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Back to School in Uxbridge: A History of Local Education

At the turn of the 19th century, settlers began arriving in Uxbridge Valley, and with them, children in need of education. Many of these early settlers were part of the Quaker communities of Pennsylvania and Vermont and brought with them their religious beliefs, creating the first Quaker communities in Upper Canada (now Ontario). Somewhat unique to Quakerism, the ‘Friends’ society was structurally more egalitarian than other settler groups in North America. Even so, Quaker women remained the homemakers, trapped in the social roles demanded of their gender, and thus served as the primary educators of their children in small rural communities such as Uxbridge.


Education was heavily valued in Quaker communities across North America and so as the small Uxbridge settlement grew, as did the opportunity for education beyond informal homeschooling.

A view of the Uxbridge valley from Quaker Hill, near the site of the Quaker schoolhouse (1817-present)


Quaker Hill School

The first American Quakers began arriving in present-day Uxbridge in 1805, and by 1817, the first school was built on Quaker Hill, very near the present-day location of the Uxbridge Historical Centre. This log cabin schoolhouse, referred to as the 'James School' for the Quaker who constructed it, Ezekiel James, provided education to the children of the valley and surrounding farms.


The next closest school was in Newmarket, thus the Quaker school was the sole school in Uxbridge until 1840, when a common (public) school opened in the town. In 1856, the log one-room schoolhouse on Quaker Hill was rebuilt with a frame and stone foundation for the next generations. It burned down in 1924 and was rebuilt once more, as a brick one-room schoolhouse that was used until 1969.

Today, that brick schoolhouse remains on Quaker Hill as part of the Uxbridge Historical Centre, with its preserved slate chalkboards and original flank style windows overlooking the valley. The schoolhouse is an important part of the museum, open to the community for rentals and tours.


A class of young students at the Quaker Hill School in 1922.


Over 100 Years of Secondary School Education

In the year 1872, Uxbridge’s first high school was built across from the Trinity United Church on First Avenue in the downtown of Uxbridge. Today, neither church nor school exists, as the high school was rebuilt on a different site in 1923 and the church was demolished following damage from a tornado in 2022.

The old Uxbridge High School on First Avenue.


The "new" Uxbridge high school, built in 1923 and opened in 1925, is located not far from the first site. The original building was able to comfortably educate approximately one hundred and forty-four students in the first few decades it was open. Today, the high school boasts numerous additions and remodels that were done over the century to accommodate the current one thousand-strong student body.

The newly-constructed Uxbridge Secondary School around 1925.


To learn more about Uxbridge Secondary School, come for a visit to the Uxbridge Historical Centre to see our exhibit celebrating the school’s centenary!


A peek into the museum's "This is USS" temporary centenary exhibit.


Education in Uxbridge today

As the town has grown through the two centuries of settlement, the need for educational institutions has risen alongside it. Today, there are a total of six public elementary schools for children grades 1-8, one being part of the region’s Catholic school board, one private Montessori school, and one public high school. The face of Uxbridge’s education today is vastly different from the first log cabin school built on Quaker Hill in 1817.


Uxbridge's first public school in town.


Bibliography

Healey, Robynne Rogers. “Building, Sustaining, and Reforming Quaker Community in Upper Canada: Informal Education and the Yonge Street Women Friends.” Quaker History 94, no. 1 (2005): 1–23. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41947551.

J. Peter Hvidsten. Uxbridge - the First 100 Years. Observer Publishing of Port Perry, 2010.

MacGilivray, Allan. Tales from the Uxbridge Valley, 2000.


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