Westfield recently completed a unique project with a fellow museum. 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/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.
When the historic school house became a museum, in the 1960’s, they built a class set of reproduction wooden school desks. They modelled their desks after surviving originals from the Canada West period, just as Glenn Kilmer, co-founder of Westfield, and company did here at Westfield Heritage Village. The Enoch Turner School restoration carpenters acquired large planks of red pine, likely from the demolition of a Confederation era industrial building, and built their elegantly rectilinear desks.
After fifty years of use these desks were wobbling, etched with graffiti and really showing their age. Having no workshop space available to do refinishing or repairs, the Enoch Turner team reached out to the museum community looking for a solution and they found Westfield. After a visit in 2019 it was decided that the old growth red pine desks could be saved and that the work could be done at Westfield by our experienced volunteers and staff. The first batch of desks were delivered a few weeks before the Covid 19 outbreak in March. That really tossed a spanner into the plans.
Work on the desk project continued in a slow and steady fashion. Once volunteers were clear to come back under restricted conditions, the pace picked up. Several volunteers joined a rotating schedule, each arriving and working alone. The desks were assessed, washed, scraped, sanded twice, repaired, pre-conditioned, stained with two coats and varathaned with two more.
All in all it took twice as long as planned but the project was completed. The old class set of eighteen desks and the teacher’s desk were given a new lease on life. This was a great opportunity for two museums to come together and work on a mutually beneficial project. A big thank you goes out to all involved in making this endeavor such a success.