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Back to School: The Holt Schoolhouse

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

We can’t believe that it’s the start of another school year! We hope that everyone is excited to finally return to in-person learning within York Region. As a tribute to the new school year, today’s local history highlight is going to discuss the rationale for education in the area, and to show you an historic schoolhouse which still exists: the Holt Schoolhouse!

When the government of Ontario adopted the policy of free and universal education in 1871, one-room schoolhouses started to be built all over Ontario, both in rural and urban centres. Each municipality was required to have schools within easy traveling distance; as such, municipalities were divided into school sections. A book written in 1896 discussing the school system in Ontario states that “no section shall be formed…which shall be more than three miles in a direct line from the schoolhouse”. Each of these school sections would be run by a board of trustees, and they were responsible for hiring teachers to educate the students. All grades were taught in these schools, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 8, delivered by one teacher teaching a variety of different subjects.

The school that is located in Holt was known as S.S. no. 6, and was formerly called the Eastville School. It was originally built in the 1830’s on the Mount Albert Road and the Concession 7 intersection (which is now McCowan Road). It was in use until the 1860’s when another school was built on the east half of lot 13, concession 6; the front of the school looked out onto concession 7.

1878 York County Atlas zoomed in on Holt

Figure 1: Zoomed in view of the previous location of the Holt school. From the 1878 York County Atlas.

In 1885, Robinson et al reported in the History of Toronto and County of York that the school on the east end of lot 13, concession 7 “is an old frame building, enlarged to meet legal requirements, not well furnished according to later ideas, but fairly comfortable. The teacher is George Welsh [and] the attendance averages 30”. [1] Some of the teachers at that school were George Turner, William Turner, George Arnold, Minnie Leek (who was also the librarian at the Mount Albert Library), Mr. Maclean, Miss Pilkey, Miss Terry, and Miss Westley. These teachers would have to be qualified on all subjects, since they would have to teach children from the age of 5 to 14 all in a single room.

In the early 1900’s, the old school was torn down and a new school needed to be built, but the residents of Holt had differing opinions as to where it should be located. Some people wanted to put the building on the north part of the seventh concession, others felt that it should be located on the south. Finally, it was decided that the school should fall somewhere between these locations. A local man named Wesley Woodcock built the school on the 7th concession, lot 11 in 1907. The cost of the new school was about $2000 (which is about $58,000 in today’s money) and the bricks had to be transported by team from Sunderland. It opened in 1908, where it functioned as a school for many years.

Black and white photo of the Holt School

Figure 2: The Holt school, built in 1907. Photo from Gladys Rolling's East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century (1967).

The school remains in Holt today, but it has since been converted to a private residence. If you find yourself driving along McCowan Road, be sure to look out for this beautiful old building!


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