ON THE EVENING of April 25, 1849, a body of English speaking citizens in Montreal, infuriated at Lord Elgin’s acceptance of the Rebellion Losses Bill, set fire to the parliament buildings in that city, and completely destroyed them. For a time doubt reigned as to the future headquarters of the government, a doubt that aroused much speculation in Toronto. As early as June there was “uncertainty of the tenure of the Normal School building,” but the summer passed by, with no decision announced. Then came word that parliament was henceforth to meet alternately in Toronto and Quebec. On October 31, 1849, the Board of Education was advised that the government required immediate possession of Government House and its premises.
A committee was at once appointed to obtain a suitable building for the Normal School. At the end of three weeks they were able to report that they had secured the use of Temperance Hall for six months for £50.
Temperance Hall had been erected three years earlier by the Toronto Temperance Reformation Society. The vice-president of the Society was Jesse Ketchum, Toronto philanthropist, and owner of the block of land bounded by Yonge, Adelaide, Bay, and Richmond Streets. Running a new street through his garden from Yonge to Bay Street, he had named it “Temperance” with the stipulation that no intoxicating liquor should be sold in any building erected on it. On the south side of the street, halfway between Yonge and Bay, he had donated a site for the erection of a building devoted to the furtherance of the Society’s aims. The foundation stone of this Hall was laid on October 5, 1846.
It was “a plain brick building, and fitted up internally so as to afford accommodation for public meetings in connection with temperance and other subjects.” For this purpose a large Assembly Hall and a number of smaller rooms were provided. Evidently the building had little architectural merit, and no picture or drawing of the exterior appears to be in existence.
In this makeshift accommodation, unsuitable and inconvenient, the Normal School was housed for nearly three years. The Model Schools, however, continued to occupy a portion of the Government Buildingspresumably the stables. Because the Hall was unsuitable for a summer session, the vacation beginning in May, 1850, was prolonged, and during the next school year only one session, running from September 1 to May 31, was held.
Meanwhile, the Head Master, T. J. Robertson, quietly increased in professional reputation. From time to time he delivered addresses on educational topics in Toronto and throughout the Province. An account. reprinted in The Globe of March 9, 1850, from The London Free Press tells of the impression he made at a meeting in that city. “The large hall of the Mechanics’ Institute was crowded with the most respectable and intelligent of our inhabitants and though the lecturer descanted on this all-important subject [Education] for more than one hour and a half, not a sign of weariness manifested itself in the whole assembly; and when near concluding the lecturer began to apologize for the length of time he had detained his audience, the cries of ‘go on,’ `go on,’ showed most unequivocally the interest they felt in the lecture. Mr. Robertson’s views of education are of the right stamp, and he is manifestly master of his business. . . We hope that the time will soon come when every common schoolmaster in our country will be a graduate of the Normal School.”
Public oral examinations were a feature of the School’s closing ceremonies in those days. An account of the examination at the end of one winter session appears in The Globe of April 18, 1850. Prominent citizens were in attendance, and His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, came to the school on the second afternoon to present his prizes in Agricultural Chemistry. “The examinations were conducted by very talented and energetic teachers, Messrs. Robertson and Hind, with much spirit, which appeared to have its effect on the pupils by the promptitude of their replies. In all departments the trials were most satisfactory. . . . We were particularly pleased with the examination of the pupils by Mr. Robertson, upon a subject on which he had lectured in the course of the session, i.e., the best mode of teaching school, the most efficient system of rewards and punishments, the true meaning of education, etc., on all which subjects Mr. Robertson appeared to have thoroughly impressed his pupils with very correct views acquired in his experience as a teacher. We may add that most of the female pupils appeared to have made quite as much progress as those of the other sex in all the branches of study, even the more abstruse. . . . When we reflect upon the change which would be worked in Canada were there in every township and concession a regularly trained teacher from this institution, instead of the many uneducated. idle, and often dissolute teachers, which at present occupy them, we cannot fail to take a warm interest in its success, and to aid those who so well perform its arduous labours, in every way in our power.”
What were the regulations for the admission of these students, whose training was giving such satisfaction? Applicants were required to be at least sixteen years of age, to be certified as of good moral character, to be able to read and write intelligibly, to be acquainted with the simple rules of arithmetic, and to declare their intention of teaching school upon graduation. Tuition and text-books were supplied free of charge, and each pupil was allowed a sum not exceeding five shillings per week to help defray the expense of his board.
Students not living at home were required to board and lodge at supervised and recommended boarding houses. Keeping student-boarders meant an assured income for the landladies, and there was no dearth of applications for the privilege. Each landlady was required to furnish a certificate of good character, and to complete a form, issued for the purpose, which asked for her name and address, the number and size of the rooms offered for rent, the number of boarders that could be accommodated, and the weekly charge. The usual cost of room and board ranged at first from $2.25 to $3.00 per week. The masters of the school were required to inspect the boarding-houses and to submit weekly reports, tasks which proved irksome in time. “There should,” complained one master, “be only a few houses and these respectable and commodious. There are now not fewer than 15 or 16 houses. Altogether the system needs amendment.”
Rules for the conduct of the students were also drawn up by the Board of Education. They were expected to lead orderly and regular lives; to be in their lodgings every night before 9:30; to attend their places of worship with strict regularity. They were to assemble in the Normal School each morning at nine o’clock; they were “to conduct themselves with decorum and propriety, not merely when on the premises, but when coming to or leaving them.”
While classes were being taught at Temperance Hall, educational authorities were taking steps to provide a new and permanent building for the use of the school. In The Globe of September 28, 1850, we read: “A meeting of the Council of Public Instruction for Upper Canada was held in this City on Monday last, to decide on the competing designs for the New Normal School. . . The Council have concluded a bargain with the Hon. Peter McGill for a site for the School. It is a block of seven acres within the City limits, and bounded by Church, Gerrard, Victoria and Gould Streets. The sum to be paid for it is £4,500, and at that price it is very cheap. Designs for the building were duly tendered for, and a large number given in.” First choice of the Council was the design from the firm of Cumberland and Ridout, who were appointed architects to superintend the erection of the buildings.
The site selected, known as St. James Square, was at that time on the fringe of the built-up portion of the city. A map of 1842 shows Bond Street as intended to run from Queen Street to Gerrard; had it been thus extended, it would have passed through the middle of the property. A map published nine years later shows a small stream running through the grounds and emerging at the corner of Church and Gould Streets. The surface of the block was partly a bog, and abounded in stumps.
The sum of £15,000 was voted in August, 1850, “for the acquisition of a site and erecting a building for the Upper Canada Normal School.” Tenders were called, and on March 17, 1851, an agreement was signed with the contractors James Metcalfe, Duncan Forbes, and Alexander Wilson, who were “to erect, build, and completely finish buildings designed for a Normal and Model Schools … with the best description of material of all kinds. The timber to be free from all large Knots, Shakes, sap, and other imperfections …to the entire satisfaction of the Architect … on or before the first day of December next ensuing … [for] the sum of Eight Thousand seven hundred and ninety Pounds currency.”
On July 2, 1851, the ceremony of laying the corner-stone took place. At half-past twelve o’clock, His Excellency the Governor General arrived at the grounds of the new school, accompanied by the Countess of Elgin. Conducted to the flag-bedecked platform, they stood with the assembly while a regimental band played God Save the Queen. A prayer by a clergyman, an address by Dr. Ryerson, and a reply from His Excellency preceded the laying of the stone, which bore on its brass plate the following inscription: “This Institution, Erected by the Enlightened Liberality of Parliament, is Designed for the Instruction and Training of School Teachers upon Christian Principles.”
Construction did not proceed exactly as planned. On the 20th of November, 1851, the architects wrote: “The progress of the works has been affected by the great difficulty there has been in obtaining stone from
Ohio which every building in Town that has had much stone work about it has felt. We shall however be ready for the centre roof in ten days.” Then the contracting firm failed, and new agreements had to be drawn up with tinsmiths, plasterers, painters and glaziers, carpenters, and the rest. At last all was completed, however, and a date set for the opening.
With eagerness, students and staff prepared to leave the temporary quarters on Temperance Street.