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The Union School

The Union School
Plaque no. 8
Date of plaque unveiling
12 August 1971
Alice McFarlane
391 King Street, south side between Colborne and Waterloo streets, London, Ontario

This building was demolished in 1890. The plaque was mounted in the London Room, Central Library, London Public Library, 305 Queens Avenue, London, Ontario in February 1983 and is now mounted in the Ivey Family London Room, Central Library, London Public Library, 251 Dundas Street, London, Ontario.

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Prior to 1849, each of the city’s four wards had its own small school. The incorporation of London as a town in 1848 enabled the municipality to replace these with a union school. To mark the laying of the foundation stone on June 25, 1849, students and teachers of the ward schools marched from the market square to the new site where a ceremony was held.

The school opened in 1850 with three teachers and some 300 pupils, the ward students occupying separate classrooms. This arrangement was short lived as rivalries between groups resulted in many playground fights, and trustees directed that girls be dismissed early to allow them to get home safely. Later that year three women teachers joined the staff in the hope that they would be more effective at student discipline.

The school’s first headmaster, Nicholas Wilson, was chosen after a two-day oral interview attended by the trustees and interested citizens. Wilson taught for almost sixty years until his retirement in 1909 at the age of 76.

Examinations were held in mid-summer, and were public occasions where citizens could watch the exercises and listen to the performance of the students. When the Common and Grammar School Boards were amalgamated in 1865, the Union School was renamed the Central School and placed under the direction of Principal Benjamin Bayly.

In 1890, the now obsolete building was demolished and part of the site was subdivided into building lots. The London Free Press later said of the Union School that “the bricks that made up its walls are now the under layer of the walls of more than one fine residence in the city.” Colborne Street (later Alexandra) Public School opened on the site in 1912 and was demolished in 1984.  Highrise apartments now occupy the site.