The local public school in Oxford Mills has been living under the threat of closure for some years now, after the Upper Canada District School Board put it on a list of schools to be closed for various reasons. But the school continues, with dedicated staff and students, supported by highly committed parents. It continues a long tradition of local education in Oxford Mills that goes back to the pioneer days of the hamlet.
Winnie Lamrock, who attended Maplewood school and later taught there until it closed in 1964, described the early schools: “In reference to the schools in the Oxford Mills section, the first school in this section was situated in the south east corner of what is known as the Lamrock Farm. It was a primitive low log building with very small windows. It was attended by the pioneers of the district; one pupil being Mr. John Greer. When the next school was built, Mr. Tom Flood used the log building for a house.
The second school of the section was situated on what is today the United Church lawn. This was a long, low stone building with three large windows at each side and two large windows in the front. This building was near the rear of the lot, with the playground in front. A large space in the centre of the floor was left bare and which was used during recitation periods.
On each side were three rows of desks running lengthwise of the school. They were elevated; the lowest ones in the centre of the room and the highest ones at the side walls. The subjects taught were the 3 R’s. Some of the teachers who taught there were Mr. McPherson, Mr. John Waterson, and Mr. John Conn, who taught there from 1871 to 1875, and attendance of 75 during his last year. The late Mr. Ormond Bernard was one pupil who attended the school. Needless to say, the school became too small for the number of pupils and was replaced by the present two-roomed building in 1875. When this second school was torn down the stones were used in the foundation of Mr. Stevens barn, for which he built a fancy iron fence around our present school. This fence has since been removed.”
The school , called S.S. No. 8, now popularly known as Maplewood, opened in August, 1875, with an enrollment of sixty in each of the senior and junior rooms, quite a large collection of students. But the population of Oxford Mills changed with the years, and it was not always possible to find qualified teachers. In 1929, the junior room was closed and all the students were housed in the senior room until a second teacher was hired in 1931 and the school returned to its full use again. Just three years later, it shrank back to the senior room again, this time for almost twenty years. In 1955, it was back at full strength again and continued in use until June, 1964, when it closed. It was bought by the Township of Oxford-on-Rideau and became a school for the mentally challenged in 1968, a role it continued to play until 1983, when it finally closed. This building has seen so many of the great and small events of Oxford Mills since 1875, and remains an important part of the village’s life and history.
It is remarkable how many graduates from Maplewood went on to have an impact beyond their village. Aside from nurses, doctors, carpenters and electricians, Charles Palmerston Anderson, Anglican Bishop of Chicago from 1905 until 1930, attended Maplewood. In fact, he had attended the previous school and was ten years old when Maplewood opened. Another famous graduate was Walter Turnbull, who was Principal Secretary to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King during the Second World War, and later served as Deputy Postmaster General of Canada from 1945 until 1957.
Maplewood has stood beside the old Town Hall of Oxford-on-Rideau Township since 1875, and the land around those buildings has seen so much of the history of the area take place in the shadow of the school. Annual Fairs have been held here since the 1850’s, and Dominion Days, Canada Days, Shakespeare in the Park, weddings, concerts, coffee houses and so many other events have been held in the old school house for more than 140 years. It still serves as a community hub for Oxford Mills, and has been preserved through the efforts of the Community Association for future generations to enjoy. It was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1991.
Oxford-on-Rideau Public School has continued that great legacy of education in Oxford Mills, and with the increasing population and enrolment, it is hoped that it may yet be given a complete reprieve and carry on being a focal point for the community for many more decades to come.