Toronto Normal School – St. James Square

THE PUBLIC OPENING of the new Normal and Model Schools for Upper Canada took place on November 24, 1852. All that day, visitors thronged the corridors of the buildings, inspecting the Offices of the Education Department on the ground floor, toiling upstairs to see the spacious lecture rooms, admiring the large central hall or theatre, and walking through to the Boys’ and Girls’ Model Schools in the rear. The building that they saw differed in appearance from the school now stand­ing on Gould Street, as one of the illustrations in this volume shows. It was then but two storeys in height, and only the south block of the present structure had been built. The model schools to the north were one-storey buildings of wood.

“The whole [building] has been designed with a view rather to utility than to effect,” Ryerson had stated, when the corner-stone was being laid, “care being taken, however, to maintain that fitness of decora­tion by which the purpose and importance of the institution may be characterized and upheld.” The front of the main structure was of Palla­dian character, having for its centre four pilasters of the full height of the building, with pediment surrounded by an open Doric cupola of the ex­treme height of ninety-five feet.

The equipment and installations were as perfect as possible. Gas and water had been piped in, and furnaces were established in the basement. The masters had been asked to estimate the amount of gas-lighting re­quired, and had recommended conservatively enough that “for each of the large lecture rooms there should be a centre light of six burners and two lights on the platform . . the smaller classrooms and Masters’ rooms need not be lighted.” Fuel for the furnaces had been ordered: “one hundred and fifty cords of the best Maple and Beech fire-wood, four feet in length, sound and clear,” to be delivered wherever required in the city “at the rate of fourteen shillings and eleven pence one half penny per cord.”

Last but not least the question of lightning rods had been settled. Those recommended by the architects were of Detroit manufacture, and if they were as effective as their makers claimed, they were well worth the £50 which they cost. For they were described as being “of Superior, carbon­ized annealed Iron, with Zinc protectors and electro-Positive elements . . . the whole mounted with a solid platinum-Silver point 12 inches long surrounded at the base with three angular gold-plated negative magnates which possess the power . .. of discharging the most fearful oposit el­ments. . . . In fact they gather and silently discharge electricity from the atmosphere when you would scarcely suspect any being present.”

The Toronto Normal School, 1852

Courtesy T. A. Reed. Esq.

With the coming of evening on the opening day, a large audience gathered in the theatre of the building for the official opening ceremony. Judge S. B. Harrison, Chairman of the Council of Public Instruction, was in the chair, and among those on the platform were: Chief Justice John Beverley Robinson; Francis Hincks, the Inspector-General; Dr. John McCaul, President of the University of Toronto; and Dr. Ryerson. Prayer having been said. Chief Justice (later Sir) John Beverley Robinson de­livered the principal address. “It would be as wise,” he stated, “to reject the use of Railways because an occasional train runs off the track as to hesitate to give education to the multitude for fear it may in some instances be perverted as no doubt it sometimes is, to bad purposes.”

Robinson’s reference to railways was topical, for it was in the pre­vious month that rails for the Northern Road had been unloaded from three steamers and a schooner at the Queen’s Wharf; a track had been laid along the wharf and a locomotive placed on it. After a wood fire had been kindled and the warning bell rung, the locomotive moved “slowly at first,” as The Globe reported, “but presently with more speed. Amid the cheers of the crowd she moves along the wharf, the steam whistle waking the echoes of the Bay.”

The other speakers—Hincks, McCaul, and Ryerson—expressed their satisfaction with the building, and paid tribute to the importance of the School in the educational life of Upper Canada.

The newly opened institution was more than the Normal School. It was the centre of the publicly supported school system of the Province. One of its purposes was to house the Education Office, which had been moved from Kingston to Cobourg in 1844, and from Cobourg to Toronto in 1846. In Toronto its first location was on Bay Street, one door south of Wellington Street, but a move was made in 1849 to the Albany Cham­bers at the corner of King and York Streets. Now in 1852, it was estab­lished in the Normal School, its home for sixty years.

Housed in the new building, too, was the Educational Depository—a provincial store handling educational books, maps, and supplies, for sale to teachers, school boards, and libraries. Books to the value of $239,795, or about $12,000 a year, in addition to maps and other equipment, were imported for the Education Department in the twenty years after 1849.

Two rooms in the school were devoted to the purposes of a museum. By 1857, this collection contained “School furniture and apparatus, casts of antique statues, copies of paintings,” amounting in all to over two thousand objects. Correspondence was carried on with the British Museum as to the best method of arrangement and display. The museum was visited by the students at specified hours, and was open to the gen­eral public without charge.

The grounds surrounding the School received early attention. The area was levelled and drained, and plots were set apart for a botanical garden, a fruit and vegetable garden, and a small arboretum for foreign and domestic shrubs; two acres were reserved for agricultural experi­ments. William Mundie, of Hamilton. was placed in charge of the grounds, and was able to report in the autumn of 1853 that the grass had done remarkably well, that the shrubs and trees were well established, and that the show of annual and other summer flowers had made the grounds gay during the whole season.

In 1853, the year following the move to new quarters, Henry Hind was succeeded as second master by the Rev. William Ormiston. Ormiston, then thirty-two years of age, was a graduate of Victoria College, a minis­ter of the Presbyterian Church, and local superintendent of schools at Bowmanville. He remained on the staff of the Normal School only four years, but he left a deep impression on the minds of the students. “His utterances,” one student recorded, “repeated one day, I could reproduce verbatim the next. .. . As a teacher he created within me a thirst for teaching that can never be quelled.”

Dr. Ryerson, busy man though he was, continued to take a deep inter­est in every phase of the School’s activity. “It has, of course, fallen to me,” he wrote, “to originate and devise everything connected with the estab­lishment and location of the Institution; the appointment of officers and their duties; all the details of its government and system of management, and measures for improving its efficiency and usefulness. . .. Though I have taken no part in the teaching . . . the Masters have .. . had almost daily consultations with me, respecting occurrences and matters con­nected with the Institution.” In this close association with the School, Ryerson was ably assisted by his Senior Clerk, J. George Hodgins.

Pioneering in co-education brought its problems as well as its praise. In 1853 the introduction of the rule that students of opposite sexes should not communicate with each other in any way brought a vigorous protest from the male students. A meeting of the men was held in August of that year and a strongly worded resolution was adopted expressing “utter contempt at such outrageously inconsistent, and needless restrictions” which were “entirely derogatory to that which every man ought to possess, viz., common sense.” “We … cannot conscientiously subject our­selves to the discipline and regulations of this Institution,” the protest continued, “until our social rights, liberty, freedom, and position as students are restored and acknowledged.” Ryerson was equally determined that the rule should be enforced, and three days later the students, realizing that “the intention of the rule” was “entirely different from what we had thought,” wrote regretting the unbecoming terms in which their resolution had been couched.

But such a rule, as might be expected, was broken from time to time. One luckless youth, Robertson reported, had “left at the steps of the hall door of Mrs. Walker’s boarding house occupied by female students, a note addressed to one of the young ladies . . . a mere scrap of paper contain­ing some very silly love verses.” The Head Master recommended suspen­sion in this case for the remainder of the session, as the young man’s conduct “was not the result of temporary excitement or mere thought lessness but was a cool and deliberate infringement of rules.”

A young Scottish student exercised more discretion. Taking his seat in the lecture room for the first time, he naturally glanced at the young ladies who occupied the opposite end of the room. There to his pleasure and surprise he recognized a former schoolmate from far away Scotland. Restraining his first impulse to defy the rule, he sought advice from his fellow-students who suggested that he ask Mr. Robertson for permission to speak to her. The Head Master agreed, on the condition that their conversation should take place in his presence. Alas for rules! When the young lady entered the room, the young man addressed her in Gaelic, and she replied in the same language. Robertson, who enjoyed a joke, had the somewhat rare privilege of enjoying one upon himself.

Meanwhile the work of the school went on, and its influence became apparent in improved teaching and in higher salaries for teachers. In 1846, Ryerson had estimated the average salary per teacher per year at £29. Little wonder that schools were then often depending for instruction on those “whose Physical Disabilities, from age, render this mode of obtaining a livelihood the only one suited to their Decaying Energies.” Six or seven years later, salaries ranging from £75 to £100 were offered for teachers from the Normal School. Trustees were prompt to observe the superior efficiency of such instructors. “There is,” wrote a local super­intendent, “a greater improvement in our schools last year than in any preceding year . .. this owing to the superior efficiency of the teacher employed . . . [which efficiency] is principally owing to the Normal School.”

So valuable did this training appear, that a decision was made to train teachers for grammar or secondary schools as well. For this purpose, in 1857, a Model Grammar School, costing $39,269, was erected north of the Model Schools, and facing Gerrard Street. The project was never a success. Few students attended, the opinion being that the holding of a university degree was sufficient evidence in itself of ability to teach in a grammar school. The institution closed in 1863.

The year 1860 brought the visit to Canada of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. At half past three o’clock on September 11, amid drenching rain, the royal carriage splashed from the Horticultural Gar­dens (which the Prince had inaugurated by planting a maple tree) to the Normal School building, where the distinguished guest received, and replied to, an address of welcome in the presence of educational officials, teachers-in-training, and the children of the Model Schools. The decora­tion and illumination of the school building on this occasion may well have outshone all similar efforts in the city. Above the cupola waved the Union Jack upon a 90-foot flag-pole; within the cupola, beneath a crimson canopy, was a bust of Queen Victoria, illuminated by globes equipped with reflectors, so as to reflect the profile of Her Majesty. The entire front of the building was liberally festooned with crowns, coats of arms mottoes, the Prince’s plumes, and shields. In the windows were no less than 1,200 transparencies, chiefly of the Rose, Shamrock, Thistle, and Maple Leaf.

Thomas Jaffray Robertson served the school with sound scholarship and rugged force of character for nineteen years. It was a period when knowledge and skills were synonymous with education. “He was a stal­wart who had little to do with the fine distinctions of psychology and child study,” wrote David Fotheringham, a student of the twelfth session, “but much to do with the foundation principles of grammatical analysis and synthesis, the immutable laws of the phenomena of physical geog­raphy, and the erection of a clearly defined skeleton of ancient and modern history on which, at their leisure, his students could build the full, symmetrical story of man’s life, labours, and progress on the earth.”

During his headmastership at the Normal School, a system of object teaching was introduced in the Model Schools. Advocated by Pestalozzi and adapted for English schools by the Mayos of London, this system of instruction by “things not words” attracted the special attention of visitors. “Having heard of the perfection to which these lessons had been advanced in the Model School,” reported the Commissioner of Public Schools from Baltimore, Maryland, about 1862, “I was desirous of witness­ing the exercise. . . . A picture [was] chosen upon which a camel and cow were represented. Questions were asked relating to the class of animals to which the camel belongs, the character and habits of those animals; in what they were alike, in what unlike; the peculiarities of the cow and its uses; those of the camel and the countries in which it lived. The little pupils described with surprising accuracy, the qualities that adapted the camel to the climate and conditions of the countries it in­habits, its use in bearing burdens and in crossing deserts, the peculiarity of its stomach, in the cells of which the animal carries water for several days, the adaptation of the cushion-like arrangement of its foot to the sand or dust of the desert. The answers were quickly given, and if there was any hesitation in the class it was removed by the encouraging voice of the teacher.”

The same visitor observed the recitation of the class in history. It was so well done that he asked the teacher what text-book she used. She replied that she used all the books in history she could procure, and from them prepared herself for a conversational lecture with the class. “The whole system of the school,” concluded the Commissioner, “seemed to me to be a sort of conversational story telling process, in which the minds of the hearers were kept in continual excitement, and the interest prolonged by their being made parties in the free interchange of thought”

Another visitor was Edward A. Sheldon of Oswego, N. Y. So im­pressed was he, in 1860, with the system of object teaching in the Model School of Toronto, that he returned home determined to introduce a similar system in American schools. His efforts resulted in the establish­ment of the famous Oswego Normal School, through the influence of which, Pestalozzian methods were carried to all parts of the continent.

During the winter of 1865-66, Robertson was granted leave of absence on account of failing health. He died on September 26, 1866, at the age of sixty-two after nineteen years of useful service to Upper Canada. He was buried in St. James’ Cemetery, Toronto.