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REMEMBER THIS: Stuart Scott now Newmarket's oldest standing school (13 photos)

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod kicks off his series on Newmarket schools at his alma mater, where the cornerstone was laid by Sir William Mulock and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1923

This article highlights a brief history of my alma mater, Stuart Scott Public School, which will be celebrating its centenary next year. I am starting my series on the schools of Newmarket with Stuart Scott, since the demise of Alexander Muir and King George schools, it is now the oldest school in town.

We can gather several pieces of information about the building of the school from the Newmarket Era. A March 9, 1923 article indicated it had been decided that a six-classroom building modelling the King George and Alexander Muir schools would be built. The same architect, O.E. Trench, would be designing the school.

Council said it was the best type of school to build on a cost-per-room basis. The school board added it would be the lowest cost school building to operate.

The plan did have some controversy attached to it as the location was somewhat swampy and there were no sidewalks on Lorne Avenue at the time. Attached to the proposal were plans to reclaim the land and extend a sidewalk from Eagle Street north.

On May 21, 1923, the decision was finalized and it was formally proposed the school be named after Dr. Stuart Scott, a longtime school board member (30 years plus) and local medical doctor. More on Dr. Scott a little later. It should be noted that the school was built on property owned by Dr. Scott.

On May 21, 1923, the town introduced a bylaw to raise a debenture in the sum of $55,000, which was the estimated cost of construction. This debenture would be payable in 30 years at the rate of 5.5 per cent. The debenture was subsequently advertised for sale in the local papers on Sept. 5, 1923.

Trench, the proposed architect, appeared at a town council meeting regarding the urgent need for sidewalks and was told council had addressed the issue. This was made official on Oct. 3, 1923, when the town engineer announced Lorne Avenue would be graded, and sidewalks installed.

Council minutes also set out that Trench had been chosen as chief architect, that the construction company selected was Richardson Construction of Newmarket and that the same plans as were used for the King George and Alexander Muir schools would be used.

This new school would contain three small administrative rooms (principal’s office, storeroom, and staff room), six classrooms, three rooms on each of the two floors. In the basement there would be two playrooms, one for the boys and one for the girls.

For those who like specific dimensions, the original school was 65 square feet with a grey stone step leading to a second-floor entrance. There was a 12-foot-wide walkway, stretching 100 by 45 feet to the street. Mention is made of a beautiful lawn to the east that would be used as a playground. It was not until much later that the cinder track appeared.

Few people know of the ‘dungeon’ in the basement used to store books, supplies and papers. It was accessed by a trap door that the caretaker had to lift to read the water meter.

The exterior would feature red brick walls with stone facings over the west and south entrances. I remember when I attended the school that the basement walls were above ground level. I later discovered that was because the ground was so swampy. You may remember the playground was forever plagued with swampy conditions.

On Aug. 18, 1923, the cornerstone was laid by Sir William Mulock and the Right Honorable William Lyon McKenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada. It was reported that the crowd was approximated 500 people and that both Mulock and King spoke eloquently.

A tin box was placed in the cornerstone. The itemized list of its contents includes copies of local and Toronto papers, a current set of postage stamps, the names of the students who would be attending the school, the teaching staff of the high school and other public schools and a list of the current school trustees.

The school has undergone two major additions, in 1954 and again in 1964 due to the continued increase in school-age children in the area. Another point of interest is the fact that it has had three heating systems during its life: coal, oil and then gas.

A June 1924 board report shows that the school’s income was $55,270.80 ($55,000 from the debenture and $270.80 in bank interest). As for associated costs, we have expenditures of $1,900 paid to Tench (architect), W. E. Richardson $4,049 (builder), blackboards $250, $1,225 to R. Sutton for hauling dirt, $1,225 to Gadsby and Irwin for installing the heating service, $275 to Harris and Mason for the electrical work and $3,084 for re-site costs, along with some miscellaneous expenses. The report indicates that after all was tallied, they had $9,512.15 in the bank.

Let us look at who Dr. Scott was and why his name graced the school. Dr. Scott was a bit of a renaissance man. Born in 1860 and raised in Gananoque in Northumberland County, he had taught school for three years before attending the University of Toronto from which he graduated in 1885 with his medical credentials. He was to practise medicine in Lloydtown for the next three years.

In 1889, he moved to Newmarket with his wife, the former Miss Lizzie Dunn, who came from a prominent Northumberland Quaker family. Both were members of the local Methodist church community here in Newmarket. In his medical capacity, he served as the coroner for York County and kept an office on Main Street South.

As previously mentioned, Dr. Scott served on the local school board for 30 plus years and was responsible for the building of the three schools in the area. 

In March 1954, an extension to Stuart Scott was announced. There were three proposals made: one for a four-room extension on a single floor, another for a two-story extension with four rooms on each floor and finally an extension with classrooms on each side of a corridor. There had been several new subdivisions built and several others were in the planning stage at the time.

It was thought that school, given its central location, was the ideal location to expand capacity while still keeping in mind that there was an urgent need to create even more educational facility. The addition was officially dedicated on Oct. 6, 1954.

On May 29, 1963, council heard the details of a proposal, at a cost of $145,000 for another expansion. The proposal called for the addition of four classrooms and a small gym running east-west connecting to the addition built in 1954. One can follow the tenders as they appeared in the local newspaper.

I do not have a full listing of the first students to attend that first year, but I have included a brief listing of some of those who christened the new school. The list includes: Evelyn Morton, Verna Saunders, Alan Cane, Jack Cox, Haughton Ainsley, Sherman Day, John Smith, Clifford Giles, Herbert Atkins, Helen Harland, Russell Foster, Dorothy Wright, Elgin Deavitt, Charles Gordon, John Scott, Teddy Andrews, Harvey Gibney, Viola Rutledge, Viola Druery, Mary Pollock, Lillis Bond,, Teddy Brewer, Burton Smith, Cecil Jarvis, Victor Sargent, Florence Trewhella, Phoebe Claridge, Lorenzo Grant, Ivan Winkworth, Helen Dennis, Evelyn Scott, Lyman Heacock, Russell Curtis and Ross Smart.

We also know the names of two of the teachers: Miss Rogers and Miss Staunton.

In May 1998, the school celebrated its 75th anniversary with an open house that I attended. Memories were thick within its walls that evening as former students and staff wandered the halls and savoured all the ghosts of years past. One of the ‘must see’ shrines to visit was the room where Miss Denne had set up her personal kingdom.

Many people tell me about their memories related to the fire escapes that graced the school, as did Alexander Muir and King George schools.

I attended Stuart Scott for two years, for grades 7 and 8 starting in 1966. My homeroom teachers were Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Cummins. I was, of course, there during the reign of Ms. Evelyn Denne.

In my second article which I anticipate will appear this coming fall, I will pay tribute to the ‘people of Stuart Scott,’ including but not limited to the aforementioned Ms. Denne.

I hope that you have learned a little bit about Stuart Scott School and that some of the attached photos will bring back some memories.

Sources: A History of Newmarket Schools by George Luesby; The Newmarket Era; sketch of Stuart Scott School courtesy of Wes Playter; A Rogers Cable 10 Show from 1998; Grant Needler from Stuart Scott School; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella, and 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.