About The Schoolhouse
1852 to 1959 - A typical rural school
The Old Britannia Schoolhouse, formerly known as the School Section # 12 (S.S.#12) Toronto Township school, was built as a Common School in 1852. It replaced an earlier wooden school built in the 1830's which had fallen into poor repair.
According to former student Ben Madill the original land area for School Section #12 consisted of about twenty-five hundred acres, or an area about two and a half miles square. As an example, the area surrounded by Hurontario Street, Eglinton Avenue, McLaughlin Road and Britannia Road consists of one thousand acres. S.S.#12 was, therefore, about two and one-half times this area. All school age children within its boundaries would have attended S.S.#12.
This school has an unusual history. It is situated on the north east corner of a 200 acre lot of land now known as the Britannia School Farm. As early as 1819 this parcel of land was appropriated by Order in Council for the use of a schoolmaster. In 1833 the land was granted by the Crown (King William IV of England) to be held in trust under the supervision of Col. William Thompson, Rev. James McGrath, and Mr. Joseph Gardner Sr. The Trust was for the support and maintenance of a school and for the advancement of education in Toronto Township. The rent from this School Reserve was used over the years to support the S.S.#12 school and, at one time, a teacher's house. This school, therefore, was probably better off than many schools of its time. Over the years the trusteeship of this property has passed along to the present Peel District School Board.
In 1871 Common schools were designated "Public Schools". Fees were abolished and attendance was made compulsory for at least four months a year for children aged 7 to 12 years. At that time, however, the schools were usually open for 11 ½ months and many children attended for more than four months. In 1919 the age for compulsory attendance was raised to 16 years with certain exceptions.
In 1885 the S.S.#12 school register listed 62 pupils on the roll. Over the years the number of children attending varied according to the number of children in the school section. In 1959, after being attended by several generations and bearing witness to many changes, the Britannia School closed. Most of the students were then taken by bus to a new multi-room school in Meadowvale Village. A few went to the Derry West School and the Cooksville School. By the late 1960's very few one-room schools remained operational in Ontario.
1959 to 1982 - Decline and Restoration
After the S.S.#12 school closed in 1959 it stood empty and deteriorated badly. Then in 1971 the Britannia Restoration Club, an organization of students and teachers at Streetsville Secondary School, received permission from the Peel Board of Education to restore The Britannia Schoolhouse. It was to be a museum where students could learn about schooling of the past. Considerable work and fund raising was done by this group. It was realized, however, that the project was beyond the means of this club. The Peel Board of Education took over and completed the restoration in 1982.
Instead of a museum, the schoolhouse was restored to be a "living history" site where elementary and secondary classes from the Peel Board of Education could visit for a day and participate in lessons of "long ago" taught by a schoolmaster or schoolmistress. In this way the students' regular classroom studies could be enriched.
In choosing the furnishings and artifacts for the restoration it was decided not to portray one particular decade or generation but to reflect the classroom's appearance over its life span. That is, there are both double and single desks and objects from over the years.
1982 to Today - Living History
The first schoolmaster of the restored Old Britannia Schoolhouse was James C. Potter, Esq. who had attended and taught in a one-room schoolhouse and had taught for many years in secondary schools. Mr. Potter, who developed the original schoolhouse programme, followed the traditions set by many former teachers of S.S.#12 and has been succeeded by several dedicated schoolmasters and schoolmistresses.
The development of an outstanding programme for students and the acquisition of furnishings and artifacts for the classroom must be credited to the vision, creativity, contacts and hard work of Schoolmaster Potter and Hugh McPherson, Principal of the Field Study Centres. The input of Ben Madill and other former S.S.#12 pupils also helped immensely in bringing the old schoolhouse back to life. The Old Britannia Schoolhouse programme became an inspiration and the model for several other schoolhouse programmes in Ontario.
Until June 1993 the schoolhouse programme was completely funded by the Peel Board of Education and operated under the Field Study Centres. Mr. Potter and the succeeding schoolmistresses and schoolmasters were teachers with the Peel Board of Education. Due to budget restraints the schoolhouse was closed during the 1993-94 school year. In September 1994 a programme was re-implemented on a more cost recovery basis.
Funds for the programme are now raised in part through user fees, community partnerships and the volunteer initiatives of the Friends of the Schoolhouse. Each day a class of Peel students experiences the magic of travelling back in time for a day of lessons taught by the facilitator who plays the role of schoolmaster or schoolmistress. From September 1994 until June 30, 2004, the programme was operated by the Centre for Education and Training Branch of the Peel District School Board. Since that time it has been operated by the Continuing Education and Alternative Programs Department of the Peel District School Board.
In 2002 The Old Britannia Schoolhouse turned 150. While many changes have occurred over the years the present schoolhouse is in excellent repair. The Old Britannia Schoolhouse, its artifacts and programmes are an important part of the educational landscape of Peel and valuable assets in the Peel heritage community.