Our History

A Tradition Begins:  An Overview of Our School's History

At the turn of the century, the northern and western limits of the City of Toronto intersected approximately at the corner of Bloor and Spadina. It was here that the horse-drawn trolleys of the Toronto Street Railway turned off Bloor Street and made their way south towards the lakefront. On Saturday nights when university students wished to do something particularly devilish, they unhitched the horses from the cars and manually propelled the trolleys at breakneck speed down Spadina Avenue.

Suburbia began at Spadina, and slightly to the west, where Central Tech now stands was a large apple orchard owned by members of the Saywell family. As more people moved to the suburbs part of this orchard was purchased by the Board of Education and it became the site of Borden St. public school. The fact that the Board already owned this property was largely responsible for its choice as the site of the Toronto Technical School when construction of this school was finally approved.

Actually, the main building of our present complex was the fourth home of the Toronto Technical School . As early as 1888, the Association of Stationary Engineers had requested the City Council to consider the establishment of a school for technical training in Toronto . There followed a certain amount of political buck passing in which the Council tried to shift the responsibility for founding such a school to the Board of Management of the Public Library. The Library Board investigated the whole picture of technical education on this continent and reported that the need for such a school was obvious, but that to be effective, it should be on a much larger scale than originally contemplated by Council. They recommended that a special committee be set up to blueprint the organization and management of the proposed institution. Finally, in 1891, Council passed a motion "to establish The Toronto Technical School to be located in the St. Lawrence Hall and the anterooms connected therein." Classes began on January 26th, 1892 , and were held from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each public school day. Provision was made for a total of 150 students studying mathematics, chemistry, descriptive geometry, mechanics, physics, and drafting. Unfortunately, 307 students registered and it was soon apparent that the St. Lawrence Hall was totally inadequate, so the school moved to Old Wycliffe Hall on the north side of College St. at the head of McCaul St. , the present site of the Mining Building of the University.

By 1896, the enrollment had risen to 1,511. Courses in Domestic Science were introduced in that year and the school became coeducational. The overcrowding led to many complaints by interested organizations who demanded that a suitable building be provided for the Toronto Technical School . A harassed city council finally appointed a committee to find a new site. Tech currently holds 2500 students.

About this time, the Toronto Athletic Club got into financial difficulties and its property was put up for sale. This was the building known as the Stewart Building on the south side of College St. , which until recently houses the Ontario College of Art. The Technical School Board purchased it in 1900 for $80,000 plus back taxes, and agreed to raise a further $10,000 to convert it into a school. The first Art Department in the school was formed by putting a partition across the pool; sculpture was taught in the deep end of the tank and all the other art classes in the remaining area.

Day classes began in 1901 with 151 students, while the attendance at night school continued to soar with 1,710 students registered. One of the main reasons for the popularity of the school was the highly professional staff under the capable leadership of Dr. William Pakenham, who was principal from 1901 until June, 1907.

The period from 1900 to 1910 was one of great industrial growth in Canada and it soon became obvious that if Canada were to hold its proper place in world markets, a skilled labour force, backed by trained technicians, was a prime necessity. With this goal in mind, the Dominion Government requested Dr. John Seath to prepare a report on "Education for Industrial Purposes". This report finally appeared in 1911. However, this is one instance where the City of Toronto was ahead of its time. Since 1907, it had been considering a site for a fine new technical school to be constructed as a purely civic enterprise. Finally, after many changes of mind, the present location was selected in 1912 and an agreement drawn up to permit the closing of Herrick Street between Lippincott and Borden Streets.

But a site, however convenient, and a building, however functional, do not make a great school: a leader is needed. In a rare flash of intelligence, the Board of Education appointed Dr. A.C. McKay as principal in June, 1911. Most of the solid foundation of technical education in Toronto can be justly ascribed to the work of this man; indeed, had subsequent Boards adhered to his original plans, the system would have been even better. A former professor of physics at U. of T. , a chancellor of McMaster, and an experienced teacher in both elementary and secondary schools, Dr. McKay was a man with a great vision of technical education.  Dr. McKay began his plans for Central Tech by first visiting the great polytechnical schools of Europe . He returned with very definite ideas about the kind of building he wanted and immediately announced a competition open to all architects. The competition was won by Ross and Macfarlane of Montreal. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on September 3, 1913 , by Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada.

Over the years, many changes in the physical plant have been made. Perhaps some of you may not be aware of the many features originally incorporated in the building. The crest over the main entrance of the school is the coat of arms of the City of Toronto . Central Tech is the only school that has the privilege of using this crest; it is due to the fact that the citizens of Toronto paid for the school without the aid of other levels of government.

The "ribbon" across the bottom of the crest carries the legend "Industry, Intelligence, and Integrity". These qualities have always characterized our top graduates. The two capitals that top the columns supporting the main entrance arch presented a bit of a problem. The Scottish stonemasons who build the school wanted to make their own contribution to the building and they felt that the standard Gothic caps would lack interest. As their present, they carved the two gnomes that surmount the columns. The one is dressed in academic cap and gown and is busy writing in a book, thus representing the academic side of the school. The second gnome is in the ancient garb of a journeyman working with hammer and chisel, representing the technical side of the school.

The Exhibition Room, 208, with its fine paneling and fireplace, was a gift from the builder at no cost to the citizens. The principal' s office occupied the whole of Room 202 It was beautifully paneled in dark red mahogany with a beamed ceiling and plaster medallions that were masterpieces of the plasterer's art. The drapes were always drawn tight, and because of the dark woodwork, there was very little light in the room. Dr. McKay must have had a flair for the dramatic; his huge roll-top desk was placed in the center of the room at such an angle that his back was partly towards the doorway. As the timid teacher entered the Stygian gloom of the inner sanctum for an interview with the great man, he was apt to be momentarily nonplused with a view of what appeared to be a disembodied head in a state of levitation part way between floor and ceiling. Whether by accident or by design, one of the ceiling fixtures was so placed that the beam of light from it played on the mane of white hair that graced the principal's head, giving it the effect of being suspended in mid air. Before you had time to recover from this apparition, the good doctor would turn slowly in his swivel chair and you would hear a deep voice from out the void saying "My boy, I think it's about time you ..." we were all of us Dr. McKay's "boys'' long as we behaved ourselves, but woe betide either teacher or student who got in wrong with the boss.

I have heard it said that some of today's students feel that their activities are somewhat hampered by the rules under which the school operates; perhaps you would be interested in some of the regulations that were in effect when I joined the staff. One rule that applied to teachers was ''no smoking in the vicinity of the school." One of my best pals on the staff was a chain-smoker who lived in north Toronto . Usually he rode the T.T.C. down Yonge St. to Bloor, dropped into his florist shop each morning and purchased a rose for his lapel, and then smoked a last cigarette as he strolled over to Avenue Road where he took a Bloor car for the remainder of his trip to school. One day, shortly after he signed in, he got a call to the office, and Dr. McKay said ''Gordon, you know the rule about smoking. This morning you were seen having a cigarette at Avenue Rd. and Bloor!" Times have changed.  There were also rules that applied to students. One of them was quite specific: "Unless you go to your home for lunch, you stay within the confines of the sidewalk surrounding the school block. "No fish and chips on Bloor St. ; no noon-hour visits to the pool room; the rule was definite, "unless you go to your home". Many would be out of business if the rule still applied today.

The third floor was known as "C" floor and was reserved for the female of the species. No male was allowed on this floor at any time except to go to the "lunch room" which occupied the corner and that part of the north corridor now given over to electronics. Segregation by sex was the order of the day and certain doors and stairs were reserved for use by females only.  The auditorium has always been the focus of school activities. Central was one of the last schools to give up the tradition of daily opening exercises for the whole school. Although our present numbers makes it necessary to alternate the groups attending, the auditorium continues to be a unifying influence in our rather complex organization.  The auditorium was the scene of the official opening of the school on the evening of Tuesday, August 31, 1915 . Some thirty-six years later, on the morning of April 20, 1951 , its doors were locked for the last time and the keys turned over to the contractors to begin its conversion into a gymnasium.

To the current crop of Technicians, I can say only that you are students of a great school; learn something of its tradition of excellence and try to follow its pattern of service to both the individual and the community and I am sure you will find satisfaction, if not your just reward.  After forty-three years at Central Tech I am still learning, still having fun, and looking forward to my graduation next June. Good-bye, and good luck!

Mr. James Dean came to Toronto from London , Ontario with an M.A. in Physics and his big W from Western, where he had been both singles and doubles champion in tennis. In his first year at C. T. S., teaching Mathematics, he shared an apartment with another new teacher, Graham Gore, who was later director of Education for the City of Toronto. Mr. Dean liked young people too much to be lured easily into administration. For years he said "no" to the pressures to become a vice principal. Yet the whole school gained when he finally moved into a front of dice. Central Technical School has gone through two world wars and a depression and just as these events have changed the world, so too, have they changed "C.T.S."

In 1915 there were approximately 750 ''scholars". With an expected increase in student population the school ultimately had to expand. In 1932 to accommodate the increasing number of aircraft students, the city bought a garage, "the Annex", at 844 Bathurst Street . It proved insufficient and in l951 a major addition was erected on the south side replacing the girls' playing field. This new wing included aircraft and auto mechanic facilities, a new auditorium, and a cafeteria.

Ten years later a separate addition was built on the boys' playing field on the north side of the main building. It was to house the increasing number of art students who were overcrowded on the fifth floor of the main building (now the Mathematics Department). Much honour has been bestowed upon the architecture of the building and the high quality of work produced therein.  Still another building was added in 1967 on the northwest corner of the campus. Referred to as the Bathurst Building it contains numerous shops, two gymnasia and an Olympic size swimming pool.

The latest addition has been a large Uniroyal track. These additions replaced a tennis court, a small park, and a playing field on the entire west side block. Today the campus, probably one of the largest in the British Empire is a mixture of contrasting architecture: the collegiate gothic of the original building, and the ultramodern of the Art and Bathurst buildings.

Much honour was bestowed on the school concerning Central Tech's group efforts. Among these were the Cadet Corps, the football team and later in the 30's and 40's the track team. Another highlight was the installment of the memorial organ. It soon became an integral part of the school. Originally built as a memorial to the unfortunate students who lost their lives in the First World War, it became also a source of pleasure for the community.

During the Second World War, Central Tech's excellent facilities were put to good use. The school was operated 24 hours a day. The day students attended from nine to three-thirty and from four p.m. to seven-thirty a.m. emergency classes were in progress. These classes were under the supervision of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Army and Navy. They involved marching drills, wireless operating, aircraft mechanics, tank repair and related subjects. Central Tech had the great honour of not only helping the community but the whole country.

Judging from the past C.T.S. has a bright future ahead. No doubt many great changes will take place.