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Visiting the Zion Schoolhouse, North York, Ontario: throwback to rural education in the Victorian era

Updated on February 23, 2016
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Zion Schoolhouse, Toronto
Zion Schoolhouse, Toronto | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Preserving rural, architectural memories in urban Toronto

This striking, formerly rural schoolhouse was originally situated in the Ontario locality of L'Amaroux, where farming families would send their children. L'Amaroux was subsequently absorbed into North York, which, as is widely known, was itself absorbed into the City of Toronto a few years ago.

Some history and features

Dating from 1869, this historic schoolhouse thus provides a significant contribution — from an originally rural context — to the diverse architecture which makes up the heritage of Toronto's built environment.

The building is executed mainly in red brick, with feature detailing in yellow brick. A small belltower makes for an understated yet prominent landmark.

The school itself closed in 1955, thus having provided nearly a century of educational service to local families in rapidly changing surroundings. The City of Toronto has restored the Schoolhouse, which is open as a museum. Interestingly, in the commemorative planning that went into the restoration process, the decision was taken to provide museum interpretation of the Schoolhouse not as it was in 1869, but as an Edwardian school.

So is it really a Victorian-era school? an Edwardian one? Let the visitor be the judge. One thing that needs to be remembered is that the Zion Schoolhouse was not, and is not meant to be portrayed as, unique. Rather, typicality is a more dominant leitmotif , since at one time large numbers of similar schoolhouses were scattered widely across the Ontario landscape.

But, then, of necessity, if the building's typicality rather than its uniqueness is being asserted for commemorative purposes, its restorative and creative projection must involve grappling to to some extent with the question regarding its former state: exactly which part of its past do we wish mainly to commemorate? 1910 has the advantage, within a Canadian context, of being redolent of an era of rising national consciousness and even assertiveness. Whereas in 1869, the new province of Ontario had just emerged, after Confederation, from a thoroughgoing British colonial past. So in a sense, the particular era which the Schoolhouse can cause the visitor to recall can possibly relate to some extent to Canadian visitors' own multiple senses of historical vision.

Or, stated differently, does the visitor wish to imagine the museum building just as Sir John MacDonald might have seen it? or as Sir Wilfrid Laurier might have done?

The Zion Schoolhouse is located at Toronto's 1091 Finch Avenue East.

Also worth seeing

In Toronto itself, among the numerous examples of architectural heritage are included: the Legislative Assembly building of the Ontario Parliament at Queen's Park, Osgoode Hall, Old City Hall, Campbell House. At Willowdale is Gibson House, now a museum.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. (Distance from Toronto Pearson Airport to 1091 Finch Avenue East: approx. 28.6 kilometres). Highways 401 and 404 give access to Finch Avenue East, North York. Alternatively, travellers may wish to travel by TTC Finch East Bus 39. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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