The ( Strange ) Architectural History of Harbord

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Written By: India Anamanthadou

Think back to the first time you ever saw Harbord C.I. While you travelled along Harbord St., did your heart skip-a-beat as you marvelled at the architectural beauty that would one day be your high school? No, I didn’t think so. You may have had an experience similar to this, but it was probably induced by the ornate exterior of Central Tech. With its bland façade, it is no secret that Harbord’s building palls in comparison to other Toronto high schools’—but we weren’t always the sore thumb of the TDSB; in fact, we almost rivalled Central Tech.

In the late 1800s, the need for a second high school in Toronto became increasingly obvious; the only operating high school, Toronto Collegiate Institute (now Jarvis C.I.), was overcrowded and unable to keep up with the demands of the sprawling central-west area of the city. And thus Harbord Street Collegiate Institute was conceived. Construction began soon after, and by 1892, a school was born. At the time of Harbord’s opening, buildings and houses were sparse, wooden planks served as sidewalks and—as Harbord St. served as a cattle shuttle route—cows would occasionally saunter onto the school’s property. The now iconic castle-like structure of the 1892 school housed a meagre 15 classrooms but came complete with arched entranceways and a lookout tower. In 1906, when enrolment peaked at 700 students, Harbord was deemed overcrowded; to accommodate the extra Harbordites, a new school was opened in the northwest end of the city. Today, that school is known as Oakwood Collegiate.

Eventually, resourcefulness was not enough to deal with the expanding student population and, in1931, a new, larger building was completed. In comparison to the first building, it was decidedly less exciting but still beautiful by today’s low standards.
The building we now grudgingly walk through is the product of two years of major renovations during the late ‘70s, a project that took about 8 million dollars to complete. The new building included, among other things, “H-shaped” hallways, a confusing classroom numbering system and secret corridors—it makes you wonder if the architect was deliberately trying to make the first day of grade 9 painful. The floor plan also included a collection of strange, obscured rooms. In particular, a room that has always been of fascination to me during my time at Harbord is one located off the science department’s office on the 3rd floor. It if it weren’t for the “Radioactive Material Stored Here” plaque above the doorway, it may have never come to my attention. According to Mr. Harrison the “radioactive material” was only removed a mere 12 years ago. If you are familiar with your nuclear physics, you know that radiation from the material can still permeate the air long after removal—this would explain the urgent-looking “Keep This Door Locked at All Time” sign taped to the outside of the door. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: the fact that students used to conduct experiments with radioactive material or that we may still be suffering the consequences of history’s blindness.

But that’s the true power of Harbord—its history surrounds you, whether you know it or not.

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One thought on “The ( Strange ) Architectural History of Harbord

  1. Hi
    I was wondering if you could tell me the source for your information about Harbord being a “cattle shuttle route”? I live on Jersey ave (just west of Clinton, north off of Harbord) and am interested in the history of the area with respect to cows and especially any connection to the name Jersey ave (Jersey cows?) or cows that were kept in the area. I know of stories that up until the 1970’s there were cattle still being kept right in that area. This era I think maybe ended with the escape of a number of cows that caused the area to be shut down by police so as to round them up. I also know that there was an abbattoir just north of Bloor on Clinton.
    Any information you might have would be great.
    Thank you, Ian

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