History of Rolph

History of Dr. John Rolph

John RolphPublic Rolph Road Elementary School, first opened in 1939, was named after Dr. John Rolph, a pioneer in medical education. 

  john rolph painting john rolph plaque unselectable= front of school

With the rapid growth of Leaside’s population, the need for a second public school soon became obvious. Land, between Hanna Road and Rolph Road just south of Sutherland Drive, was purchased on November 12, 1938.

John Rolph was born in Thornbury, England in 1792. After studying medicine and law, he immigrated to Canada. In 1821, he settled in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he practiced law.   After being elected to the Legislative Assembly, he moved to Toronto and became very active politically. In 1831, he was teaching medicine from his house (now the site of New City Hall). A radical and a Reformer, John Rolph was a supporter of William Lyon Mackenzie. In 1851, Rolph founded Toronto School of Medicine. Rolph Road School is named for this pioneer in medical education.

Plans moved ahead quickly. The school was built at a cost of $111,000.00 and the official opening was held in October 1939, 69 years after the death of Dr. John Rolph. The site of the school had once been farm fields complete with cows, ably described by Mrs. E. J. Moldan of 63 Airdrie Road in 1974.  “We moved here 36 years ago and we looked out the back window and there was a cow. It just happened we were out of milk, but I didn’t know how to milk a cow so it didn’t help me any.” Originally, the town plan indicated that Randolph Road should run through to Rolph Road, right across the present schoolyard. But Mr. Percy Turner, Secretary-Treasurer of The Leaside Board of Education, arranged for the change in the plan to preserve the large play area for the school site.

Mr. Willis Wright, who had taught at Bessborough since 1931, became the first Principal of the Kindergarten to Grade 8 school. In 1940, the first grade nine class opened on the second floor. Up to this time, high school students had attended Toronto schools. In fact, in 1930-31, 21 Leaside students were attending Toronto Secondary Schools. A grade ten class was established in 1941 and eight additional rooms were added to the school at this time to meet the ever growing demand for pupil space.  Grades 11, 12 and 13 met in Leaside United Church, Leaside Presbyterian and St. Cuthbert’s Anglican.

In 1945, Leonard Hill, who had been at Bessborough, became the new Principal and Willis Wright was transferred to open up the new Northlea School.

In the same year, Leaside High School was organized at Rolph Road. For three years, there were two complete schools in the Rolph building until the new high school was opened on Hanna Road in 1948. From 1945 to 1963, while Mr. Hill was Principal, the pupils excelled in music and public speaking at the Kiwanis festival.

By the late 1950s, the Thorncliffe Park area was being developed, but as yet there was no school. The children of Thorncliffe attended classes at Rolph Road until a new school could be built.

In 1963, William R. Ruhnke was appointed Principal of Rolph Road and the school was altered to include Kindergarten to Grade 6, with the Grades seven and eight pupils attending Bessborough. With the amalgamation of East York and Leaside in 1967, a new principal was appointed, Mr. R.J. Brown. In 1968, two rooms on the second floor were renovated to become the library.

When Mr. Brown was transferred to Thorncliffe Park School in 1970, Robert A. Cook became Principal. During his three years, the natural climber and hill were constructed in the schoolyard.

* Reproduced from the book “Leaside” with verbal permission from the editor, Jane Pitfield , to Karen Schmidt on April 23, 2013.


Did you know?

…classrooms at Rolph were used for high school classrooms?   According to the “Leaside” book (page 126)…

“The burgeoning Town of Leaside needed a high school– badly.  In the early 40s, students in Grades Nine to Eleven studied in make-shift classrooms in a few of the local churches (St. Cuthberts, Leaside united and Leaside Presbyterian) and in 5 classrooms on the top floor of Rolph Road School.”

…a “portable” first arrived at Rolph Road School in the 1940’s?  According to the “Leaside” book (page 126)…

“Before the (Leaside) High School was built, the Board purchased a temporary building from the Air Force for $600.00.  This structure was transported from the Lake Huron Air Base and re-erected by the north entrance of Rolph Road School, to house four classrooms.  The “high school” was called “Joe’s House” after Joe Fennell, the Maintenance Superintendent at that time.”

…Rolph Road used to host weekend dances for teens before neighbours complained about the excessive noise?  According to Leaside Life News May 2013 (page 6) and confirmed by a newspaper clipping Mr. Perry found in the archives…

“Initiated as a weekend dance (by the Lions club) for teenagers, the Sateen drew kids from all over the city.  After a live band replaced the record player and the site was moved from Rolph Road school to Leaside High, Sateen grew to almost 1,000 members.”