Very few people walking by Simcoe Street Public School today would realize that it is the site of such a long and storied history. Some say that it is the earliest documented school in present day Niagara Falls. It also has the claim to fame of being the oldest continuously operated public school in the former Niagara South Board of Education.
One year after the Town of Clifton came into being, it was clear that a new and larger school was needed for the growing town. In January of 1857, a school board was elected with Clifton mayor Gilbert McMicken acting as chairman. The board selected and purchased an acre of land from Hermanus (known to many as Monty) Crysler. The land was located on the newly opened Simcoe Street. Both the street and the school were named in honour of Lt. Colonel John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in 1792.
Construction began almost immediately on a modest two storey red brick building at a cost of $3,431.35. The lower floor was to be used for the classroom and the upper floor was to be used as the living quarters for the teacher. The annual rent of $60 was to be paid by the teacher, even if the teacher decided to live elsewhere!
Four months later, the new school officially opened on November 17th, 1857 when teacher-principal Charles F. Secord marched the students from the school house on Victoria Avenue to their new school. Although 109 boys and 97 girls were enrolled at the school, the average daily attendance was 40. As enrolment increased over the years, additions of two rooms each were built in 1874, 1886, 1889, 1895 and 1902 for a total of twelve rooms.
In 1957, the school held a centennial celebration. Niagara Falls Board of Education chairman Horace C. Logan was asked to speak about his time as a student at the school in the early 1900s. He remembers the students referring to the school principal as “Baldy” Harrop and there was also a rhyme that the children would chant when Mr. Harrop was out of earshot. There were also two playgrounds at the school, one for the girls and one for the boys. A high board fence separated the areas and the boys were known to climb and peek over the fence from time to time.
In 1970, a new school was built on the playground beside the original school structure. Once the new building was complete, the older structure was demolished to make way for the new playground area. Today, Simcoe Street Public school continues to add to the 161 years of solid educational traditions.
Cathy Roy is the Local History Librarian.
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