December 27, 2015 update: The book Williamsville Revisited has tons more on Rideau Public School. Like, way more than I remembered. As well as photographs showing the still semi-rural nature of this area of town into the twentieth century.
I’m back! Last time I was here I was planning on doing a series on 1920s Kingston; as it’s been a while since I looked at the microfilm newspapers it may take me a while to get back into the swing of things, but I’d still like to do a few posts on this topic. Here’s one I was working on before my blogging time was tragically cut short by grad school applications.
It’s about an article I found on the construction of Rideau Public School in 1925. As you may know, Rideau Public School is located at Dundas and Macdonnell, in an area of town considered pretty central today. In the 1920s, it was an emerging suburb that came out of the village previously known as Williamsville, which had at one time been considered separate from Kingston.
The historic centre of Williamsville was at the intersection of Princess and Victoria, and while there were several streets laid out in that area by the late nineteenth century, there wasn’t a lot of development. However, with the turn of the century, Kingston began expanding westward towards Williamsville, with homes designed for middle-class families. (You can easily see this going west on Johnson Street from downtown. Older limestone buildings shift to red brick Victorians, which shift to boxy, plain Edwardian houses, which shift to 1920s and 30s bungalows, especially after Macdonnell.)
There was a previous Rideau School on the corner of Princess and Nelson, but probably it became too small to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. So a new one was built:
[Mrs. Newlands, chair of the Board of Education] rejoiced with the people of Rideau ward that they were to have a model school, and said that no longer would their children need to wander afar in search of accommodation. She claimed that a fine building aroused in the children a feeling of pride in their school. She rejoiced to think that the objective which had been hers since she had been elected to the Board six years ago had been attained.
It’s interesting to read her statement that schools should be educating “true citizens,” defined as “loyal, honest, kind, intelligent, industrious, thrifty, healthful, self-reliant and progressive.” Would we say the same thing about the purpose of elementary schooling today?
Principal Taylor of Queen’s was also there, and had some… interesting remarks to make:
He contrasted the wonderful structures and facilities found in Canada . . . with those of the Old Country, where, as in Glasgow, half the children are bow-legged and the average height is five foot two. Here in Canada everyone had the opportunities for developing a healthful life.
Okay… anyway, Principal Taylor also stressed the need for a religious atmosphere in the home (not just Sunday school), the “besetting sin” of lack of punctuality, and manners. Plus this: “The boy who had learned loyalty to women would keep his head up in life.” He finished up his comments by saying this neighbourhood was headed to be one of the best in the city (probably the least weird remark he made that afternoon).
Finally, school board Trustee Elliott (research has shown him to be Joseph G. Elliott, at one time the president of the Whig newspaper) said that he had long hoped for a new school in this district, and that this one would be architecturally superior “to any other in the city.”
His next remarks are interesting to note, as they will certainly sound familiar:
Was there over-education? Were too many seeking “white collar” jobs? Mr. Elliott believed that even a drain digger would be better off educated than ignorant, getting more joy out of life, and doing his work to better advantage.
I don’t know much about labour in the 1920s, but apparently there must have been concerns, like today, that people were forgoing the trades for “white collar” professions. Although it seems like a strange topic to address at the opening of an elementary school, this was an era when it wasn’t unheard of to drop out of school. Trustee Elliott was stressing that a good education wasn’t just for people seeking professional careers, and that over-education shouldn’t be a worry.
Finally, the national anthem was sung and the ceremony ended. However, the article notes that inside the cornerstone (inscribed with “Erected 1925”) a time capsule was inserted, containing copies of the two newspapers of the day, the Standard and the Whig, plus a list of civic officials and the Board of Education members, and “the coins of the realm.”
This area of town was once very different than it is today – photographs of the Williamsville area from the early twentieth century show large trees, lawns, pretty houses, and the occasional cow – but the increasing popularity of cars fundamentally changed the landscape. First, as Highway 2 became the main automobile artery across eastern Ontario, Princess Street began to sprout gas stations, restaurants, and auto repair shops. Then, when traffic was diverted after the construction of the 401, these businesses began to move out to more lucrative locations. Essentially, the street never fully recovered from this change in fortune and we’re still trying to figure out how to “revitalize” Williamsville (which has also reverted to its old name). The neighbourhood is no longer full of families, however this article reveals a time when the upper Princess Street area was still up-and-coming, hopeful for the future and awaiting its next chapter. And in fact, with the new attempts to improve the area, you could say it’s in a similar place today.