Following settlement in the Waterdown area, there were no schools for the majority of the population, as education for “the masses” was as yet unknown. Every able-bodied young person was needed to assist with providing food and shelter – so there was no place for schooling.
The first parliamentary legislation dealing with elementary education in Upper Canada was passed in 1816, approximately a year after Waterdown’s first school, housed in a log building at the corner of Mill and Dundas streets was opened. It was originally a private school for the children of Col. Alexander Brown, but appears to have gradually evolved into a village school, as George D. Griffin, a member of one of the early village families, recorded in his recollections of Waterdown before the turn of the century: “In 1815 there was a log school house on the southwest corner of Mill and Dundas. The teacher was Miss Mary Hopkins…The school was not kept up constantly and for part of the time Mr. Brown sent his children to Hannahsville.”
Schooling was only available to families that could afford to pay the small weekly or monthly fee that the teacher received for each child that was taught. Often, the salary was so small, the teacher boarded around – a week with one family and a week with another – which helped compensate for the poor wages. Few early settlers could afford this luxury and even fewer could afford a private education for their children.
George Griffin also recalled the next school that was built in the village, as by about 1824 the log schoolhouse had been demolished and replaced by Ebenezer Griffin’s hotel.
The new school seems to have been a lively place, and the children of Waterdown in the 1830s were no different than the children of today, ever ready to play a trick or outwit a teacher. In an article printed in The Waterdown Review on March 6, 1924, Mr. Patton of Carlisle recalled an incident that had occurred about 90 years earlier when on the last afternoon of the fall term, the students locked the teacher out of the classroom, in hopes of avoiding lessons. The teacher, however, climbed onto the roof, placed a small board over the chimney – there being a stove in the classroom – and waited until smoke filled the classroom and the pupils were forced to open the door.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 19 May 2011.