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

My Favourite Artifact: The Olive French Manuscript

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

What is my favourite artifact? Many people who work at a museum would probably tell you that this is similar to picking your favourite child. I should tell you that I love them all equally, but in the past few years I have come to love a manuscript in the Archives.

At first this artifact was very mysterious to me. I had heard about the ‘Olive French manuscript’ but just that it was about education in Oshawa. I had seen it in passing as students and temporary staff were given it to transcribe. I knew nothing about who Olive French was or why the document was so important.

Olive French, 1895-1980
Olive French, 1895-1980

I vaguely remember asking Laura to making an attempt to finally complete the transcription and organization, as I was interested in learning more about the history of education in Oshawa.I soon came to find out that within the one box that contained it were many different versions of the text; all out of order, some handwritten and poorly photocopied, some typed. It was an organizers dream!

This document is truly one of a kind. Its value to the Archives is unquestionable. Ms. French recorded information about the history of Oshawa and the history of its education system from the early 1800s to 1967. Information about schools (most of which are not in existence anymore), Trustees, teachers, grading systems and special events.

Pupils of Cedardale School c. 1891
Pupils of Cedardale School c. 1891

The Olive French manuscript has now been a springboard for further research. Using Google and, we have been able to search for and find photos of teachers and Trustees mentioned, and background information about teachers and other minutia mentioned in the manuscript.

Ms. French and her manuscript have earned a special place in my heart over the last few years. I have often thought that it would be nice to sit down and have tea with her and chat about what life was like in Oshawa when she was alive. I wish I could ask her follow up questions or what she meant by something that she’d written.You can read Olive’s writings on one of the Museum’s blogs: