Zion Schoolhouse was built in 1869 to provide free public education for children in the small farming community of L’Amaroux. Children from neighbouring farms came to the one-room schoolhouse to learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic as well as agriculture, nature study, geography and history.
The site includes two buildings: a red brick schoolhouse (circa 1869) restored to circa 1910 that can accommodate receptions, meetings or performances for up to 50 people; and a small administrative building.
Zion Schoolhouse interprets the rural schoolhouse as a symbol of progress and a place for education and ideas. The museum hosts events throughout the year and offers educational programming and school trips.
Zion Schoolhouse is available for pre-booked programs and is open to the public for:
- Doors Open Toronto
- Suburban Steam: Steampunk Festival
Please call 416-395-7435 for specific dates and times.
The Schoolhouse is located on Finch Avenue just east of Leslie. There is parking available in the suburban area south of the site.
Take the Finch East bus from Finch Station. There is an easy school bus and car drop-off on Trudy Road. For specific TTC route and schedule information call 416-393-4636 (INFO) or visit the TTC website.
Description of Historic Place
The Historic Zion Schoolhouse in North York was built in 1869 by the citizens of the farming community of L’Amaroux. It is the last unaltered one-room schoolhouse in the Borough of North York, and represents an important stage in Upper Canada’s educational history. The school was closed as an active education facility in 1955, and after a period of abandonment the building was restored and reopened as a heritage site in 1986. Zion Schoolhouse has been owned by the City of Toronto since the amalgamation of the City’s heritage museums in 2000, and is now managed and operated by the Toronto’s Cultural Services.
Statement of Heritage Value
- Historic Zion Schoolhouse is located at 1091 Finch Avenue East in Municipal Ward 33. It is a designated heritage site under by-law 27974 passed by the North York City Council on December 15, 1980.
- Zion Schoolhouse is significant for its historic role in the history of rural education in Canada. The one-room schoolhouse represents an important phase in the development of educational policy in the country; such schoolhouses were common throughout rural and outlying areas from the 1850s to the mid-twentieth century.
- The Schoolhouse follows a standard architectural plan and retains many of its original external features. The school was restored in the late twentieth century based on comparisons with similar buildings from the period and information derived from historical sources and oral accounts. The interior contains a number of modern and cosmetic renovations, including features that were added to fulfill current fire code requirements
- The Schoolhouse property has produced various artefacts, including archaeological findings that may be associated with late nineteenth century and twentieth-century occupants.
- Zion Schoolhouse was constructed by citizens of L’Amaroux, and served many generations of local children. The building also acted as a social centre and meeting place for the community. The school was situated on farmland many miles away from the town of York, and is now surrounded by modern urban development. Together with the nearby Zion Church, the Schoolhouse is one of the last remaining features of the historic rural landscape.
Character Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:
- Zion Schoolhouse is an example of the one-room schoolhouses that were once scattered throughout Upper Canada, serving the outlying and rural communities around the larger towns and cities from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The schoolhouses represent an important stage in the development of public education, since prior to the 1850s education was not free, and often was unavailable to children of poor families or those in remote locations. In 1844 Egerton Ryerson was appointed as the Superintendent of Schools for Upper Canada. He promoted the establishment of an education system that would be free, universal, and accessible; the resultant 1871 School Act Amendment prompted the development of a province-wide system of common schools that were non-sectarian, and open to all children.
- The one-room schoolhouses were built with the aid of government grants, and offered basic education to children from six years of age up to high school entrance. The schools were located in every three concessions and so provided greater accessibility to children living in rural areas. Attendance became mandatory, and the schoolhouses remained an integral element of universal public education well into the twentieth century, when the growth of towns and the development of modern transportation allowed for the centralization of schools in the mid-1950s. The rural schoolhouses became obsolete after the institution of modern school system, and were closed and often demolished during later urban development projects.
- The settlers of L’Amaroux in North York erected a log school between 1829 and 1834, near the present intersection of Don Mills Road and Finch Avenue East, on land owned by Mr. Henry Scrace. York Township was organized into school sections in 1839, and the school in L’Amaroux became known as School Section #12 (S.S. #12). In 1869 the log school was replaced by a new red brick school on the south side of Finch Avenue East, near Leslie Street. It was known as Zion School S.S. #12, and served many generations of L’Amaroux children until its closure in 1955.
- Zion Schoolhouse sat vacant for many years until the property was purchased by the North York Council from the North York Board of Education in 1963. In the mid-1970s the Borough Parks and Recreation Department gave permission to the United Jewish Welfare Fund to occupy and renovate the building. In 1986 the Schoolhouse was restored to the 1910 time period under the direction of the North York Historical Board, with participation from local volunteers and former students. The Schoolhouse was re-opened as an educational site on September 22, 1986, with programming supported by the North York Board of Education and the Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board.
- The Zion Schoolhouse collection includes copies of a variety of primary documents, photographic material, and oral histories. An extensive photographic collection is available on-site, along with transcripts of interviews conducted with students who were educated at the school before its closure. The North York Central Library and the North York Historical Society also possess photographs relating to Zion Schoolhouse and the L’Amaroux settlement. Historic documents such as attendance registers and personal records are stored at the Archives of Ontario, and in the North York Board of Education collection at the Toronto District School Board Professional Library (formerly the Minkler Library).
- The Schoolhouse was stripped of its furnishings after its closure in 1955, and so the majority of the artefacts are not original to the building. The artefact collection was acquired through purchase and donations, and consists of materials appropriate to the 1910 focus date, including the stove, teacher’s desk, piano, bookshelves, and the school desks.
- Zion Schoolhouse is a typical example of the hundreds of one-room schoolhouses that were once common throughout Upper Canada. The first log school, like most single-room schoolhouses, follows a standard plan and size of 18 feet by 20 feet, with one doorway, one or two windows, and a fireplace. The red brick school that still stands on Finch Avenue East followed one of the stock plans that were approved by Superintendent of Education Egerton Ryerson, and its architecture is virtually unaltered. Much of the building’s exterior, including the bell in the belfry, the wooden roof boards, and the bricks and stone foundations are original and were produced from local materials. The Schoolhouse interior has been restored to 1910, although the lighting fixtures are examples of the type of fittings that would have been available when the building was first electrified in the 1930s. Their glass covers are also contemporary artifacts, but are not original to the building.
- The building adjacent to the Schoolhouse was constructed in 1998 on the site of a shed that housed various school equipment and firewood. The modern structure has similar dimensions to the original building, and contains wheelchair accessible washrooms, a kitchen, and a staff office.
- No official archaeological excavations have been undertaken at Zion Schoolhouse, however archaeological specimens was recovered during the course of renovations in the late twentieth century. Miscellaneous items include ceramic sherds, toys, broken bottles, and building and educational tools such as nails and slate pencils. These objects are most likely associated with a various site occupants in the nineteenth and twentieth century. All site planning related to Zion Schoolhouse should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s Master Plan for Archaeological Resources.
- L’Amaroux was named after the French Huguenot Joshua Lamoreaux, a United Empire Loyalist who moved to New Brunswick and then to Upper Canada after the American Revolution. The farming community was settled and cleared in the early nineteenth century, and by the mid-nineteenth century L’Amaroux was an official postal district that extended south from Steeles Avenue, north of Sheppard Avenue, and east from the Don River to Victoria Park Avenue.
- The North York settlements from the proximity of the river and an abundance of productive farmland; however all that remains of L’Amaroux today is the Zion Schoolhouse and the Zion Primitive Methodist Church. The school and church were local social centres, and were used as meeting places for community events such as dances, concerts, and meetings. Zion Church was constructed near the original log schoolhouse, on land donated by Henry Scrace and rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style in 1873. The term “Zion” was chosen by the Primitive Methodists who had settled in the region, and refers to the Old Testament term for a holy place, or holy mountain.
- Zion Schoolhouse has survived a radical transformation of the local landscape; in the mid-twentieth century the school was situated on a dirt road and surrounded by farmland. Since then the expansion of the city has prompted significant urban development in the area. The school now stands in the midst of a modern subdivision, facing a major roadway. This heritage site is one of the original settlement’s few remaining features, and serves as an important educational resource on the history and development of Upper Canadian rural communities.