The children of the early settlers in and around Oshawa received their education in a very primitive way and in very humble quarters. The school houses were mostly constructed after the log-house style, and were maintained on the co-operative principle. The parents of a dozen or so of children would agree among themselves as to the amount each would contribute in money and provisions towards the upkeep of a teacher and in this way a seat of learning would become established. Upon the farm of Mr. Ben. Rodgers on the lake shore, Lot 12 BF, in very early days was erected one of those schools another was established, a little later, on the Kingston road in the vicinity of Harmony, on Lot No. 7 Conn. In order to reach those academies the little fellows were obliged to find their way through the woods, by numerous paths, leading from the scattered homes. As the school house was approached larger paths were formed from the union of many smaller ones. A system of semaphores, formed of bent twigs, at the junction of these paths, would indicate whether the children of the Ritsons were in advance of the Henry’s, or vice versa, as the case might be. Within these log buildings the desks were arranged in long rows about the room, in front of each desk was an equally long seat. Each pupil, when not engaged in study, was compelled to pass the time by giving a long, cold look at the blank wall. This was compensated for by the heat which was shed upon their backs from the blazing fire in the huge wood stove which sat in the middle of the room. Many of these schools were presided over by a master from the Emerald Isle, who, generally speaking, was regarded as a real Irish gentleman. It was his habit to dress in frock coat with pockets behind, and to press home his instructions from the centre of a circle formed by a class of pupils thirsting for knowledge. By way of expressing their gratitude for his untiring efforts, that part of the circle from which he turned his back, made such deposits in his coat pockets of bones, apple cores, and breadcrusts as seemed to them a just compensation for the daily toil. If he were a single man he was boarded out, one week at a time, among the homes of the scholars ; if married, the pupils brought for him each week to school a fixed allowance of bacon, flour, butter, maple syrup or cornmeal. In one section, it is stated, that a certain family from sheer parsimony became famous for shirking their duty in sending the rations agreed upon. One day to the master’s surprise, one of the boys from this family asked him if he would like a ham of meat. Thinking that his services were at last appreciated he immediately answered in the affirmative, but as day after day passed by without seeing the arrival of the ham, he at last addressed the boy, and asked him why he had not brought the meat. The boy answered up at once, “Oh ! the hog got better.”
In 1829, a log school house, of better quality than those already described, was built near the four corners of Oshawa, in the South-West Ward. It was conducted by G. M. Masson, father of the late George Masson, Manager of the Masson Works from 1875 to 1890.
In 1835, a still more pretentious school was established on the corner of what is now known as Royal Street. It was known as the Union School House, and when abandoned some of its material was used in the construction of the McGregor homestead, which now, in 1921, stands upon the old site. At a still later date another school site was established in the North East Ward fronting upon Simcoe Street, at a point known as the Wellington homestead, near Brock Street.
In 1856 the large Centre Street school was built, in 1877 then followed what is known as the Ward Schools, Albert Street, and Mary Street schools were built in 1877 and to them extensions were added in 1909 and 1919 respectively. The Simcoe Street South school was built in 1914 and King Street in 1912.
Among the early teachers of Oshawa were Miss Hall and Miss Howard ; male teachers, Masson, Bentley, Wheeler, Sloan, Scott, Chestnut, Young-husband Lawder, Begg, and Thomas Kirkland, for many years Principal of Normal School, Toronto.
The Oshawa High School, Simcoe Street north, was built in 1909, previously the work was carried on in part of Centre Street Public School. Among the Principals of the High School were Russel, McCabe, Carnage, Seath, Professor Baker, Tamblyn, Smith, Dolan and Althouse.
Present figures of school attendance: Public, 1,800 ; High, 244. Number of teachers, 42 (without supervisor).
Total of salaries per year about $60,000 for High and Public Schools, 1920.
Observe the progress of 60 years.
Oshawa Board of School Trustees.
Treasurer’s Report of the Year 1861.
Jan. 22. To bal. cash from 1860.. $288.76
” ” ” rate bills for 1860 108.43
To cash from rate-bills, three-quarters, ending Sept. 30, ’61 224.23
To Government Grant for 1861 . . .. 113.00
To amount drawn from Bank 288.50
By amount paid Teachers for ’61.. $566.11 ” cash to H. Nutt, three-quarters cleaning school-house .., ……60.00 By cash for maps, prize books, library books, etc., 87.59 By cash to Wm. E. Mark, as salary, three-quarters 22.50