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St. Johns Common School 1804


The tiny restored St. Johns Common Schoolhouse, the oldest school in Ontario and the first in Upper Canada.
(Photo Alex Ayotte)


St. Johns Common School, the tiny restored schoolhouse at the intersection of Orchard Hill Road and Hollow Road in Pelham, is a very historic location. Established in 1804, it was the first non-denominational free school in all of Upper Canada, and marked the beginning of the Canadian tradition of free public education that we now all take for granted. St. Johns Common School is considered the oldest standing schoolhouse in Ontario.

Until the mid-1830s, education in most of North America was considered to be a private matter, available primarily to white males from affluent families, and often strongly segregated based on religious affiliation. For many, the idea that education should be freely and universally available to all children regardless of race, gender, religion, wealth or social status, was an objectionable concept. However, proponents of common schools argued that educating all citizens is a fundamental necessity for a democratic society. Legislation for establishing public schools in Upper Canada was not formally introduced until February 1816. It took thirty additional years until this initial bill became law with the Common School Act of 1846. But the noble ideal of free and universal education was alive and well 42 years earlier in this tiny one-room schoolhouse at St. Johns.

The first teacher at the school was Samuel Birdsall. Enrolment in 1826 was recorded as 29 students. The one room schoolhouse functioned until 1844, when a second larger St. Johns Schoolhouse was built. The existing small building was restored by the Niagara South Board of Education (now the District School Board of Niagara) in 1973, and is currently located on the property of a private resident.


 Visitors are welcome to view, but not enter the property of the schoolhouse.


TripClip Audio File

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Click to play or download St. John's Common School TripClip (mp3 format)

This destination is also part of the TripClip tour 'Touring the Twelve.'


Further Information




Restoration of St. Johns West Schoolhouse. (1973). Niagara South Board of Education. Thorold: A Selection of Heritage Buildings and Sites.  Heritage Thorold - LACAC. (date unknown).

Ownership & Management



Thorold, Ontario

GPS Co-ordinates

Latitude 43.07900357270
Longitude -79.28222414980
UTM easting 639835
UTM northing 4771020

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