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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 10

The Architectural Heritage of the Rideau Corridor

by Barbara A. Humphreys

School Buildings of the Rideau

The Common School Act passed in 1816 gave the authority and limited financial assistance to any community to organize a school, provided 20 pupils were available to attend it. The financial assistance — a maximum of £25 per school — was intended to pay part of the teacher's salary and assist in furnishing school texts. Members of the community were expected to provide and maintain the school building and, in addition, parents of the students were obliged to pay attendance fees and to board the teacher for a part of each term. It is not surprising, then, that the school buildings were simple in the extreme.

The earliest schools were of log construction, heated by fireplaces and minimally furnished. Some, we are told,13 had only backless benches for the younger pupils, while the older students used desks consisting of boards extending along three sides of the room supported by pieces of wood set into the chinks of the log walls. A contemporary sketch on education in Upper Canada in the early part of the 19th century noted that

One might suppose from the shattered condition and ill accommodation of many of the schoolhouses that they were erected as pounds to confine unruly boys and punish them by way of freezing them or smoking them, so that the master can do little more than regulate the ceremonies of the hearth.14

Fortunately, however, such a bleak description is hardly applicable to the surviving examples of the early school-houses of the Rideau Corridor. The majority of those recorded were erected just before or after the passing of the School Act of 1846, which was designed to organize the local administration of the schools and to provide increased assistance in establishing them. Consequently, though minimal in size, they were more apt to have been built of frame or stone, heated by stoves and adequately furnished.

The basic style seemed to be a simple, one-storey, one-room structure with its design varying only in the number of windows, the type of construction and the style of the bell tower sometimes surmounting the ridge of the roof (Figs. 116-120). All had a small entrance porch on one gable end and all had a chimney, usually of brick, at the other. Two, three and occasionally four double-hung windows were symmetrically located on each of the long walls. The Heckston school house (Fig. 121), built about 1850, is an example of this basic design although its original finish is now concealed by a composition cladding. Original glass panes were small and the most common window consisted of two sash, each three panes wide by two panes high. An interesting exception to this, however, can be seen in the South Gower township school house (Figs. 122, 123) where the finely mullioned window consists of 20 small panes divided (12 and 8) between two sash.

118 School bells Bell tower of Maple Wood School in Oxford Mills, Oxford township (see Fig. 129).

119 School bells, Bell tower of Jasper School, Wolford township (see Fig. 130).

120 School bells, Bell tower of Eastons corners school in Wolford township, erected in 1875.

121 Schoolhouse in Heckston, south Gower township, a one-room school of typical design, still retaining the original small pane window sash.

122-123 Schoolhouse in south Gower township (Con. 4, Lot 6) with pleasantly large multi-paned windows.

One-room schoolhouses of the same basic design were erected in all finishes—log, frame, stone and brick. Only two log schoolhouses recognizable as such were recorded, both in Montague township (Fig. 124). It is possible others still exist, their log walls now concealed by composition siding or clapboard. The frame schools are, with few exceptions, finished in clapboard. The River Road School in Bathurst township, built in the 1870s (Fig. 125), is an interesting example of a clapboarded schoolhouse displaying the narrow width clapboard typical of the earlier buildings. The Classical Revival decoration on the window heads of this building is also worth noting. On occasion board and batten was used instead of clapboard, as for example on a school in Bathurst township (Fig. 126). The stone school houses are of limestone or sandstone, usually in coursed rubble and sometimes with cut-stone quoins. They are of sturdy proportions with a pleasantly low-pitched roof. A typical example is the schoolhouse at Freeland (Fig. 127). Few examples of one-room brick schools were recorded, the most interesting of which is the Wolford Chapel School (1862) built with a pattern of alternating red and yellow brick, a design peculiar to this particular area (Fig. 128).

124 Log schoolhouse in Montague township (Con. 1, Lot 1).

125 River Road school, Bathurst township (Con. 1, Lot 23), an attractively situated country school with classical Revival detailing. (Canadian School Studios.)

126 Board and batten schoolhouse in Bathurst township (Con. 3, Lot 11).

127 This early stone schoolhouse is located in Freeland, Bastard township (Con. 1, Lot 24).

128 Wolford Chapel School in Wolford township (Con. A, Lot 26) served its original purpose for 102 years and is now a private residence.

As the population of the corridor grew and with it the demand for larger and better schools, the two-room school appeared. Built during the 1870s in the Rideau Corridor, these schools are generally of brick, and are one storey high. They are rectangular in shape with symmetrically placed windows and the ubiquitous entrance porch located centrally on the long side rather than on the gable end of the building, reflecting the interior two-room plan.

Constructed usually in red brick with contrasting yellow brick trim and quoins and topped with a decorative bell tower of Gothic design, these small buildings are attractive and considerably more inviting in appearance than their starkly simple one-room predecessors. This same design was carried out in stone but no frame examples were recorded. The stone schoolhouse at Oxford Mills built in 1875 (Fig. 129) is one of the most attractive of the two-room schools in the area, and a very handsome example of this same design carried out in brick is the schoolhouse in Jasper built the same year (Fig. 130)

129 Maple Wood School in Oxford Mills, Oxford township. The decorative bell tower, bargeboard and beautiful setting in a grove of trees enhance the charm of this two-room schoolhouse constructed of stone obtained from a nearby farm. (Canadian School Studios.)

130 Two-room brick schoolhouse in Jasper, Wolford township, is typical of rural schools erected in the Rideau Corridor in the 1870s.

Larger towns of course required larger schools and were also the sites of the early secondary school buildings. Most of the early primary schools in the urban centres have been burned or replaced, and as a result pre-1880 school buildings in these centres usually include only the larger or later public or secondary schools. Two of these are found in Smith's Falls, one of which is of brick (Fig. 131) and the other of stone (Fig. 132). The former, a two-storey hip-roofed building erected in the 1870s, is built of red brick with yellow brick trim used in a fashion similar to that of the two-room schools of this same period. With simple, symmetrically placed windows and a projecting frontispiece. It is typical of the form that was traditional for two-storey schools all across Canada for 75 years. The stone school in Smith's Falls erected in 1871 has an elaborate, dentiled cornice in the style of the Classical Revival of the 1840s. This decorative feature is combined with the segmental-headed windows usually associated with the later Second Empire style which became very popular in Canada from the 1870s on.

131 Secondary school in Smith's Falls, now a Masonic temple.

132 Public school on Beckwith Street, Smith's Falls.

Many of these schoolhouses in the Rideau Corridor are still in use, but few are serving their original purpose. Some are used as halls or local museums and many of the one-room schoolhouses have been converted into comfortable homes. Despite additions and alterations, however, their basic shape shines through, still recognizable as a seat of learning and for, many a nostalgic reminder of the past.

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