Originally, the playground area for both Old Orchard and Ossington Schools was an old apple orchard. Later the area was used for Old Orchard Skating Rink, one of the best in the City at that time. The Hudson Tennis Courts were also located in this area and the remains were demolished in the late 1950’s when they erected Old Orchard School. In February 1957, Old Orchard Public School was opened to relieve the overcrowded primary classes in the district.
One year later, a contract was awarded for construction of a second building to accommodate the older boys and girls of Old Orchard Public School, and a new school was officially opened in November 1959. Originally, it was called “New” Orchard School and housed pupils in grades 4, 5 and 6, as well as Kindergarten.
Until June 1960, both schools were considered to be one, with Mr. Nichols as the Principal. However, when he retired later that year, the Board of Education decided to make them into two entirely separate schools and so New Orchard School became known as Ossington Public School. At that point, it was also decided to locate all pupils from Kindergarten to grade 3 in Ossington Public School while grades 4, 5 and 6 would be at Old Orchard Public School.
However, in 1983, due to an ever decreasing enrolment, the two schools were again “twinned”. All students from Kindergarten to grade 6 would attend Ossington Public School, which was renamed Ossington/Old Orchard Public School. The Old Orchard building was converted to house West End Parents Day Care on the first floor. Ballet Creole is currently located on the second floor.
The Ossington/Old Orchard Wilderness Garden (OOOWG) is Toronto’s first and most ambitious school yard conversion. Conceived in 1989, it is a labour of love on the part of many people: parents, children, teachers and the community surrounding Ossington/Old Orchard Public School. It started as a schoolyard taking up a whole city block, completely paved from one end to the other – ugly and empty! Now asphalt and stone have been replaced by:
- a terraced vegetable, herb and flower garden
- an upland forest with native trees and shrubs
- a hedgerow aviary to attract birds
- a playing field and a prairie meadow planted with native
- grasses and flowers
- an apple orchard
- a classroom Celtic circle
The OOOWG has become a learning centre for children, for the community and for hopeful gardeners from far and wide. All who spend time in the garden can appreciate its many moods and seasons: the flowering of the summer meadow; early morning mist rising above our green baseball field; leaves and berries of autumn gold and red; snow on the hillside trees. Through our efforts in reclaiming a natural habitat from concrete, we are now able to see the miraculous changes of nature right in our community. We are proud of our accomplishments and consider the garden a legacy to cherish, nurture and share. Over the years, parents and teachers on the Garden Committee have spent countless volunteer hours showing visitors the garden, developing resources, encouraging projects in other schools, talking to groups at environmental events, fundraising and helping with the ongoing work of tending the garden. Each classroom in the school has a garden plot in which the children can work.
Our Wilderness Garden can always use some help! Whether you’ve been at Ossington/Old Orchard for several years or are new to the school, parents, students and staff are very welcomed and encouraged to lend a hand in some way to keep our garden growing. Joining the Garden Committee, helping to till the soil, attending our Garden meetings, volunteering to help classrooms plant, assisting at our fundraisers or other community events are all ways in which you can help.
The future of the Wilderness Garden continues to be to develop a sense of belonging to and responsibility for the natural environment for our whole community. Curriculum for our children in areas such as language and creative arts, science, history and math, as well as outdoor education will continue to grow in the years to come. Our vision is of a Garden which will remain a powerful reminder of our interdependency with nature, a model for our children of the natural world of which they are a part.