Friday, 27 February 2015

Tytler Public School

Tytler Public School is back! The old public school in the Ward was closed in June of 2013 after a remarkable 135 years of service. The students even gave it a big hug as a send-off! However, it was recently announced that Tytler school would be brought back into service for young French Immersion students. And the story was even illustrated with a lovely postcard, a copy of the one below.


The card was published by The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Ltd. Montreal and Toronto sometime around 1910. The picture shows a stately Edwardian building with perhaps a bit of local character in the gable over the central stairway. The postcard label shows that its original name was "St. Patrick's Ward School". This recalls the days when Guelph had an elementary school for each of its wards, each named after saints, plus one in the middle, the "Central School".

Compare the postcard image with that from Google Street View.



It looks quite well preserved, although some windows have been blocked up and the school yard paved.

The school was designed by William Austin Mahoney (1871-1952), a prolific local boy who learned architecture through the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Penn. while working as a carpenter in Chicago. He put up his shingle back home in Guelph in 1905 and was soon busy. He designed a number of local buildings of note, including several schools beside St. Patrick's. The "Building Operations" column of the Mercury (12 Sep. 1908) itemizes the work done to erect the building:

St. Patrick's Ward School — Four room, up-to-date school. Red brick, on Ontario street; Sam Rundle, stone and brick; George Scroggie, carpenter; Dempsey Bros., painting; J. J. Mahoney, plastering; H. Occomore & Co., heating; G. W. Brown & Co., slaters; Mahoney Bros., plumbing; W. A. Mahoney, architect. Cost, about $13,000.
Note all Mahoneys! Going by the City Directory of Guelph (1917), the Mahoney Bros. were Harry and Richard, William's brothers. J. J. Mahoney was his brother James. J. Mahoney, a building contractor. Perhaps brother Jeff D. Mahoney, also a building contractor, was on vacation. In any event, St. Patrick's Ward School was something of a family affair.

This history still leaves us with at least a couple of mysteries. First, how did "St. Patrick's Ward School" become "Tytler School"? Second, if the school was 135 years old in 2013, how do we account for its construction only 105 years earlier?

The first mystery is easily solved. St. Patrick's Ward School was re-named in honour of William Tytler on 14 Feb. 1922. The School Board conferred the honour on Mr. Tytler (1842-1932), who had been the local Public School Inspector and Secretary of the Board for almost 30 years. A native of Nicol Township, Tytler graduated from the University of Toronto in 1862 and enjoyed a very successful career in education. In 1875, he was hired from St. Mary's High School to become headmaster of the new Guelph Collegiate Institute. He become Public School Inspector in 1893, a position he retained until 1924. He resigned for good from the Board only in 1930, for a remarkable career spanning about 66 years. So, it is no wonder that he had a local school named after him, although it is not clear why St. Patrick's School was selected.

The pre-history of St. Patrick's School is also an interesting story. In fact, the Mercury (4 May 1908) gives a complete run-down of it. In the author's view, the first school in St. Patrick's Ward was actually the very first school in Guelph. John Galt had ordered the construction of a school in 1828. Originally called the "Galt Academy" (and later "The Old Stone School"), it stood near what is now the corner of Fountain and Neeve Streets, roughly where the Chamber of Commerce sits today (Allen 1939, p. 23). Thus, it seems to have been part of Galt's plan to aggrandize Priory Square. After the railway tracks were laid next to it in the early 1850s, the location became just too noisy and the building was abandoned. Because it sat in the east end of the town, as it then was, the article's author regards it as the first East Ward school.

For many years, school in the east end of town was carried on in rented accommodations. However, demand increased to the point where the School Board decided on a permanent structure. Property was purchased and a building put up on Ontario Street in 1878. This school was designed by another industrious Guelph architect, John Hall Jr. It is described in this way in the Mercury's "Building Operations" column (27 Nov. 1878):

The building is T shaped and built of stone, and has at the rear a very fine roomy play ground. The architecture follows more closely the Italian than any other style, and is in every respect an ornament to the neighborhood. On the north corner there is a handsome belfry, which rises to a height of 36 feet. The stone is laid in imitation of random coursed work. The openings are pla[i]n corners of cut stone and the entrances are surmounted by ornamental hoods. The building is divided into two school rooms, each 22 by 28 feet. There are two entrances into the school—one for boys and the other for girls. The lobbies and cloak rooms lead from the entrances into the school rooms already referred to. Here all the modern and improved school furniture and appliances are to be found. The building is heated by stoves. The total cost was about $1,900.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any pictures of it. But, it is fun trying to imagine it.

In any event, the construction of two rooms was providential, since it was ten years before there were enough students to occupy more than one room. Of course, as time went on, the two-room school become overcrowded and it was eventually razed to make way for the new, four-room building designed by William Mahoney. (Coincidently, William Mahoney's father, Richard, appears to have done the carpentry work for the earlier school. School construction was truly in the family DNA.)

So much for the history of the building. Luckily, we also have some reminiscences of student life in the place. Mr. James L. Hunt provides a number of interesting anecdotes about his time as a pupil there in the early 1940s. Education at Tytler in that era focussed on the Three Rs, cultivated through lots of memorization, which suited young Mr. Hunt just fine. We get some interesting glimpses of the staff. For example, his grade 3 teacher, Miss Dooley, was thought very pretty by all the boys and remained a teacher for her whole career, meaning that she never married. In those days, getting married ended a woman's career, at least in school.

However, the school custodian was not so amenable:

The school had one real tyrant in the form of the school janitor Mr. Smith who took a perverse delight in tyrannizing the boys. At every recess the first thing that happened was that everyone was herded into the washrooms whether you had to pee or not. It was presumably believed that this would minimize the incidents of hands being raised and "Please Miss may I leave the room?" The boys washroom had about 6 urinals and Mr. Scott [sic] was always there waiting to maintain order and decorum. Perversely he always organized the boys into two lines: one at station 1 and the other at station 2. As 3, 4, 5, and 6 became available he manned them always from the number 2 line which therefore moved quickly. However, if you were unfortunate enough to be ordered into the number one line you simply waited your turn and missed half the recess. There was no appeal, no fairness you did as you were ordered and offered no lip. We hated him with a fiery passion!
Hopefully, Tytler School has since abandoned this practice!

So, Tytler School has had an interesting history, both institutional and personal, and one that, by some accounts, goes right back to the foundation of the town itself. Plus, it seems, there is more yet to come.

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