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REMEMBER THIS: King George School opened in 1913 in booming Newmarket (15 photos)

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod fondly recalls his iconic neighbourhood school as a place to both learn and play

In our continuing series on the history of Newmarket schools, I'm featuring another of the schools that I attended, King George School on Park Avenue at Church Street.

As rapid growth continued to occur in Newmarket, King George was built to alleviate a severe shortage of educational resources on the west side of town. The Newmarket newspaper of the time relates how space had run out in the little frame schoolhouse at Church and Park since around 1875.

In February 1912, the Newmarket school board decided to build a new school to replace the existing school on the site and in preparation it purchased the balance of the three-quarter section of the block bordered by four streets, Church, Park, Botsford and Victoria.

The existing one-room schoolhouse was divided into three classrooms. We talk today about our crowded classrooms of 30 students, but it was reported that these three rooms had held 69, 64, and 61 pupils at a time. The law in the province at the time called for a maximum of 40 pupils per teacher. Something had to be done.

I could not find any photographs or evidence pointing to what this old primary school looked like, but from an existing class photograph, we do know that it had one entrance and was of board and batten construction with a bell on its roof. We also know that it had been built for those "first book" students (grades 1 to 4) who were located west of the train tracks so that they did not have to cross the tracks to the primary schoolhouse on Prospect at Timothy Street.

The population was booming thanks to Office Specialty, the doubling of capacity at the Tannery and other new large employers, and additional educational capacity was dearly needed.

It was decided that the new school would be of substantial construction, a six-room brick and granite building, replacing the previous structure on the site and would open in spring 1913.

King George had just assumed the throne and thus the new school was to be named the King George Public School.

The school would have six rooms with a basement, the same plans as the Alexander Muir school which had been in operation since 1891. Records show that its first principal was Mr. Cornell with teachers Ms. Sprague, Miss Scott, Ms. McPherson, Ms. Smith and Ms. Graham.

As was the practice for most major building projects back then, the town borrowed $28,000 over a period of 30 years, the school finally being paid off in 1942.

Records show it cost $22,000 to build and an additional $900 for the heating system. While the current need was for a four-room school, analysis also indicated that for additional cost of $2,500, they could build a six-classroom school, prudent given the rapid growth.

In 1930, three public schools served Newmarket, Alexander Muir, King George and Stuart Scott, with a total enrolment of 525 students and employing 17 teachers.

A headline in the newspaper after the completion of the school proclaimed: Mr. Trench’s inspiration of classic 20th-century architecture paired with Mr. McIntosh’s construction expertise has resulted in a final product that reflects exceptional quality and workmanship.

McIntosh, a local contractor, built the structure to plans and specifications developed by architect O. E. Trench. The school served the primary grades until 1993 when the school board decided to replace the building, believing it would cost more to renovate. The building was designated in 1986 to prevent demolition, as it was the town's oldest functioning public school, as well as being a well-preserved example of early 20th-century public school architecture.

After 1993, it was used for various educational purposes. In 2006, the old school building was used by Dr. John M. Dennison Secondary School for its alternate education program, while the Ministry of Health occupied half of the basement.

This red brick, square, two-story building rests on a limestone block foundation and contains entrance bays with concrete quoins and ornamental projections rising above its flat roof. The projecting two-story entrances (one on Park and the other on Victoria) are sided in limestone to match the foundation, while decorative molding and brick banding is incorporated at the top of the walls.

Quoining is repeated along the corners of the building, but in simulated brick. Large windows, surmounted by concrete lintels, illuminate the six classrooms within the school.

There have been several reunions over the years. On June 30, 1939, alumni were welcomed back. Records show 60 former students attended the reunion along with four teachers. Teachers in attendance were Waldon Lawr, J.F. Harvey, R.J.D. Simpson (Laura Wickett), and W.L. Kidd with Ms. Ironsides sending her best regards due to age.

They all gathered in one classroom and the bell was rung to call them all to class. Attending class that day were: Pauline Shupe, Hazel Polter Riggs, Russel Collins, Pearl Smith, Rhoda Willis Watson, Ruby Thorndike, Ruth Fletcher, Maude Fletcher, Rene Denne Bosworth, Claude Shupe, Mabel Menar Bovair, Frances Stephens Penrose, Dorothy Penrose Hope, Alice Burton Eade, Ms. Annie Brown Henry, Ms., Mary Henry, Mr. Art Hill, Ms. Lillie Lush Holliday, Francis Lundy Travis, J. Leslie Bogart, Ross Squires, J. George Muir, George McCarnan, Lottie Gordon, Trevor Bogart, Elmer A. Hill, J.W. A. Allan, Donald Allan, Mazo Townsend, Kathleen Helmer, Jean Rowland Lawr, Beatrice Lloyd Brown, Eva Osborne Haskett, John Cowieson, Edna Scott, Bessie Cody, Amy Lundy Luesby (my grandma), Ethel M. Howard, Anna J. Smith, Roy Smith, Verne E. Lepard (Spot), Ida Hill Harden, Connie Roadhouse, Ms. Beryl Bogart Morris, Marjorie Taylor Gilbert, Roy Cody, Rhona Muir Gilroy, Beatrice Wesley Dales and John Smith.

There was a question of whether Newmarket’s prohibition could be lifted for the reunion so former students could at least toast the school. Their request was turned down as Newmarket was dry and would remain so until 1954.

In June 1983, to mark the school’s 70th anniversary, a party was held for the current school population to mark the occasion, and a 75th anniversary reunion was held in 1988.

In 1994, the King George was closed as a public school and was converted to an adult education facility. When the board deemed the building to be surplus, the school was closed, and attempts were made to sell the property. There was hope amongst the heritage community that the town would purchase the building and land for a museum or archive.

During this period, the building just sat until the Rose Corporation purchased the property and developed King George School Lofts & Town Homes, a new condo and townhouse development in 2020.

The historical designation of 1986 reads: Situated at the corner of Park and Victoria, King George Public School is Newmarket's oldest functioning elementary public school. This square brick building, with entrances on both street frontages, is built upon a limestone foundation, and stands two-storeys in height and takes up the entire block.

The character-defining elements that reflect the heritage value of King George Public School include its:

  • continuous use as a public school in Newmarket for over 80 years
  • its square, two-story design with entrance bays and large windows
  • its red brick exterior walls and limestone foundation and entranceways
  • its molding, brick banding and quoining, concrete lintels and ornamental projections as decorative features.

I was fortunate enough to visit the "Old Lady" before it was converted into deluxe condos. The huge indoor playroom in the basement was still there, however, at some point it had been turned into a classroom and a library. When I arrived at the school in 1960, the school only served the primary grades, necessitating a move to Stuart Scott school for grades 7 and 8.

I remember fondly the fire escape from the second floor (a feature also found at the Alexander Muir and Stuart Scott schools) and the constant danger of putting a baseball or hockey puck through the huge windows in the building, much to the chagrin of the staff.

The central staircase was a fixture for me, as being on the second floor and climbing those stairs indicated I was "a big boy" now.

One’s childhood school is quite often so much more than just where you went to learn. King George school was where I went to play all the various sports that a child would need to learn. It was the neighbourhood playground, sports facility, and networking hub. Whether it was playing hockey with Billy Bell, Bill Teasdale, the Woodward boys, and Mark Orton, to learning what football was all about with Bill and John Davis, it was the place to be as we were growing up. Of course, there were the baseball games with Larry Greer, Cuddles Needler and Ray Stickland at recess that never seemed to ever end but were just postponed until the next recess came along.

A school is so much more than a school, particularly if it was in your neighbourhood and it was where you and your friends grew up together.

I can still remember my teachers from back then. I had Miss McKee in kindergarten, Ms. Hall, Ms. Bowman, Ms. Nevell, Mr. Hollingsworth, Mr. Twiddy and Mr. Blackshaw, who also served as the principal at the time.

I have included several photos that I hope will bring back some sweet memories for some of you.

If you attended King George as a child, I urge you to share your memories in the comments section.

Sources: A History of Newmarket Schools by George Luesby; article, 75th Anniversary Reunion by Terry Carter; The Newmarket Era; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; National Archives.

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.

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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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