Thornton-Dundee Community Center
Reason for Designation
The patent for the south 100 acres of Lot 17, Concession 2 in the Township of East Whitby was awarded to Anthony Niverville (DeNiverville) on December 31, 1798. Pierre Lukin acquired the entire parcel in 1824 and began selling off parcels five years later. On December 20, 1880, the trustees of School Section No. 5 (Union) obtained ownership of the one acre parcel on which their school was built.
Located halfway between Whitby and Oshawa, the school and surrounding community was named for Dr. Robert Hill Thornton. Dr. Thornton was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1806. He was ordained minister and sent to preach in Canada in 1833. Rev. Thornton was well known as a missionary from Toronto to Cobourg. When he agreed to serve as minister to the Scottish settlers in East Whitby, he became the first Presbyterian minister in the area. Robert H. Thornton was 63 years old at the time of the 1871 census. He and his wife Margaret had three children: Margaret, Josephine and Ebenezer.
Dr. Thornton’s work was not limited to the ministry. It is said his work in education was second only to that of Dr. Edgerton Ryerson. Dr. Thornton died in 1875 and was buried in Union Cemetery.
The school at Thornton’s corners was originally one large room with a smaller room at the rear. Mr. Sowerby was the first teacher of Union School #5. The original blackboards were wooden, the first desks double, the floor rough wood. The building was heated by woodstove, which according to local legend was also used to bake potatoes for the student’s lunches. In 1901, a partition was added to divide the main space and a furnace was installed in the south room. In the 1920’s, the cellar was excavated and the furnace moved.
The school building was not comfortable for the students. School Inspector R. A. Hutchinson wrote in 1928, “There is no ventilation provided for the school and with all the windows closed, the air in the room becomes very bad. Canvas screens for two windows would help”. Two years later came another complaint. “The old toilets are dirty and filled with snow. They are unfit for use and better conditions must be provided. The only way to remedy the many defects of your school is to build a new one…”. While the building may not have earned high marks in the school inspector’s eyes, the teachers did. Annual reports were filled with praise for the teacher and her pupils.
In 1936, the Home & School Association was organized. Their first project was to install gasoline lamps in the school. The Home & School Association provided good social times and material aid to the students and teachers.
During its school days, Union School #5 was the focus for community activities. Young and old enjoyed the plays, euchre parties, box socials, hay and sleigh rides, square dances, and strawberry socials. In 1954, Thornton School closed. Designated the Thornton Community Center in 1956, and later the Thornton-Dundee Community Center, the building continues to serve the community.
The Thornton-Dundee Community Center, build in 1880, is a wonderful example of the Second Empire style. The architect was the Oshawa architect Hiram Robert Barber. This style was popularized by the federal Department of Works in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Typical of the style, the former Thornton’s Road School (Union School #5) features yellow brick with red brick detailing, a three part façade, rounded arched windows and doors, bracketed eaves and a decorative belt course. The mansard roof dictated by the Second Empire style, originally sat atop the frontispiece. Sadly, the mansard roof along with its hooded rounded arch dormer and bell tower have been replaced by a low hipped roof.
The former school is rectangular in plan with projecting front entranceway and a ‘T’ extending to the rear. It has a low, hipped roof and is symmetrical and compact in appearance.
A prominent central frontispiece with flanking double bay end pavilions dominates the façade or east elevation. Two 4/4 rounded arch windows are featured here with alternating red and buff brick voussoirs which become incorporated into a three row stretcher course that encircles the frontispiece, the north, east and south elevations of the main building, and the west wall of the rear ‘galley’. A second three-row, stretcher course of alternating red and buff brick encircles the frontispiece at the level of the eave line of the main building. Wooden brackets support the hipped roof. Two rounded arch, 6/6 sash windows located on the main structure flank the frontispiece.
The north and south elevations are identical to each other. Both feature 6/6 rounded arch, sash windows aside a centrally-located chimney on the main structure. The entrance doors, located on both side walls of the frontispiece, are paired and panelled under a rounded arch six-light transom. The two paired and corbelled chimneys located at either end of the main building, feature a red and buff brick oculus design. Two wooden brackets support each of the four corners of the main structure.
The rear elevation has one 6/6 rounded arch window with red and buff brick voussoirs located at the north end of the main building. Three sash windows grouped together under a flat header with red brick ‘keystone’, are located at the south end of the main building’s west elevation. The windows have a configuration of 6/6, 10/10 and 6/6.
The rear wing features a red and buff brick segmentally arched window opening and alternating brick horizontal door opening along the north elevation. The reverse occurs on the south elevation, that is, the window opening is horizontal and the door opening segmental.