Orde Street Public School, the first school in Toronto established for immigrant families, served the needs of the Jewish community for many decades, and this year, it’s marking its centenary.
A celebration will be held Sept. 26 at the school, at 180 Orde St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All alumni are invited to attend.
From its opening in 1915 up until the 1950s, the school, whose catchment area centred around Kensington Market and the garment industry along Spadina Avenue, was predominantly Jewish, but there were also children from Italian, Portuguese, Jamaican and German families.
The school remains a doorway to Canadian life, with a diverse population that’s a microcosm of the global community. At present, there are children from more than 30 different countries.
Anne Keary, a parent of two children at the school and a historian by training, documented the school’s story in Orde Street School: A Brief History.
In the early 1930s, when many Jews who fled from persecution in eastern Europe were living in the area, Yiddish was widely spoken in the neighbourhood. Keary notes that Orde remained a predominately Jewish school in the mid-1940s, with more than 350 Jewish students.
Beginning in the 1950s, as the Jewish population headed north, Chinese families began to move into the area, which became a flourishing Chinese neighbourhood, and the school began offering English and citizenship classes.
Orde School was also an “open air school” for children recovering from, or who were susceptible to, tuberculosis. As well, the school conducted special classes for children with visual impairments.
There was also a dental facility where children from Orde and neighbouring schools came to have their teeth checked.
Orde also featured household science classes for girls and manual training for boys.
In the 1970s, as a result of the adoption of a federal policy on multiculturalism, Chinese language and cultural education became part of the school’s curriculum.
Samuel Hershenhorn is on the centenary planning committee.
“When my family arrived from Tarnow, Poland, in 1935, I was registered at Orde. I was nine years old and placed in third grade,” he said.
“On our arrival in Toronto, our family spoke Yiddish at home. There were no courses available to help newly arrived immigrants, such as ESL,” he added.
“The instructions were all in English. My teacher, Ms. Davidson, was very patient and tried her best, and I received substantial help from some of the children, particularly at recess.”
Hershenhorn added that his favorite teacher was Mr. Hart, who ran the manual training class. “He piqued my interest, and he was instrumental in arousing my curiosity in electronics, copper tooling and blue print-making.”
Hershenhorn graduated from Orde in 1940 and went on to Harbord Collegiate.
Ernest Lustig attended from 1934 to 1942 and is also a member of the centenary planning committee. “I have fond memories of my days at Orde, and I am delighted to assist with the 100-year celebration,” he said.
His favourite activities at school were volleyball and manual training, where the boys would make mock-ups of Spitfire airplanes.
The centenary celebration will feature historical displays and a time capsule, and in the morning, there will be a “human library” where visitors can “borrow” an alumnus to hear stories about the past.
They will also be able to listen to excerpts from oral history interviews that children from the school have been conducting, and there will be a cake-cutting ceremony and reunion rooms for each decade.