Interesting Architecture at John XXIII Catholic School

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

The following is an excerpt from the Olive French Manuscript – a document in the archival collection about Oshawa’s earliest schools from 1867 – 1967.

To accommodate its increased enrolment, the separate school board is building a new elementary school, John XIII(sic), on Athabasca Street. It will be the first to feature the new team teaching technique. It will have operable walls in one of the three quadrants that will open a three-classroom unit where groups of pupils can be taught by a team of teachers.

This circular school is 136 feet in diameter and will have a 64 foot inner court. It will have eight classrooms and a kindergarten area. It will accommodate more than 300 students. It is expected to be ready for classes in December 1967.

The principal is not yet appointed.

Olive French, Public and Separate Schools in 1967

Earlier this year, I taught the Oshawa Museum’s First Nations program to multiple classes at John XXIII. Arriving in the parking lot, you get the first glance at the circular dome. The school has had several additions since 1967, but the apex remains its most prominent feature.

Side by side colour photographs. On the left is a circle with many spokes coming from the centre; on the right is a classroom with chairs and desks, and the ceiling features wide wooden beams and the circle with the spokes, seen in the left photo

The curved hallways make for a less institutional feeling inside than in most schools. Many teachers have told me, ‘well, you won’t get lost!’ The dome’s peak is in what is now the library, which facilitates a great teaching space.

Sadly, the traces of the operable walls Olive French mentions are no longer there, but John XXII remains Oshawa’s first circular school.

March 13-17 is March Break at the Oshawa Museum, and we’re going back to school!

Join us for School Days: discover what school was like for kids back in the early 1900s! Step back in time when you enter Guy House. Sit in school desks, write on slates, dress up like a Victorian kid, and more!

March Break at the OM is taking place from March 13 – 17, and we’re open from 9am-4pm. The last tour leaves at 3:30pm. Please allow around 1.5 hours for your visit!

March Break activities is $5/child (free for OHS Members), and this includes a tour of the Oshawa Museum.

The Art of Youth Activism

By Nova S., Trent Child & Youth Studies Intern

Society consistently underestimates, undermines, ignores, brushes off, and otherwise condescends its youth. Sadly, in general, we assume that youth are up to no good, inexperienced, unwise, uneducated, rash, brash, and trashed. Of course, this can’t be entirely true, especially given the examples of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, youth activists who are practically household names. 

However, they are far from the only ones.

Youth consistently engage themselves in their communities and issues that matter to them, and of course that applies here in Oshawa as well. Over several years, students of different ages have organized multiple protests regarding education.

Colour image of a red brick building and to its right, a large glass greenhouse
The greenhouse at G.L. Roberts Collegiate, August 13, 2011 (A016.10.166, Dowsley collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The first example I want to address was in 2012, when Bill-115, the Putting Students First Act, passed. Despite its name, clearly many students disagreed with the act, as about 50 of them walked out of G. L. Roberts high school one brisk December day. Said act would freeze teachers’ wages for two years, decrease their sick days, and prevent them from going on strike. It also included budget cuts to programs like music and sports, as well as extracurricular activities. Despite the possible threat of suspension, the protest was student-organized and led, with parent facilitation. 

O'Neill high school in 2016; three storey brick building with large trees at the right of the image
O’Neill CVI, January 7, 2016 (A016.10.179, Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The next example is from 2015. After a five-week strike, teachers were forced back to work – but roughly 140 students between two Oshawa high schools, G. L. Roberts and O’Neill Collegiate, protested in support. Again, the protest was student-organized and led. Many expressed gratefulness to be back in education but concerns about the lack of resolution and the sudden, condensed workload, as well as the threat of ever-increasing class sizes and the likelihood of being treated like numbers rather than individuals.

My final example is from 2019, when 50 students from Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School protested proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program which included cuts to the autism program and low income tuition assistance and the banning of cellphones in classrooms, among other things. Students from Adelaide McLaughlin Public School and R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute also protested, all student-organized and led. 

In the above examples, students collaborated through social media and in a refusal to take their protests out of the public eye in order to take a stand for themselves – their values, disabilities, beliefs, and rights. Teachers and caregivers supported them to help strengthen their youth’s voices.

Education and its policies are just a sliver of the issues in which youth voices are typically cut out, ignored, and forgotten. Instead of disempowering our youth and restricting their voices, we should be empowering them and giving them megaphones, sometimes literally! They are powerful individuals who have important and relevant values, opinions, experiences, and viewpoints right now, just as they are.

Oshawa Museum’s children and youth programs have always aimed to be engaging and inclusive in order to help kids find something that may spark a passion in them, right here in their own communities, from archaeology, history, fashion, social issues, geography, recycling, and more. As a youth myself, I’ve seen and experienced the desire Oshawa Museum has to let youth speak, lead, and create.


Blog Rewind: Oshawa Schoolbooks

In honour of the first week back to school, today’s blog is revisiting graffiti found inside schoolbooks in our collection.  This was originally posted on August 7, 2015.

By Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Recently I was organizing the museum’s education collection and putting items from the schoolroom exhibit into storage. I went on to check the dates of all of our schoolbooks to ensure they dated back to the time period we were depicting. To my surprise I found eight books that contained names of Oshawa students, teachers, schools and even some amusing graffiti.

The dates of the books range from 1868 – 1929. “By this time the school readers had been made containing more imaginative prose and poetry Literature had been added to the elementary curriculum. The teacher read stories to the classes from any book or periodical he or she might have had on hand, or, a story from a book that some of the pupils had brought to school.”[1]  Surprisingly most of the schoolbooks that were found are Ontario and Canadian based. In the early days of education many children in Upper Canada studied from European, UK and American books because that was all that was available. The books this blog post are based on are: Canadian Series Fourth Reader (1868), Canadian Series Spelling  Book (1868), The Ontario Readers Fourth Reader (1885), High School Physical Science (1895), The Ontario Public School Speller (1909), The Ontario Readers Primer (1909), A Junior History of England (1929) and My Spelling Grade 5 (1943).

Five out of the eight books were used at different schools: Mary Street School, Westmount School, Simcoe Street School, and Centre Street School/Central School, with Mary Street and Centre Street Schools bring two of the oldest in Oshawa. The Junior History of England book belonged to Janet Oke who lived at 268 Ritson Road South in Oshawa and had Mr. Davidson as her Grade 8 teacher in Room 15. Unfortunately we don’t know what school she went to. It is possible that she may have attended Centre Street School as it would have been large enough by then to have at least 15 rooms.

Westmount School, from the Oshawa Archives Collection
Westmount School, from the Oshawa Archives Collection

This book also contains graffiti that seems to have been written by Janet.

“This book is full of words,

As full as it can be.

It killed the jerk who wrote it,

And now it’s killing me.”


“History is an awful thing,

And awful it may be.

It killed the early Romans,

And now it’s killing me.”

Graffiti found on the inside cover of A Junior History of England (18th Printing, 1949)
Graffiti found on the inside cover of A Junior History of England (18th Printing, 1949)

Another of the books also contains graffiti. The Ontario Readers Fourth Reader (1885), was owned by Miss Maude H. Clarke in 1907.  She attended Centre Street School at the time.

“If my name you wish to see, turn to page 107.

If my name you wish to find,

Shut the book and nevermind.”


“If this book begins to roam,

Shut the book and nevermind.”


“Steal not this book my honest friend,

For fear the gallows will be thy end,

And when you die the Lord will say,

Where is the book you stole away?

And if you say I do not know,

The Lord will say ‘Go down below.’

And if you say ‘I got it here.’

The Lord will say ‘Come in my dear.”


“Steal not this book for fear of strife,

For the owner carries a big jackknife.”


“Steal not this book, for when you die,

The Lord will say ‘Where is the book you stole away?’

And if you say ‘I do not know’,

The Lord will say ‘Go down below.’

And if you say ‘I got it here.’

The Lord will say ‘Come right…’

In 1996, the book was donated in memory of Nathan “Ned” Smith, who was caretaker of Lakeview Park from the 1930s to 1942, by his grandchildren: Jean Landale, Georgina Bryant, Francis Shirlock, Gail Richard, Kenneth Munro, Linda Munro. At this time it is unclear if Maude Clarke and the Smith family are related.

The High School Physical Science (1895) book was owned by sister and brother, Margaret and Donald Hawkes. They went to Oshawa High School, now O’Neill CVI, and one of their teachers was Mr. Louis Stevenson as noted in the text book. According to Olive French “He was an excellent teacher and tolerated no nonsense in his classes.”[2]

Oshawa High School, c. 1911, from the Oshawa Archives collection
Oshawa High School, c. 1911, from the Oshawa Archives collection

It is interesting how much information we can glean from these textbooks beyond what is printed on its pages – who was teaching at the time, how long the books were used past their publishing date, what kind of language and slang the kids were using at the time. This blog post has inspired me to do some more research into the children’s families and teachers mentioned. They will be part of my ongoing research project into various aspects of the early education system in Oshawa.


For more information on Oshawa’s early education history, please visit our website, featuring Olive French’s unpublished manuscript.

[1] French, Olive. Olive French Manuscript. 1871-1920. P.7

[2] French, Olive. Olive French Manuscript 1921-1967. P. 75

Host Files: History of Dr. F. J. Donevan Collegiate

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Karen A., Visitor Host

The Olive B. French Manuscript was written by Olive French, a local Oshawa woman, in 1968. The Manuscript gives a detailed history of education in Oshawa from the early 1800s until present time (1967). But what of Oshawa’s education after 1967? What happened to Oshawa’s schools? After doing some research, I have been able to fill in the gaps completing the history of Oshawa’s schools to our present day (2017).

Dr. F. J. Donevan Collegiate, a high school which was built in 1957 in Oshawa was permanently closed in 2010 and was recently torn down. The last class graduated from Donevan Collegiate in 2010, and the rest of the students enrolled in the school were relocated to Eastdale Collegiate.

Donevan Collegiate, located on Harmony Rd. South and Olive Avenue, first opened its doors to students in 1958 with a maximum capacity to hold 840 students, grades nine to twelve. The school saw an expansion in 1962, creating a larger cafeteria, a larger library and more classrooms.

The school was named after Dr. Frederick James Donevan who was born on July 18th, 1880 in Gananoque, Ontario. The Donevan family settled in Canada in 1850, arriving from Ireland. Frederick was educated at the Gananoque High School, later graduating from Queen’s University in 1907, completing his Doctor of medicine and master of surgery. He became an intern at the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, and practiced as a doctor in Seeley’s Bay, Ontario and Smith Falls, Ontario. During World War I Frederick served overseas for four years in England and France with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.

After World War I, Dr. Donevan moved to Oshawa with his wife, Lydia Evangeline Emsley, and daughter, Constance Marie.  In 1919 Donevan set up a large and eventually successful practice in Oshawa.

Dr. Donevan was very active in the development of Oshawa’s education and the facilities which were being built. A member of the Board of Education for twenty two years, Dr. Donevan was first elected in 1926. He was chairman of the Board in 1931 and 1932.

There was much debate over the closure of the school, as parents, students, teachers and Board Trustees had varying opinions. Factors in deciding the fate of the school was the decrease in population starting in 2009, when only 628 students were enrolled. That number was expected to drop by 600 in 2010, and 436 by 2016. In the end the school was closed after fifty-two years. In 2016 the site of the school was up for sale, as the Durham District School Board concluded the land was a surplus and decided to sell the nearly 13.5 acre site. At the moment I am not certain who has purchased the land or what purpose it will be used for.

Image © Oshawa Express, accessed from Possible Buyer for Donovan Site, April 21, 2016.

For more information on Dr. F. J. Donevan collegiate check out these articles:

If you are interested in reading the Olive French Manuscript go to:

Education in Oshawa

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Oshawa has a lengthy history in terms of education. As soon as people and families began immigrating to Upper Canada, men and women were teaching children from their homes and tiny schoolrooms. There are many instances of this in our immediate area.

In the early 1800s, Joseph Moore came to the small settlement here, from Boston. He founded the first school in this district and used his superior education to make his living. Not much is known about him except that he was a well-educated man and a “lawyer of parts.” Despite this fact, it has been said that Mr. Moore was much respected throughout his community as well as the whole county.

His school was situated on the farm of Benjamin Rogers on the lakeshore between Oxford Street and Park Road South. The property was still owned by descendants of the Rogers family until the 1960s. Of course, the streets, just mentioned, were non-existent then. The attendance at the school was small and the few families who lived there paid for the upkeep.

Thornton Corners School, c. 1880. Oshawa Museum’s archival collection

J. Douglas Ross notes in Education in Oshawa that Miss Cross established a school in a log hut on the William Blair farm in 1811. This was between Oshawa and Whitby on the lakeshore. Also in the book, Ross discusses the many schoolrooms that opened in Oshawa-proper. One built on the southwest corner of King and Simcoe Street on the McGrigor farm, the Union school on Simcoe and Royal Streets in 1835 and the emergence of S.S. No 1, (Harmony School) and S.S. No. 5 (Thornton’s Corners).

It is unclear where the children that lived in Guy, Robinson and Henry House went to school. The Henry boys from Thomas’s first marriage to Elizabeth Davies perhaps attended the Union School. We can assume that they were educated because all went on to read and write as well as become successful in the community. Thomas’s younger children with Lurenda Abby might have attended S. S. No. 2 (Cedardale School), which was built in the early 1850s. Again, they all went on to read, write and become contributing members of the community.


Centre Street School is the model that the Oshawa Museum has used in recreating its own one room schoolhouse. Younger children sit in desks arranged so that they are at the front and the older children are at the back. During March Break families are invited to come down and see what it was like to attend school in the Victorian era! The immersive experience includes dressing up in period costumes, writing with pen & ink and on slates, participating in a spelling bee and learning to sing God Save the Queen. Kids can even have their photos take with Queen Victoria!

Come down to Robinson House for all of the activities on March Break. From Monday through Friday, 9 am – 3 pm, you can drop in for all of the fun. Only $5 per child. For inquiries, please call Jill at 905-436-7624 x. 106.

MB1 - Compressed

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