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S.S. # 8 – The Burnt River School

June 12, 2024

Burnt River Stone Public School, built in 1900, with an addition for Grades, 9 and 10. The photo is dated September 1964.

By Guy Scott

The first school at Rettie’s Crossing (now Burnt River Village) was located across the road from the present cemetery. The original log building was replaced by a wood frame structure sometime before 1900, as the school population grew. By 1900, the school registration swelled to 108 students, all crammed into a one-room school and taught by one teacher! Desks were everywhere, even up against the blackboards!

The rise in school age population was a mirror of the large number of workers attracted by the quarry and the sawmills. A lot was purchased at the north end of the village and a new stone school was built. Stone was an obvious choice, the quarry being in full operation at the time. The new school was designed to fit 100 students comfortably, containing 5 rows of 8 double disks. It was a most impressive stone structure in the era of wooden schools. When the quarry closed, SS#8 lost 20% of its pupils and never regained the 100+ level. In 1935, a second room was added to the front of the school to accommodate two fifth level grades (high school students), then called Continuing Education. When the Fenelon Falls Continuation School was expanded in the 1950s, high school classes were cancelled all over the area and the students bussed to Fenelon Falls. A school library was added, containing more than 300 books. In 1936 indoor (flush) toilets were added to the school.

Agriculture was a school subject taught from 1919 until the 1930s. School fairs were regularly held at the school, with students from the surrounding Somerville school sections going to Burnt River, a central location. In a measure of good faith, Galway Township schools were often invited as well. The Burnt River Women’s Institute helped finance a music teacher in 1933 and music became a subject at the local schools. Until the 1960s, the townships were responsible for their own school sections. In the mid 1960s most of the one room school houses in the area were closed and the students bussed to either Kinmount or Burnt River. A new school was built on the Main Street of Burnt River in 1964. It contained 3 rooms. Even with the expanded space, portables were used for a while in the 1970s. By the 1980s, school populations were in decline and more amalgamation was on the horizon. The Victoria County Board decided in 1989 to close down all the northern county schools and erect two central schools in Coboconk and Kirkfield. SS#8 Somerville was closed and turned into a multiple use structure containing the post office, library and eventually the fire station. The Burnt River Library closed in 2016. Both the old stone school and its replacement still stand in Burnt River Village.

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