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A Memorial to Learning: Poplar Bank Public School (1885)

By now, we hope that everyone has gotten settled into school as the end of September approaches. Whether you are going to the same school or entering a new one, we know that this year is going to be a great one for learners in East Gwillimbury! Today’s local history segment is all about a school which no longer exists but served both the communities of East Gwillimbury and King Township (where it was known as a union school).

This school was known as S.S. no 1, or Poplar Bank School; it used to be located on the corner of Yonge Street and Poplar Bank Sideroad. The first school on this property was built in 1802, built of logs and set close to the front of the lot on Yonge Street. By 1862, the old log school was torn down and a new wooden building, freshly painted in white, was erected in its place. Then a third school was built at the same location in 1885. The History of Toronto and County of York (1885) notes that the building was also a frame structure and that “the average attendance from East Gwillimbury is 20, from the part of King therewith united, 5. The teacher is Robert Irwin Terry.”[1] The first trustees of the school were Reuben Powell, Stephen Howard and Ebenezer Lewis.

The bricks that were used to build the third school cost $7.00 per thousand bricks. Marion Robinson, who was a teacher employed there from 1865 to 1870, was paid $230.00 per year. By 1907, the Trustees had agreed that it was a good idea to install a library in the school, and a bookcase in which to keep the books. The following year, the school board had hired a caretaker, whose salary was $20 per year, and the teacher’s salary was increased to $500.00 per year.

There was a Sunday/Sabbath school held at the school from 1911 – 1916 and likely continued up until 1935. During the Second World War, Red Cross courses were carried out using the school as a base from 1940 to 1941. Electricity was finally installed in the building in 1944, and a few years later in 1947, the physical bell tower was removed, and an electric bell system was put in its place.

Figure 1: Photo of Poplar Bank School, circa early 1960's.

Given low enrolment in the 1960’s, the school finally was closed on June 29th, 1965. It became a victim of “demolition by neglect” as it was deemed dangerous have anyone occupy it and unsafe to move. Most of the interior was vandalized or had simply deteriorated over the years. Finally, on September 1st, 1998, the building was torn down by workmen from the Town of Newmarket. There is a cairn memorializing the old Poplar Bank school, located on the corner of Yonge Street and Bonshaw Avenue.

Do you have any memories of attending Poplar Bank School? Please let us know in the comments section below!

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