Thursday, June 2, 2016

The detailed history of much-loved Elmdale Public School


Elmdale School is important to me, as it is to so many in the neighbourhood. It was where I went to school all through the mid-late 1980s, from kindergarten until grade four, and it is where my son attends kindergarten now. But it also represents so much more. Elmdale is so closely tied to the history of west Ottawa, and woven into the memories of almost everyone who has lived in this community for nearly one hundred years. Virtually every interview I have with residents past and present ends up covering the fond memories that everyone seems to have. I've researched a little on Elmdale before, and wrote a brief history on it in for Newswest way back in 2000. However now that I have this blog, and the capability to really dig deep into the full story, and share photos, I've been looking forward to telling a very detailed history of the school. It certainly does not have a boring history. I am probably guilty of writing articles that are just way too long; I know Andrea, my Editor at the Kitchissippi Times probably has fits every few weeks when I submit articles that are over the word count and I just can't possibly edit them any further. At least with the blog, I have the freedom to write as much as I'd like. So sure, this is going to be a very long article, but I think it tells a really good, thorough history. I tried to incorporate as many interesting and pertinent photos as I could, and believe me, I edited out quite a bit. So here we go, the history of the much-loved Elmdale Public School...

The story of Elmdale School begins in May of 1919. The Wellington Village neighbourhood was literally days away from transitioning from a farm into a residential district. The Ottawa Land Association, who had acquired the farmland 25 years earlier and sat on it as an investment, was about to sell off the lots to take advantage of the prosperity and optimism associated with the end of WWI. I wrote about the OLA's big auction previously (, and just one day before the auction, a strategic deal was made whereby the Ottawa public school board agreed, smartly, to acquire a full block of lots in the OLA subdivision 26 lots in all, for the price of $6,450. This was a total of 621 feet fronting Java and Iona, and a depth of 200 feet, a total of just less than 3 acres of land. Clarendon of course was the eastern border, while the western border was a spot a less than 200 feet from Mayfair Avenue - the western city limits. If you've ever wanted to know where the border between the city limits and Nepean Township used to exist, you can use the western end of the school grounds as the marker - everything past the schoolyard was Nepean until 1950.

Ottawa Journal - May 31, 1919

The purchase was strategic both for the Board, and for the OLA, who used the timing of the sale to highlight the coming infrastructure to those potential auction buyers. The board meanwhile did not immediately make plans to build. The project for them was naturally long-term, once the population had filled in. With Connaught on the east and Hilson on the west, there was no urgency to construct a school until the population numbers required it.

Aerial view from the summer of 1920, one year after the first
construction began south of Wellington Street. No streets yet
exist, and the area south of Java, and west of Clarendon is still
heavily treed. (Holland is along left side; Byron along the
bottom; and the CNR rail line, now the route of the Queensway
 is at top left) (As always, click on photo to enlarge it)

The name 'Elmdale' was first born in December of 1922, when the small but growing number of property owners and residents of the area got together to form a community association. In a meeting held on Monday December 18th, 1922 at the Rosemount Library, the association was formed. A constitution was drawn up and formally adopted along with several bylaws, its first President was elected (Mr. Harry Schroeder), and a name was chosen by the group: the Elmdale Municipal Association. This group proudly continues on today as the Wellington Village Community Association, by the way!

The name 'Elmdale' was selected because of the large number of of elm trees in the area, which of course you can see from the various aerial photos of the era. The Journal wrote in 1947 that Elmdale derived its name "from the abundant and attractive tree growth prevalent on the school grounds."

The Association began to push for the construction of a school as early as February 1923, in a meeting with the local school trustee Armstrong. They were briefly put off, before formally meeting with the school board in the fall of 1923, to push for the construction of a two-room school on the board's property. By December, the push was for a more sensible eight-room schoolhouse. The board put off all talk on the school until the numbers could merit it. Furthermore, the board refused to consider construction on any new school owing to its finances. A deal with the Ottawa Collegiate Institute Board (then a separate entity, managing the secondary schools of Ottawa) whereby Kent Street Public School was to be purchased by the OCIB fell through, leading to a refusal to hear arguments for the construction of a new school in the west end into 1927.

It was in 1927 that the subject caught fire, thanks to the local residents. Almost all of the residents of the area now known as Wellington Village met at a community meeting to discuss the topic. A canvass made at the same time showed that there were already 357 school-aged children residing in the area and attending neighbouring schools, plus an additional 85 others of kindergarten age who did not attend school due to the distance they would have to travel each day. On top of this, the area was still growing substantially (at best, only half of the lots in the district had been built on by this time). A group of over 100 residents appeared in front of the school board's Management Committee in February to push for the new school. They were represented by W.C. Graham of the Central Council of Municipal Associations, Secretary L. Howard of the Elmdale MA, as well as Aldermen J.A. Forward and Sam Crooks (who had first campaigned on the guarantee of getting the residents a school). To help their cause, parents pointed out that mass over-crowding was caused at Connaught school, with class sizes reaching up to 46 pupils, where students were forced to each their lunch sitting on class-room floors, and attend makeshift classrooms in the basement. The overcrowding also led to greater sharing of illness, leaving Connaught with the second-poorest attendance figures in the city. 

The Board came out days later with an announcement that the residents would get their school, but that it would be a "two-unit portable education institution which can be readily moved about from place to place...complete with heating fixtures, plumbing and other accessories of a modern school", and was to be "of an easily dismantled nature." Each unit would hold one-class of 45 pupils, providing a total space for 90 students. The idea was put forth by Senior School Inspector Dr. J.H. Putman, who he himself had written in a report in 1922 that a school would be required by 1926.

Not surprisingly, the local residents were up in arms about the proposal. Once again an even larger group attended the School Board meeting on March 3rd to oppose the proposal, and demand the immediate construction of a permanent, eight-room school, to be ready for occupancy by September. An association member, Mrs. Munroe noted that the proposed portable school was "more suited for construction in Confederation year than in Jubilee year." It can be further pointed out that Elmdale at the time was one of the few areas in Ottawa zoned "Class A", ensuring only higher-class homes could be built. Thus a makeshift temporary building was even more inappropriate. Due to the community pressure, the board voted unanimously against the portable school idea, but also could not pass a vote to agree to build a permanent school either. Most vocal against the new construction idea was Trustee W.E. Gowling, chairman of the finance committee, who argued that an associated increase in public school taxes would "lead to a minor riot among taxpayers". 

The Association continued to press hard, providing more hard figures and Census data to the Board. However in July of 1927, the Board issued their decision to stick with their plan to erect a two-unit portable school. Local residents threatened to acquire an injunction to stop the work if the board proceeded with the plan. Trustee George Clark argued that plans for a full-sized school be made, and at minimum a six-room centre block of the building, allowing for additions, be built right away and ready for occupancy in 1928. Once again W.E. Gowling was quick to close debate, arguing that the matter had been "talked out", and that the board would "wait until there was sufficient money in hand to give Elmdale a school in keeping with the high tone of its new homes."

Aerial view of the Elmdale community from June 1927,
as it awaits construction to begin on its new school.
That's Java at right, Iona to it's left, and Clarendon and
Harmer running left to right, with the CNR track (now
the Queensway running diagonally from bottom right).
The streets are now paved, and some sidewalks are in. No
construction in the area to the west, just the faint line of
the new Island Park Drive can be seen, and Hilson Ave in
the distance.  Note the future Elmdale lot is the only one
with no houses, just a large number of trees. 

It would not be until 1928, when the Board would finally green-light the construction of an eight-roomed school for the Elmdale neighbourhood, which in original plans was to front onto Java. Preliminary plans were prepared by W. K. Jeffrey, superintendent of buildings for the Board, in January, and the approval was given at the Board's finance committee on Friday February 24th. However, the Board stated they had on hand only $46,000 towards the cost estimate of the construction, which was $102,000. Thus the Board went to Ottawa City Council to request $60,000.

Initially the City leaned towards issuing a levy on property owners in the area to pay for their own school essentially. However, it appears the City did not go this route, and instead simply gave the money out of their funds. On March 20th (things moved fast back in the day), Ottawa Council approved issuing debentures for $60,000 towards the construction cost.

Famous Canadian architect Cecil Burgess was hired at a cost of $2,800 to finalize detailed plans and specifications in March, with the hope that construction could begin by May, with the goal of having the school ready for the fall. The Board immediately then requested tenders for the construction (requesting potential contractors to submit bids for the contract to build the school). 

But in May the Board tried to press their luck, and voted to try to aim for construction of an 11-roomed school, and to go back to City Council again to ask for $30,000 more, arguing that "a cheaper school might not prove so economical in the long run", that adding additions in a few years would cost more in the long run. The Board debated heavily with various options being voted and lost, including the idea of building the 11-roomed school, but leaving the top floor unfinished indefinitely, and an even grander idea that the Board dump Devonshire School to the Collegiate Board, transfer all of the equipment and staff to Elmdale, and build an even larger Elmdale.  

Ultimately, they decided to ask Ottawa for the extra $30k, but it was refused. Finally in June, the Board decided to go ahead with the eight-room school, plus an auditorium. What they did smartly was to build the school such that it would be easy to add additions to it in the near future. Essentially they built a new school knowing that at a future unknown date, it would become the centerpiece of an even larger school.

The contract was given to Taylor and Lackey for construction of the school. The company was to be paid $98,500 for the job. An additional $14,200 was paid to the firm of McKinley and Northwood for the plumbing and heating work.

Ottawa Journal - June 2, 1928

Taylor & Lackey was a long-time Ottawa contracting firm operated by Robert Taylor and James Lackey who had completed many large projects in the city dating back to before 1910 (notably the old Nurses' Home at the Civic Hospital on Parkdale, St. Matthew's Church on Glebe near Bank, the old Connaught School addition, the old Westminster Apartments on the south-west corner of Metcalfe and Laurier, among others).

One final aerial shot pre-construction, from May 1928. Island
Park Drive at right, Clarendon at left, and the streetcar track
along the bottom (Byron stops at about Granville). Mayfair and
Piccadilly are just dusty walking lanes. Just a large number of
trees can be seen on the lot where Elmdale would soon appear.

Construction work began with the removal of many trees from the property. This work began on June 8th, 1928, and after a few days, excavation work began.

June 11, 1928

On June 11th, the school board held a special meeting where it appointed the inaugural staff of Elmdale School. Robert Westwater, one of the top teachers at Kent Street School, was appointed Elmdale's first principal, and also the 'charge' of the grade five pupils. Also named were Miss Myrtle Wright (grade fours), Miss Mary Smith (from Bolton Street School, grade threes), Miss Matilda Baker (grade twos), Miss Bessie Pigott (grade ones), and Miss Marion Clow (from Connaught School, school director, and charge of kindergarden), as well as additional teachers G. Martin, V. A. Graham, A. Rea and Miss Florence Jamieson. Principal Westwater was Scottish-born, and after arriving in Canada in 1913, had gone overseas as part of the war effort from 1914 to 1919 as part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He then attended the faculty of Education at Toronto and graduated from the arts program at Queen's. He had been a history and geography teacher at Kent Street.

Ottawa Citizen - June 12, 1928

It was also decided that while the residents awaited completion of the building, Elmdale School would have its first classes inside Connaught. To make room, Connaught temporarily moved its grade five and six classes into empty space at Devonshire School. 229 students were part of this "Elmdale" group that attended classes at Connaught for the 1928-29 school year, transported by special run Ottawa Electric Company buses. Meanwhile, construction of the new school went through endless delays due to the scarcity of bricklayers, terrible weather conditions and various complications during construction. Initially, it was assumed that the school would be open by January 1st, 1929, but was later pushed through to the spring, and eventually the fall of 1929.

November 1928 shot of Elmdale School under construction.
A lot of activity is visible around the school. (Clarendon
is along the left, and Byron can just be seen at bottom).

Interestingly, in March of 1929, School Trustees were asked to officially name the school, a step which had not been done yet. No surprise to anyone, the name "Elmdale" was chosen.

March 20, 1929

In March of 1929, the School Board recommended adopting a new type of school, intermediate schools, that were popular in the United States and Britain, to handle children aged 12 to 15, in grades six and seven. Connaught was proposed to be one of the first, taking in all of the grade 6 and 7 students from the Devonshire, Connaught and Elmdale boundary areas. The original Elmdale school boundary, by the way, was Carling Avenue on the south; Hinton Avenue to the CNR (Queensway), then Hamilton Avenue to Wellington, then Holland to the River on the west; the River on the north; and the city limits on the west.

In May of 1929, while construction of Elmdale continued to slowly proceed, one of the workers, 36-year-old bricklayer Wilfrid Jubinville of Aylmer, fell 30 feet the the ground after the rope of a scaffold he was working on broke. Just before the rope break, another bricklayer who had been working on the scaffold stepped inside a second storey window. The shift in weight likely caused the rope to give way. The scaffold was of the "swinging type" and was suspended from the roof. Both of Wilfrid's legs were broken, and he sustained other internal injuries. He initially was in critical condition, but survived and lived another 40+ years. 

Progress continued to be slow and rumours throughout August of 1929 persisted that it would not be ready in time for the start of the school year. However, Elmdale indeed was opened for its first day of classes on September 3rd, 1929. It opened with a grand total of 333 students in its eight classrooms.

A month after opening, there were complaints that some of the floors had begun to heave, particularly the floor of the assembly hall, immediately above the boiler room. Superintendent W.K. Jeffrey claimed this was due to the the cement under the hardwood floors retaining moisture that had not been visible at the time the floors were laid.

Construction was officially finished in the first week of November of 1929, with final payments made to the contractors Taylor and Lackey, and McKinley and Northwood.

On Tuesday November 19th, 1929, at 3 p.m. the formal opening of Elmdale Public School was held. The event held in the assembly hall, and featured special guests the Governor General Lord Willingdon and his wife the Viscountess Willingdon. Speakers at the event included the Governor General himself, as well as George H. Clark, chairman of the public board, and principal Robert Westwater. There was a children's dance exhibition by the kindergarten children, and the school choir also performed. There was also a bit of controversy over pictures that were to be presented at the gala opening. Trustee W. E. Gowling was prepared to refuse the pictures: "We want to see them first" said Gowling, "We don't want anything which glorifies war." To which a representative of the patriotic women's organization donating the pictures responded: "If you don't want them there are lots of people who do". It was unclear if the pictures were accepted or not. Following the big ceremony, the school was opened to the community that evening for "public inspection".

Ottawa Journal - November 20, 1929
An article detailing the opening ceremony of Elmdale School.

In the spring of 1930, the community association petitioned the school board to request to the City of Ottawa for a sidewalk to be laid on Iona Street next to Elmdale. A contract was also issued by the board that May to Joseph Lecomte for the sodding of the front lawn of Elmdale, for a fee of $150.

It is interesting to note as well that in the early days of Elmdale, the boys and girls were very much separated from each other. Where we now have junior and senior yards at Elmdale, in the beginning, it was boys' and girls' yards. Lois Hunt, an Elmdale student in 1929 was interviewed in 2004 by the Ottawa Citizen, and talked about Elmdale when it was new: "There was nothing but grass, sand and trees in the schoolyard back then. We played a lot of hopscotch and jacks, and we loved to play marbles. They were simple games, really, but we always had fun." Discipline and punishments were stricter than today's students experience, she said. "I'll always remember the time when I was doing some artwork that I was really proud of. The boy in front of me turned around and wiped his hands through it, ruining it. I was so mad and so upset. Of course, I told the teacher, who was also the principal at the time. He took the boy and gave him the strap, which they did in those days. I've never forgotten it because I felt so badly," Mrs. Hunt said.

In April of 1930, the school board held their annual concert of school choirs at Glebe Collegiate. Elmdale School participated in the big event for the first time, and the newspaper listed all the choir members, which provides an extensive list of student names from Elmdale's first year:

Ottawa Journal - April 10, 1930

In November of 1930, the school board announced their list of additions and renovations within the board, and noted that Connaught and Elmdale both were projected to require extensions within the next ten years, planting the seed of what everyone knew was soon to come. However, with the economic depression just commencing, no one could have known in early 1930 just how tough times would be over the next twenty years.

In fact, due to ceaseless growth, the original auditorium had to be re-purposed into a classroom by the fall of 1930, owing to the increase in school registration. I believe the original auditorium was located on the main floor of the school to the left inside the main front doors where the large kindergarten class now exists.

In December of 1930, the Elmdale Municipal Association announced that the association would sponsor a Christmas tree that would be planted on the school grounds, and become a community Christmas tree, to be used annually for the Christmas event, "a tree which would shine in glory every night during the Christmas season by way of carrying out the 'Light Up for Christmas' spirit." A large, temporary tree would be used in 1930, that was "very pretty, and the effect of multi-colored lights, which can be seen for blocks around is quite in keeping with the festive and joyous Christmas season. Approaching the Elmdale school grounds from the north, one is greeted by the pleasant sight of the large association tree, while forming a distinctive background is the outdoor decorating on the home of F.T. Skinner, 72 Iona Street. Mr. Skinner has strung a series of lights in festoons around the verandah of his home, while the verandah pillars are covered with evergreens." A large, permanent tree was planted in early 1931.

Other big events were introduced during this era to be held annually, particularly at the end of the school year. These events included annual Field Days of sporting events, carnivals, concerts, musical recitals, and a big exhibition of work done during the year displayed for parents, friends and former pupils. which would draw huge crowds in June. A report of the 1934 event can be seen below:

Ottawa Citizen, June 28, 1934

By the Spring of 1932, Elmdale still had not selected official school colours. Prior to the annual School Choir Concert held at Glebe Collegiate, material was purchased to make school ties in black and orange, colours which remained Elmdale's official colours for many years.

May 5, 1933 shot of the new Elmdale School fronting onto
Iona. The new sidewalks and paved streets are seen, but they
stop suddenly - where the City of Ottawa turns into Nepean!

Of significance, the Elmdale Gardens first began in the fall of 1933. They were located to the west of the school, likely around the area where the library and/or play-structure now stands. During the depression and war years, the Gardens acted as an instruction centre for the students of both Elmdale and Connaught, serving as an "object of admiration and inspiration to pupils and residents alike. Vegetable and flower plots, borders and the attractive rock garden are designed and supervised by Miss A. J. Lapp" wrote the Journal. Alida Lapp had been the director of the public school gardens project for the Ottawa board beginning in 1914, up until she retired in 1950. The Gardens were the idea of Dr. J. H. Putnam and Dr. Slemon, who felt that there was a growing need to encourage children to take an interest in gardening, with an increasing number of families residing in apartments or small houses without gardens of their own. The Gardens were fenced in during the spring of 1934 and were a prominent feature of the Elmdale campus through the 1930s and 1940s, however, they were removed at the end of the fall of 1952. (Fast-forward to the present, and the Elmdale School Council has brought back the gardens, at least on a smaller scale, thanks to the efforts of the Healthy Earth Committee - a little plug for my wife Amy here, who is co-chair of the Commitee).

The school was used extensively as a community centre for local groups. The Elmdale Municipal Association and its Ladies' Auxiliary group were frequent users, and the school was used regularly for Guides and Brownies, Scouts and Cubs, and as a centre for piano and violin instruction. St. Matthias' Sunday School was one of the first external groups to use the school, starting on September 28th, 1930, and it also became the site of Sunday school for Parkdale Church in 1931, and later The Day School Gospel League. Kingsway Church (now Kitchissippi United) was first formed in May of 1947, and they held their services in Elmdale School until 1950.

In 1938, grade five and six students began studying French for the first time at Elmdale, taking one class, once per week.

Life changed for students by 1940 with the start of WWII. Patriotism came to the forefront and much of the school's efforts turned to the war effort. As written by the Journal in 1947: "During war years in particularly, community and school co-operation and pride were evident in the hearty and extensive support of the Canadian Red Cross, Junior Red Cross, Milk for Britain Fund, Aid to China Fund, in collection of salvage, provision of books, magazines and ditty bags for the Armed Services, and in the generous purchases of War Savings Stamps and Certificates."

An interesting event involving a student of Elmdale School occurred in 1941. 9-year-old Doreen Collie had come to Canada in the summer of 1940 to stay with relatives for safety, after her city and home were bombed in London, England. On February 9th, 1941, the CBC, BBC and NBC air the first ever two-way broadcast, featuring Doreen and another girl (12-year-old Grace Clarke) in studio at the CBC's Chateau Laurier studio in Ottawa, speaking live to their parents overseas. Other children in Montreal, Toronto and New York also took part in the special broadcast.

Ottawa Citizen - February 10, 1941

In 1943, Elmdale's principal W.G. Strong became the first ever student to earn a master's degree in education at Bishop's University.

November 2, 1943

Elmdale fell victim to a heinous break-in during a weekend in January of 1944. thieves entered the school through storm windows located inside a sunken window well. Breaking through the window and then forcing open the French windows inside, the thieves then dropped into a coal bin in the basement. They then traveled through the building, crudely forcing open doors and locks as they went, leaving behind a trail of destruction. They entered four classrooms and stole three jars of funds collected for the Red Cross, totaling approximately $2 in pennies and nickels. They did not take any other items from the school.

With the end of WWII in sight, it was decided in late 1944 that Elmdale should receive consideration for an addition. A capital expenditures account was established by the board to set aside funds for this project. In October of 1945, it was announced that a nine-room addition was planned for Elmdale, with construction to begin in the summer of 1946. The addition included four classes to be added at the west end of the school, four classes and a large basement at the east end, a large gymnasium-auditorium at the back (Elmdale's first gym), and an activity room on the north side. W. J. Abra was named lead architect for the addition, and came up with the initial plans. A building permit was taken out in July of 1946 in the amount of $188,282. Alex I. Garvock Ltd. was the contractor for the job, with Abra, Balharrie and Shore the architects.

Citizen, May 4, 1946

At the time, though nearly 20 years old now, Elmdale was still considered the newest of Ottawa's public schools, on account of the building freeze due to the depression of the 1930s and WWII in the early 1940s.

A group of students assemble at the front door on the first day
 of school in 1946. Construction on the new additions would
have already begun by this time.
Ottawa Journal, September 3, 1946.

The old newspapers of Ottawa from after WWII are goldmines of information. With the end of the war, paper shortages had ended, and so newspapers increased in size significantly. Also advances in technology allowed for the inclusion of far more photographs. Prior to the war, you might see one or two photos in an issue of the paper. After the war, you would see dozens. Combined with the fact that Ottawa was still kind of a 'small town', and the local news coverage was extensive. So I've included a few photos of events at Elmdale which featured prominently in the papers of the era.

The photo and related article below are from the Elmdale 'Play Day' and sports field day held at Fisher Park on October 4th, 1946.

Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1946

Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1946.
A listing of winners of the sports
events at Elmdale's Field Day.

Construction of the big Elmdale addition continued throughout the winter of 1946-47. At the same time, the school board was also busy building W.E. Gowling school in Carlington.

Elmdale in March of 1947, mid-renovation (apologies for the
low quality of the photo, it was from an old newspaper that
had been microfilmed too dark. I did my best to repair it)

In June of 1947, the Board approved an expense of $485 for the removal of a large earth mound that had been a feature of the playground. The same month they also approved an extra expenditure of $1,400 so that the room partitions being built at Elmdale would be finished to the ceiling (a change from the original renovation plans).

By the fall of 1947, there were six new classrooms in use, accommodating 300 new pupils. The final two classrooms and gymnasium were to be finished later that fall, but like the initial construction, the completion would drag on. The official opening would not take place until more than a full year later.

During the final stages of Elmdale's big expansion, tenders were being accepted for construction of Fisher Park school down the street, the next big board project.

In November of 1947, principal G. Peacock of Elmdale had inquired into the possibility of a community skating rink being established on the school playground. He took his request to the Ottawa Playgrounds Committee, who noted that the idea would be considered for the winter of 1948-49.

On Monday November 29th, 1948, provincial Education Minister Dana Porter was on hand to officially open the $222,000 addition to Elmdale School, in a ceremony held in the new gym and auditorium. The event drew a very large crowd of students, parents and local residents who packed the gym full. Rev. M. L. Orchard, chairman of the General Ministerial Association of Ottawa offered the invocation prayer, while a program of musical entertainment was given by the Elmdale School Choir. The choir, directed by W. Tweedy and accompanied by Harry Hill, sang 'Moon Song', 'Sunbeam Song' and a French folk song. The program also included violin selections by teacher William Amtmann and a group of his students, performing Christmas songs, barn dances, and classical pieces. A choir from York Street Public School was also present to sing 'Song My Paddle Sings' and 'The Voice of Canada'. D. Roy Kennedy made a lengthy address which told of the history of the school, and the advantages of the new school: "We have incorporated into the extensions the most modern improvements, lighting, project rooms, decoration and equipment, and this gym is the finest in our whole school system." He added that the school now had 685 students. The ceremony was commemorated by a plaque which was installed in the front entrance, supplied by the architectural firm of Balharrie Watson.

Ottawa Journal - November 30, 1948

Following renovations, the school appeared as follows (the photo is actually from six years later, but its the earliest post-renovation photo I have of it):

Elmdale Public School - April 15th, 1954
Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-24781

In January of 1949, Elmdale for the first time in its history honoured its graduates with a party. As reported by the newspaper: "They had passed the first milestone in their academic career and now in intermediate school, had the duty of maintaining Elmdale's proud reputation. The boys and girls heard a brief and informal address from school principal George Peacock. 'Regardless of what fields their careers might follow', Mr. Peacock said, 'they must make the best of their abilities and training. This was the spirit that Elmdale had taught them, and it was this spirit they must spread wherever they went.'" All graduates were presented with school crests, and the group watched a movie and held a party in the "basement playroom".

January 15, 1949

A few more interesting photos/articles from the era:

Ottawa Journal - February 5, 1949

Ottawa Citizen - February 12, 1949

A young Norm Sterling (future long-time PC MP) was the star of the hit show at the Elmdale Carnival held on February 1st, 1950, "The Man in the Bowler Hat". The newspaper recounted that "Norman Sterling, seven-year-old grade two scholar won the 'funniest costume' prize for boys under eight and didn't realize it until the judge had lifted the bowler hat from its perch on Norman's ears and restored full vision to the little 'tramp'."

February 2, 1950

Empire Day (forerunner of Victoria Day) was an important day of celebration at Elmdale in 1950. The front page of the Journal featured a photo and write-up of the ceremony held at Elmdale in the auditorium/gym. "their young minds were trying to grasp the significance of the far-flung Empire sprawling its red ink over a quarter of the globe. The children learned of Victoria's reign, of how the Empire grew and developed in power over land and sea. They heard those mighty phrases 'King by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith...'. Then to show how Britain, the mother, had built this great family of nations, the pupils of Grade 4 staged a tableau, depicting the nations of the Commonwealth as the children bringing their products for trade with Britannia. Through this the children were able to see the example the world has been given for modern living by the Empire. They learned of the duties and rights and liberties attendant upon a nation living in a large community of nations. They also learned of Canada's place and position, not only as the senior dominion, but as the linchpin between the Commonwealth and the United States."

Ottawa Journal - May 23, 1950

February 15, 1951

In February of 1952, the entire kindergarten class of Elmdale (numbering over 100 students) had an interesting field trip to tour the CPR roundhouse on Bayview Road, the climax of a project where they had been studying different modes of transportation through the ages. The students "visited the roundhouse to watch engines being cleaned up and repaired, and listened wide-eyed while N. H. Hay, CPR roundhouse superintendent explained exactly what made the big drive wheels go round. Then they went outside to the turntable where Mr. Hay whistled up a locomotive and had it turned around for them by the huge revolving wheel. Then they trotted along behind it to watch while it loaded up with fuel and took on water." Sounds pretty cool to me, I'm jealous!
Ottawa Journal - February 26, 1952

Photo below is of a presentation of a gift of new technology to Elmdale: an adding machine! Presented to principal D. A. Webster. Photo was dated May 11th, 1954.

City of Ottawa Archives, CA-004211

The photo below is from another event at Elmdale from 1955, which is on file at the City of Ottawa Archives. Not sure where in the building the photo was taken? Is there a stone foundation under the original part of the school?

Elmdale students, fall of 1955.
City of Ottawa Archives, CA-033811

In the fall of 1965, Elmdale introduced a dress code of uniforms for girls, a uniform "available in most stores and priced reasonably". An article from 1967 added that "the reason that boys uniforms were not brought in at Elmdale is very simple. Parents that were contacted about a uniform for boys did not think it was necessary. They greatest problem they felt was a uniform for girls to do away with the competition on dress." The school uniform for girls-only was still in place in the fall of 1967, but was discontinued at some point.

An outdoor rink was still a feature of Elmdale School's playground by 1968:

March 8, 1968

The French Immersion program was added at Elmdale during the early 1970s.

The Library was a final addition for Elmdale. It was built over the winter of 1973-74 by WN Construction of Ottawa.

September 14, 1973

Elmdale celebrated it's 50th anniversary in 1978:

November 23, 1978 Journal

Bookfest was first held in March of 1982, earning the school about $2,000 to be put towards books and teaching aids for the library, as well as learning materials for children with learning disabilities. I don't have the details on the 1982 or 1983 sales, but in  1984, Bookfest was held from 1:30 to 6 pm on Tuesday and 9 am to 9 pm Wednesday, in the gym. Book prices ran from 5 to 25 cents apiece.

Elmdale reached its peak in student population, with over 700 students in the 1980s, which was when the portables began to arrive - Elmdale had two by 1985, and four more added during the 1990s (one more has been added in the last couple of years). The school population is now (according to the Elmdale website) just over 500 students.

Since the 1980s, Elmdale has been featured in the news, but for different reasons. The school has escaped closure on a couple of occasions, perhaps never more closer than in 2000. In May, the Board released an options list of 24 closure scenarios to address a surplus of 6,000 student spaces within the Greenbelt. At a board meeting in late August, the nine recommended closures were announced, which was further reduced to six soon after. Elmdale was one of the schools on the lists, slated to close in September of 2001 (Devonshire was also in this group). A major "Save Our Schools" campaign was run in our community, and the parent council was never more active in fighting the closure.

It's almost painful to go over the bad memories of 2000 again, but to cover it briefly, it was argued that outdated demographic data was used, and a questionable funding formula which dictated that the Board must close schools until the overall enrollment reaches 100 per cent across the board. Furthermore, by not eliminating space the province deemed surplus, the board would forfeit funds required for new construction required in suburbs. Keep in mind as well that 2000 was the year of municipal amalgamation, when urban vs. rural infrastructure funding issues came to the forefront. It was also two years after the merger of the Ottawa and Carleton boards, and there were still many internal issues tied to that. Elmdale was the victim in all of this, despite Elmdale being at 115% capacity. Happily, in December of 2000, the board announced at a late-night meeting, they decided to keep open all but one of the six schools originally slated to close. Elmdale was saved, temporarily.

The topic was left simmering over the next couple of years until May of 2003, when closures again were being implemented, as the Board expressed a need to close schools in the Ottawa West region. Eight proposals were presented, four of which included closing Elmdale and splitting the student population among four other schools.  Thankfully, Elmdale survived that round of closures as well.

The school has also occasionally made headlines over heat issues, particularly in the portables. In one 1995 article, the temperature was measured at 33.3 degrees inside a classroom. The board even closed all schools one day in 1994 due to the heat. I'm sure this is a problem that continues on for students today on the hottest days. I definitely have memories of sitting in scorching hot classrooms in June.

And who can forget the Hooters fiasco from 2002, when a flip-flop on the acceptance of contributions from the infamous restaurant resulted in a colourful debate that made headlines across the city. Hooters had been approached to contribute to the Elmdale Fun Fair by way of a loan of BBQs. They were unable to do that, and instead offered to donate $250. Many parents were angry, and the school council was divided on what to do. Hooters withdrew their offer to put an end to the fiasco.

In May of 2004, Elmdale started up an annual Art in the Garden and Plant Fair. In the early days the event was held at Champlain Park, where "garden gifts and accent pieces from driftwood trellises to stone sculptures and wrought iron" were sold. This event still continues today in a somewhat similar format, though is now held at Elmdale along with a kids toys/clothes sale and bike tune-ups. The Fun Fair has also been around since at least the mid-1980s,

So there you have it - the detailed history of Elmdale School. A great school that so many take great pride in. The school seems to have been well maintained and preserved over the years (as opposed to most of Broadview, which is apparently well overdue to be demolished), and though you never know what the school board may come up with, it seems like Elmdale's future is safe and solid for the next generation or two at least - and hopefully many more than that. Elmdale is the perfect microcosm of the neighbourhood. People feel attached to it, and have a pride associated to it that you may not see in a lot of other schools or communities. Most of the friends I made at Elmdale in the mid-1980's I still maintain today. Even our hockey team of friends that we play on today has its core dating all the way back to our games in the schoolyard of Elmdale. And I don't think I'm unique in that experience. I'm happy that Elmdale lives on today, and proud that my kids can attend and have the exceptional school experience that I and thousands like me have had over the last 88 years and counting!

The kick-hockey crew at Elmdale, circa 1988. That's me
top row middle in the white shirt. 


  1. Dave, many thanks for this wonderful history story of Elmdale Public School. I attended from 1943-1949 and recognize many names of teachers and students in your remarks. I have sent this onto the daughter of Principal George Peacock. It is remarkable how the efforts of the community brought this school into existence and have maintained it and protected it from closure over the decades, a testament to good people and good community spirit. My wife, Patricia Little Ferguson was the kindergarten teacher who replaced Marion Clow years later, in the 1960s,(1960-1965) and who, herself had gone to the school. I recognized the names of several fellow students in the photos and still today see some of them from time to time, 7 decades later! This story also is a reminder of the wonderful contributions made by the teachers and staff of the Ottawa Public School Board and the work and dedicated efforts of the members of the School Board who had to make hard decisions to build these schools during depression and war years. Its interesting to see some of them were "rewarded" with schools named after them; i.e. Gowling, Putnam, D.Roy Kennedy. Well deserved tributes, in my opinion. Well done, Dave.

    1. Hi Bob, Thanks so much for the great feedback, I'm really glad to hear the article has been so well enjoyed. I think it's a great story too, the school truly belongs to the neighbourhood, and it would be a real tragedy if it were to ever be closed. Thank you very much for reading, and for taking the time to comment. I sincerely appreciate it.

    2. Bob, did you grow up at 49 Edina? (I was at 45, went to Elmdale '71-'77.)

  2. Hi Dave,
    Great story about Elmdale!
    We moved into the neighbourhood in 1974 and all 4 of my kids (Kevin, Rachel, Mary Ann and Laura) went there, for longer and shorter periods. I was on the parents' committee for years, and organized a number of Fun Fests in the 1980s, including the one when Laura was 6 months old (1984)!
    I'm sorry I can't get to the meeting on June 5, but I wish the group well. (Street Party on Caroline Avenue is June 18. Drop in!)

    1. Hi Barbara, as always really nice to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words on the column. I know I know one of your kids from school, and also Rachel too (she really helped us at election-time at Glebe a few years ago with our high school student recruiting for election day work). Sorry you couldn't make the meeting today, hope you can make one of the next ones (mid-Sept I hope). Oh yes and in researching this Elmdale story, I also came across an article from about 1986 that you were mentioned as the Bookfest Chair too. Sounds like Elmdale was lucky to have you back in the 80s! Cheers!

  3. Hi Dave,
    I'm pretty sure I was never the Bookfest Chair. But as a board member of Ottawa Independent Writers, I did steer a few authors their way. Where did you get the amazing aerial photos?

  4. I was the Fun Fair coordinator a couple of times, and have photos from several years and copies of the weekly newsletters I would send out in advance of the event. Shoot me an email if you want to see/copy them.

  5. Fun article! I was at Elmdale for pre-K to grade 6 (1980): I recall when the "new" library wing was added, and recall being sent to Mr. Donaldson's office a couple of times....I'm not sure, but I'm hoping 'kick' hockey' is still played with the steps in the junior yard as a new? If I recall, in the 70s we had a rule in which one was allowed to pick up the ball with one's hand for 3 seconds. Good times.....good times.....

    One point, the portables have been there (I'm pretty sure) since at least 1977/78---I recall having English class in the one closest to Java. In retrospect pretty bad conditions, but I don't recall anyone minding.

  6. I was at Elmdale from 69-76. The portables were there by the fall of 75 at the latest. And the rock garden in the west yard (it switched from being the girls yard to the junior yard sometime in the early 70's) was northwest of the new library. North of where the play structure is now. I think it was gone by 71 or so.

  7. I have a 1955 picture of my first day at Elmdale with both kindergarten teachers standing with me on the steps. I still can remember taking our naps on blankets after eating our bananas and picking up our milk (in glass bottles). And of course painting letters with one inch brushes. I can't find any teachers lists for this decade, maybe you can help.

  8. Sorry, the name for the above 1955 picture reference is Garry Mainprize. (I am now 70 years old and living in New Brunswick)

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  11. Thanks for writing up this history. I attended Elmdale for grades K to 6 from Fall 1958 to Spring 1965