Built to meet the needs of the families moving to one of St. Catharines’ earliest residential suburbs. Designed in cohesion with the architectural features so characteristic to its neighbourhood. A lasting symbol of what can be achieved when a community works together. From its very beginning, Glen Ridge School and its surrounding greenspace have served its community as a place for learning, play, gathering, and identity.
On this episode of History from Here, Public Programmer Sara Nixon takes you to the former Glen Ridge School building at 101 South Drive in St. Catharines, Ontario.
The story of Glen Ridge School is part of a larger story of rapid population growth, suburban expansion, and economic prosperity across St. Catharines during the first decades of the 20th century. Industrial production was increasing exponentially, which brought more jobs and more wealth to the City. With the rise of the automobile making it possible for workers to live outside of the urban core to raise their families, plans for idyllic residential enclaves began to emerge. The Glen Ridge neighbourhood was one of those planned suburbs; a commuter’s paradise nestled among nature, with its winding, tree-lined streets, and easy access to downtown via the new high-level bridge crossing the valley of the old Welland Canal.
However, while the homes in this carefully planned neighbourhood were quickly occupied by families, there was not yet much else in the area. In order to go to school, children had to walk across the bridge to the attend St. Andrew’s Ward School, located at the corner of William and Church Streets. It didn’t take long for these new arrivals to overcrowd this downtown school, and in 1921, the St. Catharines Board of Education purchased a piece of land to specifically to build a new school to serve the children of Glenridge. On September 4, 1929, the new four-room school began its first term, with 43 pupils and 2 teachers.
The school building was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by the well-known St. Catharines architectural firm Nicholson and Macbeth, who had also designed several homes in Glen Ridge in the same style. We see the characteristic features of the neighbourhood’s dominant Tudor-Revival style in the school’s steep hipped roof, deep front portico, leaded-glass windows, prominent chimney, and mixed-use of brick, stone, and stucco.
As south St. Catharines continued to expand, so did Glen Ridge School. In 1951, the school officially opened a new expansion with four additional classrooms and an Assembly Hall, which would eventually become its library. Designed in the International style by another popular St. Catharines architect, Wilson Salter, the clean lines, straight edges, and smooth exterior finishes of this new addition starkly contrasted with the original schoolhouse. The school was expanded again in 1988 to include a modern gymnasium.
With each new addition, Glen Ridge School further rooted itself as a central hub of the neighbourhood. Its Assembly Hall, library, and gymnasium became venues for public meetings and events. The greenspace surrounding the school was also one of the only parklands and play areas for the homes nearby. Generations of neighbourhood children recall skating and playing hockey on a make-shift ice rink built by school caretakers. This was a community space for everyone in the neighbourhood.
Despite ongoing renovations and modernization projects, declining enrollment forced the school to close in 2016. However, through an inspiring display of community activism and solidarity, the Glen Ridge neighbourhood successfully worked with the City of St. Catharines and the private sector to protect this historic school building and adjacent greenspace, while also opening the tight-knit community of Glen Ridge to more families. Through such community advocacy, Glen Ridge School has been repurposed to once again meet the needs of the City’s growing population, and in Partridge Park, an ice-rink can again be enjoyed by both kids, and kids-at-heart.