Thursday Doors: Past And Present Collide

Several months ago I found a list on Wikipedia of heritage buildings in the Toronto area. The oldest building on the list goes back to 1794 and the most recent dated at 1916.

I downloaded the list with the expectation of using it to plan some of my outings around the city, but I found it rather cumbersome to use.

Once an analyst, always an analyst … I’ve spent a considerable amount of time re-organizing the data so I can count the buildings in the list, tag which ones I’ve visited, and sort the buildings based on location.

I’m about half way through cleaning up the list and have already counted over 400 buildings.  However, out of this exercise, I identified a heritage site only a few kilometers from my home.

It’s the modestly named SS #3 School built in 1872.

I wondered how I could have missed this little one-room schoolhouse on a road I’ve traveled so many times.

Scarb Heritage School3
Yes, the building is level, the street is not.

SS #3 School has had an interesting history.  It actually operated as a school until the mid-1970s.

Canadians of a certain age will undoubtedly remember the TV show Mr Dressup – English Canada’s longest running children’s program.  It had been on the air from 1967 to 1996 when Ernie Coombs retired.

Mr Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan (from

In the old former schoolhouse known as SS #3, Ernie Coomb’s wife, Marlene, developed a daycare centre called Butternut Square … the name of the predecessor TV show to Mr Dressup, and the program that introduced Ernie to Canadian children.

“Mrs Dressup” had purchased SS #3 School and completed extensive renovations to the building, including an addition on the back that respected the original look of the schoolhouse.

SS #3 School
The addition, on the left, added to the original schoolhouse

When Marlene Coombs was killed in a car-pedestrian accident in 1992, the little schoolhouse was purchased by its neighbour, Whitefield Christian Schools, and is now a school for children from kindergarten to Grade 5.

I was graciously offered a tour of the inside by an administrator onsite preparing for the new school year about the start in September.  I quickly accepted.

Scarb Heritage School
This window is above the front door of the schoolhouse.

Unfortunately she was unable to tell me what the SS stood for in its rather stark name, but she was very knowledgeable about the building and its history.

The original high-ceiling room was divided during the renovation stage and a second floor was created.  This effectively divided the windows of the building between the two floors providing a rather unusual perspective from the top floor.  The walls and ceiling are still covered in the original stamped tin.

This second floor now functions as a kindergarten, while the main floor is a small auditorium.  For a 5 years old, I would imagine those windows are just about perfect.

In the bell tower, the original school bell still hangs … although from the broken and frayed rope, I’m guessing it hasn’t been rung in a very long time.

SS #3 School2

Now, you’re probably wondering ‘what about the door?’ … after all, this is Thursday Doors.

The plain, no-nonsense front door has had its knobs removed – entry to the building from the front is no longer possible.  The entrance is at the back of the building from the addition that was built, through typical safety glass school doors,  locked with card access only.

The tiny plaque to the left of the door, indicates this building as a Scarborough Historic Site.

Scarb Heritage School2

Thursday Doors is a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm 2.0.


  1. Have you ever visited the Enoch Turner schoolhouse down around King & Parliament area? They have some space set up as an old schoolroom (and I believe school children visit) and it’s also an event space. It’s a beautiful building with a special past and is next door to a historic church. The walking tour run by the ROM – that ends up at the Distillery District stops there – and the Toronto Heritage tour that goes through Corktown also tours the school.


    • I have heard of it, but haven’t been there – yet.
      I have a listing of the ROM Walks and now that it’s September (mid-month already!!) it’s time to take a look at it again.
      Thanks for the info.
      Margie, do you have a blog site?


  2. I love your project. And you should send your highly superior list back to wiki. 🙂 (Curiosity got the better of me and I had to go and look up the same list for our city. Our oldest is 1841. We’re just a baby really. 🙂 )
    Love the schoolhouse and what a bonus to get a tour!


  3. Joanne! In that children’s playroom, I so love the tin roof ceiling with curved edges!
    I also liked the story you shared about the older television show with puppets and Ernie Coombs. So cool that he wife also loved children and bought this building to use as a daycare center.
    We had a few children’s shows here similar with actors and puppets. Which at first I thought the TV show was filmed at this building. I know ours were filmed on “sets,” too.
    Finally, I am so glad the children range from kindergarten through fifth grade who utilize currently the school. Those children’s ages are extra special due to the age and history of the building. They may appreciate its background and hopefully, show this to their own children one day. 1872 is a very old school building and so glad the addition matched up so well, too.


    • I’ve really come to appreciate the cost and effort that goes into restoring an old building like this to give it new purpose.
      It seems that this charming little building was always meant to be a place of education and I’m happy that it’s so lovingly cared for.
      The administrator who was showing me around commented that they do attempt to impart some of the building’s history to the students. With little ones it requires interactive stuff like period dressing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an odd construction for the second floor. I think I would have preferred a second floor loft with the open area in front of the windows. And five year old children with a window on the floor just makes me think of millions of fingerprints…and a germ factory. I wonder how often they clean it?

    And I just can’t help myself…maybe it was all those years of reading mystery novels…but when I see a mystery, I have to find out the answer. S.S. stands for “school section”…kind of boring but mystery solved. Here is the reference (section vii).

    Click to access Public_Building_Inventory_Part_2_-_Educational_Buildings.pdf


  5. So much to love about this wonderful post. I great discovery close to home, warm memories from younger days, an invitation to go inside AND a lovely door to boot! How cool is that? 🙂


  6. I loved Mr Dress Up , as did my kids. So sorry to hear of the tragic accident. Such a shame.
    It looks like we both are making discoveries right in our own back yard these days.


  7. Your photos and write-up bring back a bit of nostalgia for me. I attended a one-room schoolhouse in the 6th grade (although not this one). Nice photos, and it must have been a thrill to get a tour.


  8. Would be interesting to know what ‘ss’ stood for – Scarborough School? Ambitious project to make it through the historic site list – good for you for getting inside this one too!


    • I couldn’t believe it when she asked me if I wanted to go inside!! Are you kidding me?!
      I did however decline the offer to explore the old dirt cellar under the schoolhouse. After reading Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, the thought was a little too creepy for me 😉

      A friend sent me an email last night telling me that her mom explained the SS. Her mom is in her 80s and went to school at SS #2 School west of here. It means School Section and all the rural schools were designated into sections and numbered.

      Apparently #2 is still around and now a museum. You know what that means, right? Road trip.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Elizabeth.

      Sometimes I get caught up in the glamour of the big, ornate structures. It was nice to explore a simple little schoolhouse for a change. I was surprised by how happy it made me feel. I think it might have been the chance to see the inside of a kindergarten classroom again. It’s been a very long time … and there’s something special about a kindergarten classroom, especially one that’s over a 140 years old 🙂


  9. I agree it’s a lovely building. I especially like the tin ceiling, and bell. That top floor looks like a great place to spend time learning in. You wrapped up the history of the building with the door perfectly.

    Looking forward to seeing what other buildings and structures you find on the list.

    It made me smile to see I wasn’t the only with leveling issues today. 🙂 xx


  10. It’s so funny that you’re just now noticing this school. The schools I featured s while back are on a road I’ve been driving for 35 years and I only noticed it now. It’s either the power-of-Norm or schools are able to hide.

    In any case, I’m glad you found this charming little building, Joanne. Even if the door doesn’t work, it’s very pretty and the building is a treat to see.


    • What’s even more interesting is that while I was researching for this story, I discovered that Ernie Coombs – our Mr Dressup – was actually an American from Maine and was the understudy for Mr Rogers.
      They had traveled to Canada in 1963 to work on an early version of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood with the CBC. Three years later Fred Rogers returned to the US and developed Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood for the US market.
      How cool is that?!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. SS #3 School. Scarborough Schoolhouse #3 School. Well it could be! 🙂 Love that you actually found a list of heritage buildings in your area. Our list- if one did exist- would probably go back no further than the 1980’s. Anything older is imploded and some newer, brighter building is constructed of metal and glass in its stead.


    • It could be, Emilio. Admittedly, I thought Scarborough didn’t exist for that long, but I just did a search and discovered Scarborough has been around since 1850!
      Who knew?!! Certainly not me and I’ve lived here for 25 years!
      Thanks Emilio. Now you’ve got me going off on another historical tangent ….

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I loved the way you blended history with pictures. By the way, the mystery around the SS word is quite intriguing. I think it perhaps stands for Scarborough Secondary or just Secondary School, just a wild guess.


    • I had thought *separate school* since we do have a Separate School system for Catholic schools.
      The administrator I talked to thought it might be “School Section” #3 School, but she wasn’t sure.

      If I ever solve the mystery, I’ll let you know 🙂


  13. I totally forgot about the door until you brought me back to it in the end. That’s a fascinating building and a fascinating story to go with it. This makes me want to investigate buildings in this area, to learn more of their history…except that I will forego the analytical data collection and organization. I do enough of that at work lately…


    • The problem is that once you have the instinct for data collection and organization, IT STICKS WITH YOU!! 😉

      If anyone had asked me before I found this list, I would have guessed we didn’t have more than a 100 historic buildings still standing.
      Wow – was I wrong!!!
      This list could keep me busy for a long time!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This is a jewel of a building and even if the door doesn’t open it is still beautiful. 🙂 It is such a pretty building, it could be a post card. But, someone needs to put a new rope on it because how exciting would that be if they could ring the bell. 🙂


    • I know! Now that would certainly be a step back in time. I know that some (many?) primary schools still use bells to signify the start and end of classes, recess, etc … but how wonderful it would be if it was a real bell again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the history of old houses and buildings. What an interesting story. I love the knob-less front door, I wonder what made them do that. I am glad you did some research on the building. I love the old bell on top.


  16. Isn’t it funny how you can drive by something in your neighbourhood & miss such finds? What an interesting history this building has, in particular the connection to Mr. Dressup! I mean, come on, what kid wouldn’t want to go to a school Mr. Dressup owned!


  17. What a lovely find; and yes, I can imagine it would be a magical place for children. I totally love your re-working the list to make the data more usable; it’s exactly what I would have done too. 🙂


    • Visiting this old schoolhouse made me ridiculously happy. It was well cared for, and being used for its original purpose. Does it get any better than that?!

      I wish I had known about this school years ago when my boys were young. I would have looked into it as a possible alternative.


  18. Oh what a terrific find! It’s a classic. I love the little windows on the floor, the beautiful ceiling and the bell tower. Thank goodness these buildings get declared as heritage sites and are therefore not only saved but “preserved.”



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