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A History of Fenelon Falls’ School

February 5, 2024

Marion Henderson and Class at Fenelon Falls Public School, circa 1907

By Randall Speller

The arrival of the first permanent Anglican minister at Fenelon Falls in December 1839 resulted in the formation of the first village school. By March 1840, Anne Langton recorded that the Rev. Thomas Fidler had twenty-eight pupils, “some much more advanced in years and accomplishments than mine.” Fidler’s classes were held for a time in the newly constructed Anglican Church. Attendance by the students was a problem from the beginning due to manual labour on the farms, poor weather and road conditions, and the general absence of clocks and watches. By February 1841, Fidler’s school was all but stopped due to a lack of students. Nevertheless, for those who came, the classes were continued by Fidler in the Anglican rectory (now demolished) which saved the trouble of heating the church. Before 1842, apparently, a small building used in conjunction with the church was also in use. No doubt, Fidler continued with these classes in some for or other until his death by drowning on Saturday, May 15, 1847.

A Map of the Newcastle and Colborne District, dated 1848, marked the location of the three school buildings in Fenelon Township, including one at Fenelon Falls. School Section No. 3, which included the village, was probably in existence by that date. Its boundaries were defined by By-Law No. 15, dated March 18th, 1850, of the Municipal Council of Verulam, Fenelon, Somerville and Bexley. These boundaries were subsequently redefined in 1855 and 1868. Certainly by the early 1850s, S.S. No. 3 was operating regularly, for in 1855 43 pounds sterling was collected to defray the expenses of teaching. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, taxes were raised to support its operation. The school building had become a regular part of community life; in use as a polling booth in township elections, and by many of the church groups who, in the 1860s, had not built their own houses of worship. The school house was most likely constructed of square logs cut at the local mill. Although no description of the building has survived, it probably contained a single room.

When the logging boom of the 1860s brought increased prosperity and population to the village, the log structure was quickly deemed inadequate. The Fenelon Township Council on the 29th of August 1868 passed by-law number 154, to authorize the borrowing of $2000 to construct a new brick school at Fenelon Falls. Upon completion in 1869, S.S. No. 3 became the largest school in the Township with three paid teachers, including a male staff member who received an annual salary “as high as $500.” Throughout the early 1870s, the county and village began to enforce the law respecting compulsory attendance at school for all children. Along with the incorporation of the village in 1874, and the continued prosperity of the 1870s, even more space was needed for the 374 scholars on the roll. By March 1876, an addition was designed by John E. Belcher, a Peterborough architect. This was completed by August of 1876, and a fourth teacher was hired. By 1884, this building was again full, and another school was built in 1885 south of the river, from the plans of William Duffus of Lindsay. Built of stone from the canal, which was then being excavated, it was the only stone school house ever constructed in Victoria County, and survives today as the Masonic Lodge.

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