Torch - Fall 2016


The Building of a School A Brief History of Havergal’s Facilities

By Catharine Heddle 1989

H avergal is one of those remarkable places that gives off a nearly palpable sense of character. Visitors can feel its unique identity and the attachment of the people who belong there. Sociologists call this a sense of place. So it’s hard to imagine that the school was once scattered across the city in half a dozen different locations. At various times as the school grew, there were rented schoolhouses and residential buildings, satellite properties and feeder schools all over the city—on Jarvis Street, St. George Street, Bloor Street (the Preparatory School), St. Clair Avenue (Havergal-on-the-Hill), Beaumont Road and elsewhere. Havergal’s first home was Morvyn House at 350 Jarvis St. When Ellen Knox first laid eyes on the building in 1894, she found it dusty, dreary and somewhat worse for the wear after 24 years of hard use. Her spirits were brightened by the sight of a crab apple tree under the window. In what would become a school tradition, Havergal’s First Principal soon turned that tree into a classroom, allowing the girls to study while perched on its branches. From just seven boarders and 31 day students when the school opened, enrolment swelled to 96 within a year. Classrooms were rented in a nearby church (the girls had to carry their school supplies along Carlton Street every Monday morning) and nearby houses and galleries were rented. It was clear that 350 Jarvis Street would not suffice. In 1898, construction began on a new facility right next door. Designed by architect George Miller, the new school was a Gothic, red-brick building with all the modern conveniences. Drawing

rooms, classrooms and an assembly hall graced the main floor, with sitting rooms, bedrooms, piano rooms, studios and a laboratory on the floors above. There were maids’ rooms on the fourth floor and a 250-seat dining hall in the basement. That summer, with construction on the new school nearly complete, Ellen Knox returned to England for a much-needed vacation. Just a few days after she arrived, she received a distressing cable: a fire had destroyed the new building. She returned to Canada on the next boat. Reconstruction began immediately and, amazingly, the school was rebuilt by November. The Boarders spent their first night in the new building before the front doors were even installed. “As fast as a room was even half finished we began to move into it,” Miss Knox later recalled. The building would house Havergal students for the next 44 years. In those days, Jarvis street was “Toronto’s Champs Élysées,” 1 but as the city grew, the ever-prescient Knox could see that the area’s demographics were shifting. The fashionable residential neighbourhoods were moving north and Havergal needed to follow. In 1923, Knox persuaded the Board of Governors to purchase the 27-acre Northdale Farm at Avenue Road and Lawrence Avenue. Her bold and astonishing plan was to build a new school in what was then countryside, far from everything and accessible only by an unpaved mud trail. “The school was so remote that they had to put signs out on Yonge Street, directing people over to Avenue Road,” says Library

Our mission is to provide spaces that inspire learning.

—Lisa Massie, Director of Facilities

The new Junior School, Havergal-on-the-Hill, 1911.


1 Austin Seton Thompson, Jarvis Street

Made with