After our hike last weekend, we did a bit of exploring in the surrounding region and visited the village of Elgin’s Red Brick School. In 2006, the Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled an historical marker commemorating the pretty, two-room school, which was built in 1887. The T-shaped building has one floor level with a very high ceiling. A large classroom faces the road and features three very tall, arched four-over-twelve pane windows that allow plenty of natural light to illuminate the room. The T of the building includes an entrance on each side, one for girls and one for boys. At the base of the T is a second, smaller classroom, probably used for senior students. The school was in use until 1964.
Located about 35 km north of Gananoque, Elgin was an important regional centre in 1887. It featured a large hotel and a thriving business community, including a cheese factory, a cabinet-maker, and two farming implement dealers. The new school was a physical affirmation of the community’s faith in a prosperous future and in the value they placed on the education of their young people.
Early schoolhouses in Ontario were often unheated log cabins or frame buildings lacking even adequate seating. In the 1840s, the assistant superintendent of education in Ontario, the Reverend Egerton Ryerson set out to improve standards for school buildings, and in 1857 oversaw the publication of the province’s first manual of school design, The School House: Its Architecture, Internal and External Arrangements. In 1886, the Department of Education published a new study entitled School Architecture: Hints and Suggestions on School Architecture and Hygiene, with up-to-date views on late Victorian school design.
Elgin’s red brick school was built just a year later after the new guidelines were published and may have been the first schoolhouse in Ontario to incorporate the new design principles. For more information about the Red Brick School and early education in Ontario, visit the Ontario Heritage Trust site here.