By Quinn J., Summer Student
In 1894, The Globe (which would go on to merge with The Mail and Empire into the Globe and Mail) did a profile on Oshawa. At the time, Oshawa was only a village of “4,000 souls,” but already it was noted for two things: its prominence as a manufacturing centre, a reputation Oshawa would hold on to up until the present day, and for its high quality educational institutions.
The Globe article not only mentions the high quality public schools but also the Bishop Bethune and Demill Ladies’ Colleges, both of which were renowned institutions outside of the province, and they attracted students from across the country. But today, this past as a centre for education is rarely remembered. I only learned about the two ladies colleges and the early Canadian public school system when I began working for the Oshawa Museum last month. My question is, why this is the case? If the Globe felt it was important enough to mention Oshawa’s status as an educational leader in its profile, why has it been so easy for us in the modern day to forget?
One possible explanation is that the signs of the educational institutions of the past haven’t been preserved as well, through no fault of the town or anyone in it. Bishop Bethune College was located in the house of former mayor T.N. Gibbs, but when the school closed in 1932 amid financial troubles, the land was sold to the city and a new school, the Central Collegiate Institute, was founded on the spot (it has since been home to Village Union School and currently Durham Alternative Secondary School). The Demill college was destroyed by a fire just two years after the publishing of the Globe article, and the college eventually moved to St. Catharines. This lack of standing physical evidence that could tie the city to its educational past could present an answer as to why that aspect is much better remembered, especially when contrasted with the large number of not only buildings that were built around Oshawa’s manufacturing, but the amount of people still alive who were there to witness the city’s manufacturing based economic boom.
In the same vein, education in the past was very much shaped around the industrial revolution that all of Ontario was experiencing in the mid to late 19th century. Public schooling during this period heavily focused on preparing children for their new roles in industrial society, as both labourers and citizens of the British Empire and Dominion of Canada. The close ties created between industry and education could provide a further example of why Oshawa’s educational past was not as common in the collective memory of the city; when creating new workers for manufacturing was the end goal of education, it could have become a lot easier to forget what got workers to their positions in the first place.
The history of Education in Oshawa is something that surprised me personally with how deep it went and how much history there was in something that I, and many others, take for granted in today’s age. It’s caught my attention, and I hope to dive even further into it as I continue my research with the museum over the summer.
“Oshawa: A Manufacturing Centre R. S. Williams & Son F. L. Fowke D. Cinnamon The Queen’s Hotel Eli. S. Edmonson Mrs. M. E. May The Joseph Hall Machine Works Demill College Ed. E. Rogers Bishop Bethune College Provan’s Patent Car, Fork And Sling The McLaughlin Carriage Company.” The Globe (1844-1936), Oct 27, 1894.
French, Olive. “DeMill (1871-1920)”, The Olive French Manuscript, https://olivefrench.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/demill-1871-1920/.
Hood, M. MacIntyre. “Bishop Bethune College Recalled,” Daily Times Gazette, Nov. 17th, 1955.
Houston, Susan E. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth Century Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.