Toronto's Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is a provincially significant heritage site and the oldest school still standing in Toronto. Today, this historical property is a public museum and a conference and special events venue.
The original one-room school was established in 1848 by Enoch Turner (1792-1866), a wealthy brewer and philanthropist, to educate the children in the poor neighbourhood surrounding his brewery. Because many of the area's immigrant families were from County Cork in Ireland, the neighbourhood became known as Corktown – a nickname it still carries today.
Turner supplied funds to construct the Schoolhouse and the land was donated by the adjacent Little Trinity Church. In 1849, the school opened with space for 240 pupils and Turner paid for its operation for three years. It was the first free school in Toronto.
The design of the one-storey Gothic revival-style brick schoolhouse is attributed to architect Henry Bowyer Lane (1817-78). In 1869, the building was expanded to the west with an addition designed by noted Toronto architectural firm Gundry and Langley. The addition is a particularly early work by Henry Langley, who opened his own practice that same year, following the death of Thomas Gundry. Langley went on to become one of the most influential 19th-century architects in Ontario, designing important Toronto landmarks such as the Metropolitan United Church (56 Queen Street East), McMaster Hall (273 Bloor Street West) and the Bank of British North America (49 Yonge Street).
Enoch Turner founded his free school following the Common Schools Act of 1847. After the act was passed, municipalities had the power to raise funds for public education through taxation. However, city officials were unwilling to introduce such taxes, and as a result, all schools that benefited from any kind of public support were closed for a year. This prompted Turner to establish the Schoolhouse, which was as a critical catalyst in the development of a provincially supported free school system.
In 1850, school trustees were elected by the public to oversee educational funding. Free public education officially began in 1851, transferring the school to the city. In 1859, the school and property were returned to Little Trinity parish, and from the 1860s to the 1960s the Schoolhouse served as a parish hall and Sunday school for the church. By the late 1960s, the Schoolhouse had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition.
To protect the schoolhouse and raise funds for its restoration, the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse Foundation
was established in 1971. After extensive interior and exterior renovations, the Schoolhouse opened as a living history site and conference and reception centre. In March 2008, the ownership and operation of the Schoolhouse were transferred to the Ontario Heritage Trust from the Foundation. The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse Foundation continues as an independent charitable organization, working with the Trust to support the programming and operation of the Schoolhouse.