QUEENSTON —It was back in 1844 that they built the old stone school. There has been a lot of changes in the village since then, and there have been changes, too, in the schools. Today, with the opening of a two - room addition to Laura Secord Memorial School, education has come a long way.
Back in 1844 Queenston was the head of navigation for Lake Ontario, and shiploads of goods were portaged by mule team to Chippawa, only to give way soon to a horse railway. Queenston was a thriving place, reputed to have 13 hotels and four liquor stores, and a shoe factory employing 40 men.
If, as the records indicate, the old stone school built that year had two classrooms and upward of 150 pupils, overcrowding was a problem then as now. Perhaps enrolment declined later, because only one teacher was needed near the turn of the century. Methodist church services were held at one time in the basement, before the present United Church—then Methodist—was built in 1862.
In 1842 the District Municipal Act divided Niagara township into 11 school districts. Cost of the old school is not available in the record, but in 1850 the township council assessed School Section No. 4 for 40 pounds to pay the teacher.
Early in the present century the old stone school was considered too antiquated, and the ratepayers voted for-an up-to-date building. At this time the Queenston Women's Institute, organized in 1908, was advocating the building of a hall as a suitable memorial to Queenston's own heroine, Laura Secord.
A site was promised and donations received from many sources. When plans for the new school, to be a fine red brick structure, were chosen, the decision was made to include a large auditorium with fully equipped stage and a kitchen. The school itself had two large classrooms, each with boys' and girls' cloakrooms, a library, a teachers' room, pressure drinking fountains, and indoor lavatories.
There were many large donations —$3,000 from the Women's Institute, $3,000 from the late John D. Larkin, and others—to help furnish and equip the new building. On Sept. 18, 1915, the Laura Secord Memorial School was formally opened and dedicated.
Many changes have taken place since. In 1920-21 when the Queenston Power Station was being built, school attendance so increased that the cloakrooms of the junior room were converted into a third classroom. By 1929, two teachers again were sufficient.
In 1949, the increase had again started, and this time the stage of the auditorium was utilized as a classroom and a third teacher again hired. This past September the registration was 152 and while the new wing was being built, a part of the auditorium was partitioned off for the fourth classroom.
Only two principals have guided the affairs of the. Laura Secord Memorial School, the late C. R. Kilkenny and Miss H. A. Corman, who began her duties in September, 1918.
Miss Corman has taught the children of many of her former pupils. Since the opening of the school in 1915, some 19 other teachers have assisted in teaching the three Rs—and other subjects—in the junior, third and now fourth rooms.
The cost of the Laura Secord Memorial School in 1915 with furnishings and equipment was around $23,000. Contract for the new wing now being opened was $53,426. Add to this the furnishings, architect's fees, a new heating unit for the whole school, and increasing the size of the washrooms, and the debenture issue of $60,000 will be just sufficient to cover the total cost.
School costs have more than kept pace with Niagara township's increasing population.
In 1872—including costs of building school houses—Niagara township raised $2,985.81 for school purposes. In 1932, including debentures, township and trustee rates, the amount was $21,758.65. In 1952 disbursements for public and high school boards was $93,251.61.
The present school board consists of H. Boynton (chairman), Harry C. Vrooman (secretary) and Claude G. Erwin. All three attended Laura Secord School. The latter took the place of Mayor H. C. Sheppard who retired at the end of December after being on the board for 30 years.
Present inspectors are J. C. Welker and G. A. MacLeod, of St. Catharines.