Description of Historic Place
Robertson Public School is a brick two-storey structure in a rectangular form that is located on Church Street in downtown St. Catharines. The handsome building features a projecting portico with a bell tower and six large date stones, having served as an educational, civic and cultural centre since its construction in 1829.
The property was designated for its heritage value by the City of St. Catharines under by-law 78-359.
Originally called Grantham Academy it was the second high school in Upper Canada when it was constructed in 1829. It opened as a private boys' school and remained as such until 1871 when it became a public school. The building is connected to William Hamilton Merritt, a prominent businessman and founder of the Welland Canal Company in St. Catharines, who enrolled his three sons at the Academy: Jediah, William and Thomas. After serving as the site for the St. Catharines District Grammar School (1845-1872) and the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute (1872-1923), the building became known as the W. J. Robertson Public School and remained under that name until 1977. The building continues to provide opportunities for educational and cultural development, with English as a Second Language classes being taught along with daycare services.
The school was built in the same year as the opening of the first Welland Canal. The bell in the front tower was presented to the Academy by Oliver Phelps, one of the original Trustees that worked on the “Deep Cut”, as the original Welland Canal was known. It is believed to be the first public bell in St. Catharines, used not only as a school bell, but to call people to fight fires and for work crews constructing the Welland Canal. The building has survived a bankruptcy, a proposed demolition and three fires, highlighting a determined longevity that is valued.
The dominant architectural feature of the property is its projecting portico, accentuated by the bell inside the tower as well as the six date stones above the arched entryway. The two-storey brick building has a partial basement of fieldstone and rough, hand-hewn timber beams. It features a medium hipped roof with two additional hips at either end, trimmed with a box cornice and flat headed main windows. The centrally located door with a plain trim, flush fan transom and three flush panels is protected by the front portico. Additions and renovations were completed in 1871, 1880 and 1952, with the 'Annex' (Robertson Hall) being constructed in 1910. Each of these additions were commemorated by date stones.
The property is strategically located in the downtown area of St. Catharines, serving as a central meeting point for educational and cultural organizations. The school is situated in close proximity to the first Welland Canal, which was located behind St. Paul Street. The opening of the canal in the same year as the school proved to be beneficial, as the property served as an educational facility for the children of the canal workers as well as businesspeople who were attracted to the city by its bright development.
Sources: By-law 78-359, City of St. Catharines, 1978; “Heritage and History”, City of St. Catharines, 2007.
Character defining elements that reflect the heritage value of Robertson Public School include its:
- central location on Church Street in downtown St. Catharines, providing a central site for educational and cultural activity
- location near the original Welland Canal
- bell, used to call work crews on the Canal
- use as a continuous function as an educational centre for arts and cultural organizations
- projecting front portico with bell and 6 date stones
- medium hipped roof with additional hips at either end and box cornice
- brick construction and rectangular form