Port Hope, Canada – Port Hope High School

It is to be regretted that a more befitting tribute than the present necessarily imperfect sketch could not be paid in a work of this nature to an institution, which cherishes within its environs the memory of so many sons and daughters of the Town, there brought together, now separated far and wide over the face of the earth. The task of keeping alive the hallowed memories of the Old High School is of a far more extensive nature than that it could be accomplished in the few pages at the disposal of the writer. Such a work could only be competently fulfilled by the organization of some permanent association, which, keeping alumni and students in touch, would perpetuate the old traditions and cherish the general devotion to the Old School.

The history of Port Hope High School as a teaching institution is identical with the history of secondary education in Port Hope. Until the establishment of a Grammar School in 1853, such instruction was given in private schools, of which there were several in existence from time to time. The real progenitor of the Grammar School, however, was the Seminary founded by the Rev. James Coghlan in 1831 in the house near the Toronto Road until recently occupied by Mr. James Kerr. Mr. Millard and Dr. Shortt continued the academic labours of Mr. Coghlan in the same building. Conjointly other teachers were giving instruction in the classics and mathematics, notable among whom were the Rev. Mr. Baird, Mr. Thomas Spotton and Mr. Thomas Watson.

In 1851 the Government of Upper Canada passed an Act enabling towns like Port Hope to open Grammar Schools and to secure financial aid for their maintenance. Two years later Port Hope decided to take advantage of this legislation and to establish a Grammar School. Trustees were accordingly appointed, who immediately petitioned the Town Council for the use of a room in the newly-completed Town Hall. The Council readily complied and rifted up for school purposes a room in the south-east corner of the first floor of the Hall. Here the school was opened with Mr. Oliver T. Miller, a Dublin scholar of fine attainments, as master. Mr. Miller remained in charge of the school until May, z855, during which time the Trustees removed the classes to a separate building standing on the south-east corner of Dorset and Smith Streets. It may be of interest to note here a few-of the scholars of that day who are still residents of the Town. Among them were H. H. Burnham, S. S. and J. D. Smith, F. Benson and G. M. Furby.

After the summer vacation of 1855 the school was reopened in a room above the store on Walton Street at present occupied by John Smith. Here Mr. Brooks P. Lister from Christ Church, Oxford, taught for a year. History records that as a teacher he was a distinct failure.

The Fall of 1866 witnessed the union of the Grammar and High Schools in Knowlson’s Building, under the headmastership of Mr. John Gordon. The career of the united schools has been set forth in the preceding chapter, to which reference may be made.

Mr. Gordon continued to hold the post of Head Master until 1865, when he was appointed one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools in Ireland and left for that country. He came to Port Hope in middle-life—a cultured gentleman, who secured the universal favor of the Town by his disinterested and genuine devotion to his work. He was succeeded in the control of the Union School by Dr. Adam Purslow, who had been associated with him on the staff since 1859.

Legislation of 1871 changed Grammar to High and Common to Public Schools and rendered the latter free. The result was a great influx of pupils and the Union School Building was found to be much too small. Faced with this predicament, the Joint Board of Trustees purchased the ” Old Kirk ” on Brown Street in the fall of 1872 and in January, 1873, opened it as a separate High School under the principalship of Dr. Purslow.

In those days there were four forms and three teachers in the school and the registered attendance was fifty boys and thirty-two girls. In 1878 representations were made of the necessity for a fourth teacher and at length in 1881 the Board appointed a Science Master. Since then a fifth assistant teacher has been added.

In July of 1894 Dr. Purslow resigned the Principalship and severed his connection with the teaching staff of the school. After thirty-six years of active service, during which the Doctor had successfully superintended the up-bringing of two generations, the time had come for him to seek a well-earned rest and the event of his retirement was made the opportunity by both pupils and ex-pupils of giving expression to the high esteem in which he had been held. He was succeeded as Head Master by Mr. T. A. Kirkconnel, who for several years had been Mathematical Master and Dr. Purslow’s assistant.

In 1896 the new High School Building on the north-west corner of Brown and Bedford Streets was erected and in January of 1897 the old quarters were abandoned and the School moved up the hill to its new home. The closing of the Old School which was so impregnated with the memories of the past, could only be lamented on the ground of sentiment. The new building with its modern equipment, commodious and pleasing appearance (all of which was acquired at an expense of little over $12,000) far surpassed its antiquated, cramped and unimposing predecessor.

The new building was officially opened on January 11th, 1897, by the Hon. G. W. Ross, Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario. During the afternoon a reception was held in the building and in the evening Judge Benson, Chairman of the High School Board, presided at a crowded meeting in the Opera House, where the Hon. Minister delivered an appropriate address.