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No girls, not all boys attended 1870s Newmarket High

In this week's Remember This?, in his continuing series on the town's original high school, History Hound Richard MacLeod recalls the second building that lasted a mere 16 years from 1877 to 1893 

As our series on the history of Newmarket High School continues, let’s turn our attention to the second high school, dating from 1877 to 1893, a mere 16 years. 

By 1876, attendance at the old grammar school building, on Lot Street (Millard Avenue) had increased to such an extent that it became imperative that accommodation be expanded and in May of that year, the school board requested from council the sum of $6,000 to purchase the necessary land and erect a building. This was accepted and a bylaw was quickly created and passed.  

Two acres of land were purchased at the corner of Prospect and Pearson streets from George and Joseph Williams in 1877 and a brick building erected that summer.

Mr. J. T. Stokes of Sharon was selected as the architect. He had successfully erected several buildings in town. The design was Gothic, symmetrical with an extended wing at each end facing west, running north and south. The predominant feature was a small, delicately detailed tower springing from the west wall and central on the building. The roofing slates were laid in alternate strips of black and grey.

The Gothic style with narrow church-like windows and the patterned brickwork was probably the result of the architect’s state-of-mind at the time as he was also designing both the Presbyterian Church and Christian Church.  

In June 1877, following the opening of the new high school, the grammar school site was returned to the Crown.  An account from that period concerned Mr. P. W. Pearson, a descendant of the pioneer Pearson family after whom Pearson Street is named. He was a longtime businessman and very active in community affairs, and for many years a member of the high school board.  As a young student, he was often made to stand in the classroom’s corner, just in case he was thinking about making noise — a clear case of punishment before the crime.

By 1880, the village of Newmarket had grown to a population of approximately 2,100 and at the council meeting of May 7, the reeve and clerk were authorized to sign a petition to the Lieutenant Governor, making application for a proclamation incorporating the village into a town.  

Subsequently, on Aug. 7, 1880, the Official Gazette published the formal Proclamation of the Incorporation of the Town of Newmarket. On New Year's Day 1881, a great celebration and banquet was held in the Mechanics Hall on Millard Avenue.

The educational institutions were loudly toasted, and Newmarket was proclaimed to have a high educational standing and the many names of individuals were recalled who had gone on to become prominent in public service after receiving their education in Newmarket public and high schools.  

As recorded in an earlier article, in 1891 a new Model School, later known as Alexander Muir School, was built on the northeast corner of Prospect and Timothy streets, comprising six classrooms and a first-year enrolment of 327 pupils.

A report on education in the Provincial Legislature of 1891 recorded that the total number of high schools in the province was 126 and the total number of teachers was 484. The average attendance of pupils was 611, and the cost per pupil was $34. The average salaries for headmasters and assistant masters was $906.

It is interesting to note many students attended the high school only in the winter as they were busy on the farms during the late harvest and early planting in the spring.

Mr. J. E. Hollingshead, a teacher who started in 1884 later would recall that some of the students were older than he was at 28 years old.

The Inspector's report of 1892 stated the academic standing of N.H.S. students was very good. In the Education Department examinations, 60 per cent of Newmarket candidates were successful, while the provincial average was only 40 per cent.

On March 16, 1893, this second high school was destroyed by fire late at night, originating in the wood burning furnace and, unfortunately, fanned to fury by the strong March winds.

A meeting was held the day after the fire by the school boards and arrangements were made to accommodate the high school students in the model school building, starting on the following Monday, until a new school could be built.

Perhaps the fire was a godsend as the small three-room school was overcrowded and urgently required an additional room and a fourth teacher. The building was said to have been as cold as a barn in the winter. The narrow outside windows gave poor natural light and the artificial lighting by coal and oil lamps were adequate for academic studies. At the time it had been built, outdoor privies were still accepted as standard facilities.

From the grammar school days, following the rebellion of 1837 and the influences of the Family Compact, our community had progressed through periods both of prosperity and depression.

Our currency changed from pounds sterling to the dollar and decimal system in 1867 with the coming of Confederation and, by 1875, the credit/barter system transitioned into a cash system, which improved business transactions. The number of enterprising merchants was increasing and brand-new industries were being established.

Electricity was introduced for home and street lighting in the 1890s and the electric railway was built up Yonge Street from Toronto to Newmarket providing access to the city in less than an hour for passenger and freight. Primitive automobiles were now struggling over unpaved roads.

Several major fires, which had destroyed whole business blocks in town, hastened the development of water supply reservoirs, mains and a pumping station. The water services were extended in 1889 to domestic and industrial use.

Even with the economic and population growth, there were some large families who could only afford to send one or two of their sons to high school, while the rest, by necessity, had to work to survive. The girls of the household were not even considered a candidate to receive secondary education. Attitudes were ripe for change.

By fate or coincidence, the high school fire brought about a fresh, new approach to education in town. Amazingly, fire again later destroyed the high school, with another new high school officially opening Feb. 4, 1929.

Sources: The History of Newmarket High by George Luesby; History of the Town of Newmarket, Chapter 9, by 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; Pub1ic School Records; Minutes of Newmarket Council; York County Council bylaws; Newmarket Era - items 1893 thru 1979; High School Magazine Purple and Gold; High School Yearbooks Phoenix. Interviews: Elman Campbell, 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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