Posted by: Rae MacDonald
Congratulations to Hopewell Avenue School on its 75th anniversary.
The area that is now Ottawa South was largely farmers’ fields when the first school was formed, probably between 1830 and 1840. Thirty-six children 5 to 16 years old were reported in the neighbourhood. Their log school was probably typical for the period – one room with few windows and a small door. A large wood stove would have sat in a prominent location. Seating was probably nothing more than log boards with legs at each end. Textbooks were scarce, and quill pens would have been used for written work. Attendance was voluntary. Each family with children attending had to contribute an amount for each child to a common fund. Widows with children were exempt from fees, and families with more than three children were not required to pay additional amounts. Later on, the children of poor parents attended for free.
After the first bridge over the canal at Bank St. was built in 1866, the character of the community became less rural and more suburban. The old log school became inadequate, and the local trustees decided to build a new brick building which can be seen on the map of Carleton County published in 1879.
The new brick structure had semi-circular arched windows and doors. Ruff-coloured brick was used at the corners and gave the impression of stone. Over the door was the motto, “Dum Spiro, Spero” “While I breathe, I hope.” A photograph taken in 1880 shows the students in front of the picket fence along Bank St. Large maple trees provided shade.
There were no drinking fountains, indoor toilets, or electric lights at that time. The two small classrooms were heated by stoves connected to long pipes running to the brick chimneys. One room housed the infant and junior class; the other accommodated the “second reader to entrance” class.
By 1901, a new wing was constructed to make room for the growing student body. Some former residents recall the popular pastime of riding the swing bridge over the canal much to the consternation of its operator. The big event of the year for many children was the Ottawa Exhibition in the Agricultural Park (Lansdowne).
In 1907, Ottawa South officially became part of the City of Ottawa, though the neighbourhood only boasted two macadamized roads, Bank and Riverdale. The other streets were dirt covered with gravel. Nonetheless, the school Building Committee decided to proceed with an 8-room fireproof brick building at an estimated cost of $55,000.
The population continued to outgrow the school. Lots were purchased directly opposite the school property between Glen and Hopewell Avenues for playgrounds. Four lots were acquired on Sunnyside Avenue at the rear of the school for an addition. Further plans were approved in January 1914 for a 12-room addition with provision for manual training and domestic science rooms in the basement.
In 1931, an additional lot was expropriated on Sunnyside, and construction began on a third storey of 11 classrooms and an extension for an Assembly Hall with manual training rooms beneath. By 1933, there were 1289 pupils enrolled at Hopewell Avenue School.
Of course, the record of the land and bricks is in some ways no record at all. It omits the generations of students and teachers and all the human anecdote that attaches to them. On the occasion of the school’s 40th anniversary, one story was recalled by Miss Bertha Tait who had been a teacher at Hopewell since 1911. Recalling epidemics of the past, Miss Tait described children standing in classrooms “drying arms by the windows as they did not dare to touch their newly vaccinated arms. Smallpox raged through the city more than once. I remember one infuriated parent blaming us for having her son vaccinated against her wishes, and, on inquiry, the lad wailed out, ‘I didn’t want to miss anything so I went down with the others.”‘
I am indebted for the information in this column to the people who have put together the Hopewell Avenue 75th Anniversary Yearbook, 1984-85. A limited number of the yearbooks will soon be for sale at $7. Hopewell now has a school archives and would appreciate receiving any records of the school, either on loan or as a gift. Anniversary festivities will take place from the 22nd to the 25th of May.
Hopewell School circa 1911
Photo Credit: William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-009189
Originally published in the May 1985 OSCAR.