Sixteen | School Days

When it comes to projects like this one, there is always an anchor subject, a building or a place that I want to capture on silver in large format in case something happens to that building. A slice of time preserved in some level of permanence. My project on Milton was the old P.L. Robertson plant, and for Oakville, it is the Oakville High School.

Sixteen | School Days
Graflex Crown Graphic – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 – Arista EDU.Ultra 400 @ ASA-200 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+47) 7:30 @ 20C

The education system in Upper Canada followed the patterns of the English education system. But that should not be a surprise. If you grew up reading stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder or visited a living history museum, often a showpiece is a former one-room schoolhouse. Education and school attendance were not always mandatory, and often children would attend semi-regularly when not working on the family farm. Most schooling was done on Sundays when only a little work was done. Children would learn their trade from their parents to take over the farm or business. Some were lucky to be apprenticed to skilled tradesmen to learn skills. Only the children of the wealthy elite received any form of regular and formal education. These one-room schoolhouses that offered a formal education were known as common schools; here, children learned how to read, write, basic mathematics, geography and some history. Funding for these schools came from the Provincial parliament and taught the most number of children. Although for the elite, the next step was a grammar school. The grammar school offered higher education, mainly for those hoping to attend college or university. There were also private grammar schools, like Upper Canada College, for those who could afford to send their children. William Chisholm was a big promoter of education, and in 1836 a Common School was opened in Oakville at the corner of Navy and Colborne (Lakeshore). This was expanded to meet demands in 1850. Edgerton Ryerson would champion a series of educational reforms in 1853 that moved the funding of schools to a property tax. And Oakville used the funding to build a grammar school in 1854 next to the Common School. While separate, the term Union School was used to describe the two schools. Further reforms in 1871 made attendance in common schools for children aged 8 to 14. These reforms also renamed common school to elementary school and grammar school to high school. But by the 20th century, the union school was starting to show its age, and new schools were needed with the population on the rise. With plans to expand north of the original town site, the Brantwood Survey included new elementary and high school plots. Architect Alfred Chapman designed a multi-story high school, which opened to students in 1908. A smaller elementary school would be located a street behind the new Oakville High School. The students became active community members, with students and staff fighting during the Great War on both the western and home fronts. When the Oakville School and Trafalgar School districts merged in 1946, the school was renamed Oakville-Trafalgar High School. But the post-war population boom, combined with mandatory high school attendance in 1954, pushed the old school to its limit and quickly, additions were tacked onto the original building. But it also turned the school into a warren of hallways and many dead ends. By the 1980s, the need for a new high school became evident. The new Oakville Trafalgar High School opened for students in 1992. While the original 1908 school had protected status, the additions were not and were quickly torn down. They were leaving the original building scared. And while the Brantwood Elementry school saw similar expansions, it is now being converted into condos. The 1908 school is still left with an uncertain future. The Oakville Galleries proposed conversion into a new gallery space for their collection, but funding was never secured. So it still stands, waiting for what could come next.

I’ll admit I did try to get into the school many years ago, but the building is well-secured and challenging to navigate the interior. But to get this shot, I did have to trespass technically. Sure it was hopping a fence, but trespassing all the same. Setting up under a tree at the far corner, I used my 125mm lens and some front rise, with the sun in the correct position and metered against the shadows at the top right and the highlights at the bottom left, averaging the exposure. And I’m happy with both composition and exposure on this one.

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