Behind the fluorescent lights and billboards lies a silent testament to the area’s historical contribution to Toronto’s growth and development. In the heart of the Ryerson campus is what is left of the Toronto Normal and Model School.
Credits: Alan L Brown – October 2007, http://www.torontohistory.org/Pages_STU/Toronto_Normal_and_Model_School.html
The Normal School was the brainchild of Egerton Ryerson, Superintendant of Upper Canada from 1844 to 1876. A lifelong advocate of the importance of education, he sought to make improvements to the existent system. Amongst the many changes he implemented was the establishment of the Normal School for Upper Canada in 1847 – this would come to be known as the Toronto Normal and Model School after 1875. The Normal School was designated for teacher training, while the Model School served as the practical setting where student teachers put their skills to use.
The Normal School was first located at King and Simcoe Streets in the Old Government House, and remained there until 1849, when Canadian Parliament made Toronto its temporary headquarters and required the use of the building after the government buildings in Montreal were set on fire following the Rebellion Losses Bill. Temperance Hall, located on the south side of Temperance Street between Yonge and Bay Streets, became the makeshift home of the Normal School for the next three years. It was during this time that educational leaders were making plans to create a new and more importantly, permanent location for the school.
In 1850, the Council of Public Instruction for Upper Canada secured a site for the future home of the Normal School for the price of £4,500, which was considered to be ‘very cheap.’ Located between Church, Gerrard, Victoria, and Gould Streets, contractors James Metcalfe, Duncan Forbes, and Alexander Wilson were commissioned to build the new school ‘with the best description of material of all kinds. The timber to be free from all large Knots, Shakes, sap, and other imperfections’ on the seven-acre lot. On November 24, 1852, the Normal and Model Schools for Upper Canada opened its doors to the public.
The Normal School, also known as St. James Square, was more than a school: It was the first home to many of Toronto’s modern cultural institutions. In addition to the traditional learning facility and the government administration of education, the Normal School had two rooms designated as a museum and an art gallery.
However, by the late 1860s, it was discovered that there existed problems with the school’s infrastructure, including leaky roofs and rotting floors. From 1867 to 1904, the total expenditures spent on the maintenance of the school amounted to $226,704. However, such financial investment went to good use: Additions to the existent buildings allowed parts of the Normal School to be home to other groups and institutions such as the Ontario School of Art and Design (later known as OCAD) and the Ontario Historical Society.
By the time of the Second World War, the provincial government needed a training centre for troops that were to be a part of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and St. James Square became the headquarters for this initiative. As a result, the school was relocated temporarily to Earl Kitchener Public School on Pape Avenue in East York for the duration of the war. Although the school is no longer in existence, the memory of the Normal School is still felt in the area.
Credits: Alan L Brown – September 2007, http://www.torontohistory.org/Pages_DEF/Earl_Kitchener_Public_School.html
After World War II, the Normal School continued to use the site at Pape Avenue, while the St. James Square site became home to the Toronto Training and Re-establishment Institute for men and women who had served in the war. Such an initiative was created in an effort to ensure that they ‘are equipped, through various courses, to earn a living in the commercial, industrial, or professional world.’ In 1948, it was renamed Ryerson Institute of Technology in honour of Egerton Ryerson, and provided post-secondary education for those who wished to pursue technical studies. Nearly 20 years later in 1964, it was renamed Ryerson Polytechnical Institution, and this gave rise to what would eventually become the present-day Ryerson University.
Credits: Alan L Brown – March 2004, http://www.torontohistory.org/Pages_STU/Toronto_Normal_School.html
Given the rate at which Ryerson was growing, there was the need for expansion to keep up with the demand of the student population. Though it was hoped that St. James Square would be kept in tact, it was discovered to be impossible. Between 1954 and 1963, St. James Square was demolished to give way to Kerr Hall.
So what became of the Normal School after its tenure at St. James Square? For one thing, it became known as the Toronto Teachers’ College (TTC) after all normal schools in the province were renamed teachers’ colleges in 1953. After it outgrew the Pape location, the TTC moved into another location in East York at Carlaw and Mortimer Avenues in 1955. It then became affiliated with the new Ontario Teacher Education College (OTEC) in 1974, and for the first time it was given the authority to grant degrees. Eventually, the OTEC merged with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education, which eventually became the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Though seemingly impossible to see, it’s quite evident that the past is forever present in the future. The plaques and structures that remain are friendly ghosts of the past, reminding us of the contributions that others have made, and show that even though the physical surroundings may change, it really isn’t all about the physical – it’s about the meanings we ascribe to places and spaces that make them what they are.