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Jarvis Collegiate: Over 200 Years of History in the Making

You can also visit the Jarvis Archives and Museum

In 1807, the government of the Province of Upper Canada put up a decree that set forth a motion to establish “grammar schools” within each of its eight districts. Jarvis Collegiate was founded in part as the Home District Grammar School under Rev. George O’Kill Stuart, D. D at York (now Toronto).

The first principal, Rev. George was ill suited in many ways as principal for the new school. Many felt that his lack of discipline and mannerisms, that included a voice which rose and fell for no reason, and a habit of speaking with his eyes closed for a long time before suddenly opening them deterred students. The school was primarily funded off fees paid by students which amounted to $16 per year in addition to 6 “York Shillings” for firewood, and catered specifically to the wealthy families of the area.

On opening day, there were five students enrolled (all boys). By the end of this year, the number rose to 37. However this trend would soon decline, and the year before Stuart resigned (1812), numbers had dropped to a dismal four.

Of the original five boys who entered in the school, one made history. His name was John Ridout, son of Surveyor General Thomas Ridout. He killed in Toronto’s last duel by Samuel Jarvis, from which Jarvis Street holds its name after.

With war looming with the Americans in 1812, it was felt that the City of York needed someone extremely loyal to the Crown to take leadership of Church and School. After receiving an initial offer, negotiations for salary and additional privileges began between then Lieutenant Governor Gore, General Brock and John Strachan. By August 1912, Strachan moved to York to begin as new principal of the school, two months after war was declared.

As a teacher, Strachan believed that education had three aims:

  1. To form character with sound moral and religious principles.
  2. To instill religious conviction.
  3. To develop a deep affection for the British Monarchy.

With his coming, the Home District Grammar School saw a record enrolment of 50 by October that same year. By years end, the existing building was too small to fit the needs of the school (this original building would be demolished later in 1873). A new building was planned, but this was delayed by the war. In the meantime, a building was rented (a reconverted barn at King and Yonge Streets) to which the school moved to.

It was only in 1816 that the new school was completed, a two story “palace” known as “Old Blue” due to its blue paint job. The construction of the new building was paid for by “public lectures on a natural philosophy” which was charged at “2 guineas”. The building itself was 55 feet (16.76m) long by 40 feet (12.20m) wide, and faced onto Church Street from College Square (between what is now Richmond and Adelaide Streets to the north and south and Church and Jarvis Streets to the west and east), within a six-acre lot north of St. James’ Church.

The first floor was the schoolroom, which had desks made with pine, that could seat up to 50 students. The upstairs was used for meetings, debates and performances. At this time the school contained students aged 5-17.

In 1825, the School was renamed and became the “Royal Grammar School”. By 1825, with the founding of the Upper Canada College the schools were merged and moved to the corner of Jarvis and Lombard Streets.

With a population reaching 10,000 the town of York reverted to its former Indian name “Toronto” in 1834. At this time, the Royal Grammar School split from the Upper Canada College following a stormy “marriage” of 5 years. In 1855, the school was renamed as the “Senior Grammar School in Toronto” or how it was commonly known as at the time the “Toronto Grammar School”.

By 1860’s the school was bursting at the seams with 150 students crammed into three rooms. As a result, new accommodations had to be found. This new building was constructed in 1864 on Dalhousie Street, just north of Gold Street by what is now Ryerson University.

It is important to note that it wasn’t till the following year (1865), that girls were graciously allowed to attend school. They did not receive a warm welcome and were allowed to study nothing but French. At the time, there was no funding provided by the Government for them.

By 1870, the school needed to expand again, and as its new premises were under construction, classes moved to a temporary residence from 1870-1871 at the vacant old asylum for the insane at Queen’s Park. Today, the east wing of the Ontario Legislative Building is located on this site.

The building itself that housed the school during this short period of time was initially part of King’s College, the first university in Upper Canada that opened in (now known formally as the University of Toronto). When the University was secularized in 1849, this building was converted into the University Lunatic Asylum prior to the construction of the new Lunatic Asylum at 999 Queen Street West (now the Centre of Addition and Mental Health). The school was the last tenant of the building before it was demolished to make way for the Ontario Legislative Building.

The new building itself was constructed at 361 Jarvis Street, south of College and directly in front of the Allen Gardens greenhouse. The land itself was bought from Sheriff Jarvis just prior. It was only in 1871 with the creation of the School Act, that girls were given a legal right to attend school. Despite this, males and females were rigorously segregated. Women were confined to a single classroom in the basement, which was guarded by thick double doors, and outside in the schoolyard, a high fence was erected to keep students apart.

With the new building created, the school was yet again renamed as the “Toronto High School” by the School Act of 1871. Within two years it was renamed once again to the “Toronto Collegiate Institute”, with a collegiate being any school with more than 3 teachers with 60 or more boys studying Latin and or Greek. With the foundation of the Parkdale High School in 1888, the school was renamed once again, to Jarvis Street Collegiate Institute, a name it currently holds to date.

By 1881, two new wings were added to the school. However the design and construction of the building became a public scandal with allegations of corruption and shoddy construction.

In 1889, the building was expanded again with the third floor Assembly Hall added. A key individual, in the history of Jarvis Collegiate at the time was Carl Lehmann. In 1901, he gave the first known demonstration in Canada of “wireless telegraphy”. On the same occasion, he exhibit colour photographs, rare in those days produced by his own method. He later went on to become Principal of Malvern Collegiate in Toronto.

In 1924, the building where the school currently now stands at 495 Jarvis Street was opened. The school itself opened with great fanfare. 800 students marched up Jarvis Street from the old building at Jarvis and College, led by the Principal and a former teacher who carried the old school bell.

For many years the school was home to many students and teachers, and it wasn’t till the 1950’s that the school itself required another face lift. This came in 1955, where the south wing of the building was opened. This wing housed what was then a state-of-the-art gymnasium facility that was the largest in Canada. Today it is sometimes used by movie-makers for their film shoots.

By the 1960’s, Jarvis was at its capacity. It was trying to provide for 1,250 students in a building designed for 1,050. The facilities were all inadequate and out of date. The old pool which was the pride of the school in 1924, had become cramped, overcrowded and known as “cockroach heaven”. An addition was approved in 1967 at the cost of $2.5 million which would include a major renovation of the existing structure. The Jarvis site expanded to four acres, a far cry from the 25 appropriated to schools in the suburbs but luxurious compared to its previous site and for its location in the heart of the City. This site would now house a new sports field and the Jarvis football team would no longer need to be bussed to Rosedale Park for games and practices.

These new facilities included two music rooms, a cafeteria, a girls’ gymnasium, a new swimming pool, a physics laboratory, three standard classrooms, two “team-teaching” rooms, the playing field and an underground parking garage under the field. The old swimming pool was then converted into a theatre arts room and the old girl’s gym into a library.

Construction of this extension was completed in 1971. Prior to its closure in 2003, Jarvis Collegiate acted as a Heliport for the now defunct Wellesley Hospital during the 1980’s and 1990’s.