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History of Newmarket High mirrors town's own story

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod begin the first of a series of articles recounting the history of one of Newmarket's oldest schools, Newmarket High School

During the summer of 1980, I was fortunate to be involved in some of the research for a paper that my uncle, George Luesby, was preparing for a huge reunion taking place in July 1981 for all the former students of Newmarket High School. The celebration was to mark the 110th anniversary of the renaming of the old Grammar School to Newmarket High School in 1871.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to retell the story of Newmarket High and its growth over the years, growth that has mirrored in many ways the growth of our town and its citizens.  

Today we will look at the early years, including with the early educational system in this province. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will examine the growth of Newmarket High through the Depression, two world wars, a myriad of world events and the change in the educational system of this province.

It should be mentioned that the secondary school education system in Newmarket actually dates back 176 years to 1843, when the Grammar School was established on Millard Avenue. Think of the thousands of students who have passed through the doors of the high school and how all, in some way, have been influenced by that experience.

I remember that our research was made more difficult by the serious loss of school records in two major fires in 1893 and 1928. To my uncle’s credit, much of the information contained in his account was gleaned from old yearbooks, newspaper files, interviews and personal recollections of former students.

I’ll recognize the many significant milestones in the development of the school and its strong relationship to the community.

My uncle, as I remember him, was a man specifically focused on the bare facts of history and so, in this series of articles, I have endeavoured to maintain his technical manner of historical narration rather than highlight the sentimental. Every student who attended Newmarket High School has their own memories of their time there, coloured by their own personal encounters and experiences.

I think that we should start by learning a little bit about the Grammar School system in Upper Canada. Some of this information was covered in my article on early education in Newmarket.

The early Grammar Schools in Upper Canada or Canada West (Ontario) provided a somewhat haphazard education. Our Grammar School had been established in Newmarket in 1843 but until 1853, there had been no official course curriculum, school inspectors or local tax revenue to support education.

The qualifications for admittance to Grammar School were:

  • To read intelligibly and correctly any passage from any common reading book;
  • To spell correctly the words of an ordinary sentence;
  • To work questions readily in the simple and compound rules of arithmetic and in reduction and proportion;
  • To be acquainted with definition and outlines of geography.

There were 64 grammar schools in the province of Ontario in 1853 under the authority of the Council of Public Instruction of Ontario.

In 1865, it was mandated that municipalities would be required to support their local grammar school by taxation, which provided for expansion and improved facilities, however, students were still required to pay low fees for more than a half century.

Dr. Egerton Ryerson, principal of Victoria College, who was Superintendent of Schools from 1844 to 1876, introduced authorized textbooks and an approved course of study, school inspection, school libraries and the planning of school buildings.  

In 1871, an Act of Legislature originated by Dr. Ryerson changed grammar schools to high schools in Ontario and only students who had completed public school were admitted to these schools.

Dr. Ryerson's new theories of education added the reading of fiction and poetry with an emphasis on modern languages, literature and science to the basic curriculum of English grammar, reading, writing, Latin, arithmetic and geography.

In 1876, schools came under the direct control of the provincial government. The Council of Public Instruction was replaced by the Department of Education, headed by a minister of the Cabinet. There was little change in either structure or method in Ontario education, although over a period of 20 years, Dr. Ryerson's reforms were established uniformly throughout the province. Departmental examinations were introduced to achieve uniformity in standards of education.  

The Industrial Education Act of 1911 was the official beginning of vocational education in Ontario, but Newmarket High School had already introduced a commercial course in 1909 under the guidance of Miss Laura Wickett.

By 1913. Ontario secondary schooling was a six-year institution with Lower, Middle and Upper School, which was comprised of two years at each level. There was a four-year program of general education but not for university entrance. Completion of this course provided the students with a Junior High School Graduation Diploma.  

In 1921, revisions were made to limit Upper School to one year instead of two, resulting in a five-year course for senior matriculation and a four-year course for junior matriculation. It should be noted that at this time, the minimum age for leaving school was raised from 14 to 16 years.  

In 1936, the Department of Education officially numbered the grades of public schools and secondary schools from one through 13. High school entrance departmental examinations at public school senior fourth (later Grade 8) were abolished in 1950.

Provincial examinations in secondary schools had been successively dropped; lower school examinations in 1933, middle school or junior matriculation in 1940, and upper school in 1968. If you have students currently in the educational system, you will note that the standardized exam has returned.  

The Newmarket district faced problems typical of all schools in Ontario. The Depression of the 1930s brought overcrowding due to an increased enrolment of teenswho remained in school because of a general lack of jobs and adults who returned to further their education.

The impact of the war on schooling was felt in many ways. Both teachers and students had enlisted in the armed services. Inter-school athletic competitions were cancelled and the publication of yearbooks was suspended.  

The post war surge of births, the influx of immigrants from many countries, rehabitation of ex-servicemen, and the migration of the population to the suburbs made it necessary to expand our education facilities.  

We cannot forget that a powerful stimuli to the development of a more diverse educational system derived from the effect of the technological and scientific revolution happening around us and the rights of any child to go on to university. This resulted in an enlargement of existing buildings and entire new schools in many areas. Newmarket High School was directly affected by these new conditions. A new wing was added in 1957 and Huron Heights Secondary School was built in 1962.  

In September 1962, the Robarts Plan was inaugurated to broaden the program for secondary schools. This plan was designed to meet the challenges of technological and social advances. A wide variety of programs were offered to suit the needs, interests and aptitudes of the students.  

The plan provided five-year courses, leading to university training for the course load formerly known as Academic (General), Commercial and Technical. The new names were Arts and Sciences; Business and Commerce and Science, Technology and Trades, respectively. It also offered four-year courses in the same subjects as the five-year plan for those students who intended to join the workforce at the end of that time or planned to attend the new Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology that had been instituted. Another alternative in some schools was a special two-year course for either technical or commercial training.

In the next instalment, we will pick up the story in the late 1960s, when our form of government significantly affected education administration with the introduction of regional government.

I hope that you have enjoyed this introduction to this series of articles and that you will follow us as we turn our focus specifically to the structure and environment of Newmarket High in coming articles.

Sources: The History of Newmarket High by George Luesby; History of the Town of Newmarket, Chapter 9. by Mrs. Ethel Trewhella; Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada 1841-1843; Report of Newmarket Grammar School - Provincial Archives; Records in the County Registry Office; Records of Inspector — Department of Education; Public School Records; Minutes of Newmarket Council; York County Council bylaws; Newmarket Era - items 1893 thru 1979; High School Magazine Purple and Gold; Newmarket High School yearbooks Phoenix.

Interviews: Elman Campbell, president, Newmarket Historical Society; J.W. Lockhart, principal, N.H.S. 1944-1969.

************ brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at [email protected].


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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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