Toronto's First Public School and Little Trinity Church:
Nurturing minds and spirits of Corktown’s Working Poor
Stadium – Branding Through Public Space
ehind the Little Trinity Church at King and Trinity is the Toronto’s First Free School, Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, the gift of the namesake brewer and philanthropist to the poor children of Corktown, one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods.
In his late thirties, Enoch Turner moved to Toronto from Staffordshire, England. Around 1830 he established a brewery on Taddle Creek, a stream that once flowed to Lake Ontario just west of today’s Distillery District. Now the creek is one of Toronto’s Lost Rivers, buried beneath the city’s streets. The brewery building was located near today’s Toronto Public Library Administrative building at Front and Parliament.
You might have guessed the neighbourhood’s name was related to brewery, but think again. The name is like Chinatown or Little Italy. From 1849-1859 many poor immigrants in the area were the families from County Cork in what is now Eire (Ireland), so the neighbourhood became known as Corktown.
Enoch Turner was likely influenced in his charity by distiller William Gooderham,founder of Gooderham and Worts at today’s revitalized Distillery District. Gooderham established Little Trinity Anglican Church in 1842 to serve the poor immigrants who worked at his distillery and grist mill. Gooderham attended services here along with his employees, and Enoch Turner served as the church’s warden. Turner built his schoolhouse in 1848 to serve the children of the same workers. It was Toronto’s first free school. Both Gooderham and Turner were close associates of Thornton Blackburn, a former slave and the founder of Toronto’s first taxi company, who also attended Little Trinity Church. Blackburn’s home was just short two blocks east from the church.
An Open-Hearted Patron
In addition to Turner’s support of the school and church, he gave generously to Trinity College and endowed the new University of Toronto, to ensure that it remained non-denominational. He was remembered as a kind and open-hearted man. “In a period of grinding poverty he was regarded as a generous and compassionate man who loved children and animals. At the end of a hard day it is said that he would feed his horses beer.” (Reed Scrapbooks)
Although he became a wealthy gentleman, Turner did not live ostentatiously. His home, “Allandale”, is preserved a modest brick building in the Regency Cottage style on the east side of Sherbourne, three doors north of Dundas. Today it isincorporated into a social housing complex. One imagines that Turner would have approved.
A "Lane" way to Toronto’s Heritage
Historians believe that the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse building was designed by Henry Bowyer Lane, an English architect who also designed Little Trinity Church in a similar Gothic Revival style. Another of Lane’s buildings was the St. Lawrence Market building and Toronto’s first City Hall, a two-for-one structure that burned in Toronto’s Great Fire of 1849; however, its archways and roofline are still discernible in the south St.Lawrence Market building.
Although the school ran for only about ten years, the schoolhouse has served a series of uses till this day. It has served as a Sunday School and Parish Hall for Little Trinity, as a recruitment centre during the Boer War (1899), as a servicemen’s centre in both World Wars, as a soup-kitchen during the Great Depression, and as a youth centre in the 1950s and 60s.
Today, after a lovingly restoration, Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is run by a charitable foundation as a venue for school programs and for event rentals. It is one of many designated heritage buildings in Toronto under the Ontario Heritage Act,and remains an important physical link to the aspirations of Torontonians of good will from another era.