

Chairman Starr says the Board Must Make a Determined Stand—Children Must not be Crowded into Basements. 

Chairman Starr, of the Public School Board, announced at the Management Committee yesterday afternoon his policy of a vigorous effort to procure proper school accommodation to meet the demands of the growing population. “I am quite prepared,” said Mr. Starr, “to take my share of the responsibility for recommending the purchase of sites for new schools where they are needed. I am not willing that children should be crowded into basements and sheds for lack of proper accommodation. Neither do I believe we should build our existing schools three or four storeys high. It is not desirable that children should have to climb to upper storeys.”

FOR THE EAST END.

The committee decided that to relieve Bolton, Morse and Hamilton schools two rooms at Pape avenue be finished, and that seven new rooms be built at Bolton avenue, Morse and Hamilton streets.”[16]

In 1898 some Toronto School Board trustees fought tenaciously to have Miss Williams, the principal of Morse Street School removed — because she was a woman! They did not succeed. The Toronto Star article of October 21, 1898, sums up the arguments and reflects both the misogyny of the period and the changing attitudes towards women.

Women get a chance

Morse Street Playground FestivalAugust 19, 1916 From the City of Toronto Archives

Morse Street Playground FestivalAugust 19, 1916
From the City of Toronto Archives

In 1909 there was another addition Morse Street Public School and in 1914 another. In 1931 there was another addition built.  The school grew to 17 classrooms, three kindergartens, a staff room, offices and a health room.

Empire Day parade, Morse Street School flower party. - May 23, 1929

Empire Day parade, Morse Street School flower party. May 23, 1929. From the City of toronto Archives.

In 1971 the new Morse Street school that we have today formally opened.

In 1999 the Morse Street Junior Public School 180 Carlaw Avenue celebrated 125 years serving the community.

 

[1] John Ross Robertson, Landmarks of Toronto, Vol. 1, 523.

[2] The Toronto Daily Mail, May 13, 1881

[3] Globe July 24 1883

[4] http://www.dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/architects/view/1287 and also see The Annual Report of the Inspector of Public Schools of the City of Toronto for 1885, Appendix, 3

[5] Globe, March 17, 1885

[6] Toronto Star, January 27, 1894

[7] Toronto Star, April 16, 1894

[8] Toronto Star Tuesday, May 1, 1894

[9] Toronto Star, May 1, 1894

[10] Toronto Star, October 2, 1894, Toronto Star, October 4, 1894

[11] Toronto Star, January 27, 1894

[12] Toronto Star, March 19, 1894

[13] Toronto Star, October 2, 1894

[14] Toronto Star September 2, 1896

[15] Toronto Star, February 10, 1898

[16] Toronto Star, January 24, 1900