Author: Pat Bowley

Publication Date: 2002

Edited: 2021



Historic Guelph V41P24

Figure 1: Paisley Block School, circa 1850s. (Leo Johnson, History of Guelph, 133).


How do communities decide when and where to build a school? And how do they name them? In 19th-century Guelph, following Egerton Ryerson's Education Act which compelled all boys and girls to attend school to age 12 at public expense, a precedent was set. Schools were built in neighbourhoods, to serve nearby families and their school-age children. As the city grew, more schools were built in new neighbourhoods. By 1927, Guelph boasted five public schools: Central and Alexandra, Tytler, Victory, Torrance, and Victoria. Victoria and Alexandra no longer exist, and Central was demolished and rebuilt on the same site in 1969. Of the remaining three, Torrance has been sold for private development, and the future of Tytler and Victory is in question. Neighbourhood schools are not as important in the grand scheme of education in Guelph as they were one hundred years ago.


As early as 1843, Guelph had three schools: a District Grammar School and two Common Schools. By 1847, four more Common Schools and a private classical school had opened.1 Grammar schools, regulated by the Grammar School Act of 1807, taught all grades to boys only in preparation for university entrance and a profession. Private schools catered to the educational needs of girls in well-to-do families whose brothers attended grammar schools. Poorer folk sent their offspring to one of the Common Schools (established under the Common Schools Act, 1816) which offered an applied or vocational training. Although many more students attended Common Schools, government financial support was considerably less.2


During these early years, school attendance was chronically low. Many of the buildings were little more than stables or sheds (Figure 1). They were overcrowded, cold, poorly lit, with few supplies. In 1859, the Grammar and Common School Boards united; ln 1874, by an Act of Parliament, the name 'Board of Education' was decreed.3 From then on, trustees (two per ward) requisitioned funds from Town Council and built schools to ensure that each student received an adequate modern education.


Historic Guelph V41P26

Figure 2: Central School; Senior Girls school is visible to the right. (Leo Johnson, History of Guelph, 241).


When Guelph became established as a prosperous and growing city, it was divided into six wards. From the south-west boundary and going in a clockwise direction, they were named St. James', St. Andrew's, St. David's, St. John's, St. George's, and St. Patrick's.4 As the earliest schools were built, they were often named for the ward in which they were located. It was fashionable, however, to locate a Central School in a central location within a town.5 Accordingly, a group of prominent Guelph citizens, having acquired building lots at the intersection of Dublin and Commercial Streets in 1877, organized and directed the construction of the new Central School. It was a showpiece (Figure 2). The school, constructed of Guelph stone with basement, main and upper storeys, replaced the five-room structure at the corner of Essex and Gordon Streets, which was, "A rude stone building, about 16 x 30, capable of accommodating 40 scholars, such as would now be used for the stabling of horses or cattle..."6 A notebook of school information, recorded between 1874 and 1918, listed St. Patrick's, St. George's, St. John's and St. James' Schools, as well as Central, Alexandra, King Edward (formerly known as the West Ward School) and Victoria (named for the Queen).Central was a very progressive school. It was the first in Ontario and possibly in Canada to offer Physical Training. In the drill hall (comparable to a modern gymnasium), separate classes of boys and girls learned marching, club swinging, and other popular exercises. The teachers were well qualified and well paid. The caretaker lived in a small apartment in the basement. In 1886, 19 classes were taught in Central and the adjoining Alexandra Schools: two Senior Fourth and two Junior Fourth Classes; four Senior third and six Junior Third classes; and one Intermediate Fourth Class. The last was the only mixed class boys and girls together. In all the others, boys were taught by men, while girls were taught by 'ladies.' The number of teachers with relatively small classes was possible because Central was large and boasted many classrooms, the first in, "A splendid class of ... commodious buildings that will be the last word in school architecture, and equipped in a manner befitting the times and the needs of the broad and liberal education provided by the Province."8 It was fitting indeed that two of the newest schools in Guelph, following the construction of Central and the Guelph Collegiate Institute, were eventually named after men who had spent many years working with the public education system in Guelph: Reverend Robert Torrance and William Tytler.


Historic Guelph V41P27

Figure 3: The new Torrance School, about 1913. (R.A.M. Stewart, A Picture History of Guelph, VoI. II, 60).


Torrance School, at 157 Waterloo Ave, opened in 1910-11 (Figure 3). Although this location seems close to downtown today, in 1910 it was approaching the perimeter of Guelph. School buses did not exist and there was a growing residential area around Edinburgh, Paisley, and Waterloo Ave.9 In keeping with tradition, it was called East Ward. School, (see note 7) then St. James School, and was finally renamed Torrance School in honour of Reverend Robert Torrance. Rev. Torrance was William Tytler's predecessor as Inspector and Secretary of the Board (1857-1892), and although he was not a classroom teacher, he made his mark on education in Guelph in other equally important ways. He was born in Ireland in 1827, studied at Belfast and Edinburgh, and became a Presbyterian minister in 1845. He immediately emigrated to Canada to a church in Toronto, but instead took up missionary work, ministering on horseback through Westem Ontario between Toronto and Goderich. In 1846, he settled in Guelph and served the First Presbyterian Church at the comer of Cambridge and Dublin Streets until he retired in 1882. At that time there were four Presbyterian churches in the city: St. Andrews, Knox, Chalmers, and First Presbyterian. The latter, however, was dismantled and the property sold in 1883, leaving three Presbyterian congregations. Through those difficult years, Rev. Torrance also served as Secretary of the united congregation (Presbytery) of Knox and Chalmers. In 1898, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church in Canada.10


Historic Guelph V41P28

Figure 4: Rev. Robert Torrance. (R.A.M. Stewart, A Picture History of Guelph. VoI. II, 80).


Rev. Robert Torrance was intensely interested in public education. Before the Common and Grammar School Boards were united in 1859, school events, including examinations, were also important social occasions. At one such examination, Rev. Torrance questioned the students, after which they were treated to lunch and a concert. He was also part of a free public educational program sponsored by the Mechanics' Institute. In the winter of 1848, he lectured on, "The utility of knowledge in general - The special importance of religious knowledge." The series of five lectures were planned for its general social value as a source of information for those who wished to augment their education. Rev. Torrance was one of the executive members of the new Mechanics' Institute in 1850; he served as well on the Finance, Lecture and Library Committees.11


Rev. Torrance retired from church work in 1882 and devoted himself exclusively to the responsibilities of Public School Inspector and Secretary of the Board of Education. During his tenure, he, "Was available for the arduous duties of directing the studies along proper channels." He visited schools, attended meetings, and wrote reports.12 He continued in these positions for ten more years until 1892, when he retired again. He died in 1908 at age 86. His namesake, Torrance School, opened two years later.


Historic Guelph V41P29

Figure 5: Tytler School. (The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 29, 1927, 55).


Tytler School was built in 1908, although it was originally called St. Patrick's because it was located in St. Patrick's Ward, at 131 Ontario Street. In a state of affairs that may have confused some city residents, and definitely confounded this researcher, St. Patrick's separate school was also originally located on Ontario Street, in a private house, but its name was changed to Sacred Heart School when it was moved to Huron Street (now Metcalfe).13 On February 14, 1922, St. Patrick's School was officially renamed Tytler School, in honour of William Tytler (Figure 5).14 These two schools served the children of families who lived in St Patrick's Ward, in the vicinities of Neeve, Surrey, Huskisson and York Rd. Many manufacturers set up shop here, including Gilson Manufacturing, Northern Rubber, Guelph Casket Works and several textile and carpet mills.15


Historic Guelph V41P30

Figure 6: William Tytler, Archival and Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph.


William Tytler spent almost his entire professional life in Wellington County. He was born near Elora in 1842 and was educated at the Elora Grammar School and the University of Toronto. He graduated in 1862 with a gold medal for Natural Science, and immediately became a teacher, being employed as headmaster of the Carleton Place Grammar School (1863-1864), Smith's Falls Grammar School (1865-1868), and St. Mary's High School (1869-1874). He then moved to Guelph to become headmaster of the Guelph High School and public schools. Mr. Tytler was the first principal when the high school became the Guelph Collegiate Institute (GCI) and was a teaching principal for many years. In 1892 (following the retirement of Rev. Robert Torrance) he was appointed Inspector of all city public schools and Secretary of the Board of Education, holding these positions for many years.16


William Tytler was active in other aspects of education besides the classroom. Like Rev. Torrance, his predecessor, he was a Presbyterian; Presbyterians were noted for being strong proponents of good education in the township and county. Along with Methodists, they were particularly active in promoting counion schools, while Anglicans advocated for the more exclusive grammar schools. When he moved to Guelph, Mr. Tytler became active in the Farmers' and Mechanics, Institute, an adult education, and self-improvement society for men. He served a term as Director of the organization.17 He also sat on the Guelph Library Board of Management as a representative of the Board of Education. In 1882, the Province of Ontario had passed the Free Libraries Act. Guelph was the first community in Ontario to take advantage of its provisions, and a free library on leased premises was established in 1883. The Board of Management co-operated with the Mechanics' Institute (as it was by then called), since they had maintained a reading library for many years.


It is nonetheless only fair to ask if such an important official - teacher, Inspector, Board member - was well-liked by the students. In The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser special edition of July 20, 1917 (celebrating 50 years as a daily newspaper), William Tytler was given much of the credit for the splendid record of Guelph schools and scholars.


"He it was (as Principal of GCI and later school Inspector) who departed from formal routine. He it was who found the latent possibilities of his pupils and fired their ambitions to know and master new fields of thought. That his methods were successful is attested by the hundreds of business and professional men throughout Canada and the United States who give him credit for starting him aright on the royal road to learning."


These men remain anonymous; however, on April 15, 1924, at age 82, he resigned as Secretary of the Guelph Board of Education, and on May 6 of that year, he was presented with a portrait in oil of himself by his former students.18 They must have held him in very high esteem.


Historic Guelph V41P32

Figure 7: Weekly report card, Tytler School, Alfred Couling, 1928. (Archival and Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph).


Thus, at the beginning of World War I, Guelph had seven ward public schools (at least one in each ward), the Central School, three separate schools, one Collegiate Institute, Loretto Academy, and the Macdonald Consolidated School: an impressive assemblage for a city of approximately 15,000. There had been, however, a 32 percent increase in population since 1901.19 Guelph was also developing industrially, and the only way to grow was outward from the city centre. According to the 1908 Special Industrial Souvenir Number of the Guelph Daily Mercury, most business establishments were still within a stone's throw of the original market square, but others were moving steadily out Woolwich St., Waterloo Ave., Eramosa Rd., York Rd., and even as far as Edinburgh and Paisley.20 Guelph business and industry employed many hands, and the children of these workers attended neighbourhood ward or separate schools.


The Board of Education, still under the guidance of Public School Inspector and Board Secretary William Tytler acted in what it believed to be the best interests of its staff and students. In 1913, electric lighting was installed in all schools, "So that a safe and convenient light is provided for the caretaker instead of the defective or dangerous lamp or lantern which had formerly to be used." Through 1977, the School Board continued to supply all students with exercise and writing books, pens, and pencils free of charge. Subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic, composition, literature, geography, history, art, music, drill, and calisthenics.21 (Inspector Tytler had his own opinion of art and music instruction: "It will never succeed."22) Parents kept up with their child's progress with a weekly report card (Figure 7).


Historic Guelph Picture Day V41P33

Figure 8: 'Picture Day' at Victory School, 1919-1920. (The Guelph Mercury, June 10, 1987).


 When World War I finally ended, Guelph needed another new school, and the Board of Education built Victory School tn 1919-1920, named in honour of the Allied victory in Europe. It was located at 135 Exhibition St., next to the Exhibition Grounds, to serve the growing population in St David's Ward. Victory School had separate boys' and girls' entrances and a lawn surrounding the building. It also had ten rooms. Only 12 years earlier, Tytler had started as a four-room building. Less than a century before that, many local schools were one-room stables (see Figure 1). The philosophy and the infrastructure of education had changed dramatically in a hundred years, but the schools still served a neighbourhood community. Early photographs (Figures 8, 9 and 10) show the serious faces of students who were proud to represent their schools. And even when a whole lifetime had passed, those same youngsters, now oldsters, fondly recalled their days at Tytler, Torrance and Victory.23


Historic Guelph Crossing Gaurd Patrol V41P33

Figure 9: Victory School's crossing guard patrol, best in the city, 1945. (The Guelph Tribune, September 20, 1995).


There is one name which draws three of these schools together in history. Teachers came and went in the city. Some moved away; illness and death claimed others. World War I wrought terrible havoc on the cohort of young men who were teachers. Through it all, Clarence 'Daddy' Long was principal of all three: first Tytler, then Torrance (as first principal), then as first principal of Victory. Whatever happens to public schools in Guelph, names like these - Torrance, Tytler, Victory, and Long, and the neighbourhoods they served - should never be forgotten.


Historic Guelph V41P33

Figure 10: Torrance School's hockey team, 1935. Back row left to right: R. Caluert, D. Moffitt, H. Worton, B. Worton, G. Worton. Front row, left to right: L. Dyson, D Norrish, I. Lacy, K. McLean, C. McGurn. (The Guelph Mercury, April 27, 1988).




  1. The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 20, 1917, 7.
  2. Leo Johnson, History of Guelph, 129-138.
  3. The Guelph Evening Mercury and Advertiser, July 20, 1927, 55.
  4. Map of the City of Guelph, 1879.
  5. Early reports of the Board of Education (following the amalgamation of the Grammar and Common School Boards to a single Central Board). Recommending the building of a Central School in the heart of town, because 'Galt and Berlin not to speak of other towns, have set an example which Guelph might imitate'. Furthermore, the central school system tended to, "Greater economy, greater efficiency, and better instruction..." Board of Education Reports of March 1856 and April 1857, cited in Mercury, July 20, 1927, 56.
  6. Johnson, 242-244; Mercury, July 20, 1917, 7.
  7. Anonymous. Handwritten Notebook on Information on Various Guelph Schools, 1874-1918. No page numbers.
  8. Mercury, July 20, 1917, 7 .
  9. Map of the City of Guelph, 1908.
  10. Johnson, 226-227; Mercury, July 20, 1927, 50-51.
  11. Johnson, 135, 142-143.
  12. Mercury, JuIy 20, 1917, 7; Report by the Inspector of the Public Schools. Town of Guelph. For the Year 1876. Robert Torrance, PSI, Guelph. Guelph, 8th February, 1877.
  13. John W. Keleher, The Sacred Heart Parish of the Ward, 16-19.
  14. Guelph Directory, 1922, cited in R.A.M. Stewart, A Picture History of Guelph, Vol. II, 212.
  15. Pat Bowley, 'The Italian Community in St. Patrick's Ward, Guelph, Ontario, 1900-1939: Development of a "Chiaroscuro"', 60.
  16. Wellington County Atlas, cited in Stewart, 77; Mercury, JuIy 20, 1917, 7; Mercury, July 20, 1927, 56.
  17. Johnson, 111, 144-145.
  18. Guelph Directory, 1924, cited in Stewart, 213; Mercury, July 20, 1917, 7.
  19. Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 1901-1996, cited in Matheson and Anderson, 230.
  20. Special Industrial Souvenir Number of Guelph Daily Mercury, 1908.
  21. Anonymous. Handwritten Notebook on Information on Various Guelph Schools 1874-1918. No page numbers.
  22. Guelph Historical Society, Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change 1900-2000, 31.
  23. See newspaper reports on the sale and closing of Torrance School, especially The Guelph Tribune, [May] 7, 1997, 818; and June 17, 1998, 31; the 75th Anniversary of Victory School, especially The Guelph Mercury, September 23, 1995 and The Guelph Tribune, September 20 and 22, 1995; personal recollections about Tytler School, Don Smith.
  24. Mercury, July 20, 1927, 56.



Bowley, Pat. 'The ltalian Community in St Patrick's Ward, Guelph, Ontario, 1900-1939: Development of a "Chiaroscuro"', in Historic Guelph, XXXIII (September 1994), 55-72.

Collection of Articles on the Public Schools in Guelph, Ontario, 1874-, and photograph of William Tytler, 1900. Archival and Special Collections, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph.

Guelph Daily Mercury and Advertiser, Guelph Evening Mercury.

Guelph Tribune

Johnson, Leo. History of Guelph 1827-1927. Guelph: Guelph Historical Society, 1977.

Keleher, John. The Sacred Heart Parish of the Ward. Guelph, 1980.

Maps of the City of Guelph, 1879, 1908, 1931.

Matheson, Dawn and Rosemary Anderson, eds. Guelph: Perspectives on a Century of Change 1900-2000. Guelph: Guelph Historical Society, 2000.

Stewart, R.A.M. A Picture History of Guelph. Vol I and II. Guelph, 1978.