The area around present day Yonge and Steeles was first settled in the early 1790s. In 1820, Benjamin Thorne arrived, later giving the area his name. Modest growth characterized the area for well over a century. After World War II, however, there was increased residential development in the area. A growing economy, the increased effect of the automobile and the general extension of Toronto in all directions were factors in this growth.
Up until this expansion, most children in Thornhill had left school after grade 8 to work on their farms or apprentice to artisans or tradesmen. Those who attended high schools could choose from Upper Canada College (if they could afford it), Richmond Hill HS and Earl Haig SS. Newer residents kept their children in school longer and there was an expectation of more high school education. As RHHS and Earl Haig became overcrowded, a new school was demanded by Thornhill residents. In 1954, their request was granted. Thornhill Secondary School, housed temporarily at the old Richmond Hill site, began with 410 students. By September, 1956, a new million dollar facility on Dudley Avenue was ready to receive its 600 pupils.
At the dedication, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Education stated that the school would “contain within it the power to transform the lives of generations of young Canadians…” a prediction which has undoubtedly come to pass. Opening with a staff of 29 teachers, the T.S.S. faculty would more than double by the beginning of the next decade, expanding from 30 classrooms to 47, expanding the technical program early on to complement the academic and commercial course offerings it had begun with. The school population in the early 1960s had mushroomed to well over 1000, reflecting the baby boom and suburban expansion, North American phenomena of the day. New technology-focussed learning areas were added in 1961.
The students demonstrated initiative right from the start as a student council was formed in the first year. Thornhill’s teams were very competitive during this era, winning several championships in football (in their first year of competition, no less), basketball, and track and field. As well, music and drama programs flourished in this time period, expanding the horizons of many Thornhill students beyond the classroom. Population at the school fluctuated over the next two decades as growth in the area was offset by the opening of two new high schools: Langstaff (1964) and Thornlea (1969). Nevertheless, the tradition of academic excellence and extra-curricular involvement continued unabated through important changes in the world. Students of the ‘50s and ‘60s grew up in a time of great social change – rights movements for women, African-Americans and French Canadians, space exploration and the nuclear threat, and the explosion of youth culture, from Elvis through the Beatles to a whole new emphasis by advertisers on marketing to youth.
In 1969, a fire unfortunately caused extensive damage to parts of the school, necessitating the rebuilding of the home-economics area. In the 1970s, social changes continued apace. While students listened to disco, fashion continued to elevate (platforms) and expand (bell bottoms), the world became a little less tense as the nuclear clock moved backwards, the war in Vietnam ended, the Olympics came to Canada and travel became easier.
At TSS, the technology department went through some changes, modernizing some equipment while consolidating programs. Students once again showed the spirit of TSS when a teacher became confined to a wheelchair in the mid-1970s and students held a number of fundraisers to pay for the installation of a ramp – well before legislation required such modifications. The school also received more refurbishing with new lockers, windows and a fresh coat of paint throughout the building.
In the 1980s, there was further growth in the school as the area west of Yonge St. developed rapidly. The school population closed in on 1400, with nearly 100 faculty members, and the school was ‘temporarily’ expanded through the introduction of portable classrooms in the south and east fields. A special education programme was begun in 1982, again expanding the range of programs with which TSS could serve its population.
While sports such as lacrosse and football (due to cost factors) were eliminated at TSS, other sports, such as basketball, field hockey, rugby, soccer, softball and volleyball continued to flourish. The arts – particularly music and drama – also thrived during this time. Through a tumultuous world – the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Canada’s Constitution coming home, the decade began in a recession which was followed by economic growth.
In the 1990s, enrolment again dipped closer to the school’s capacity (approximately 900) as Vaughan SS was built in 1990 and Westmount opened in 1995. The technical programme modernized and adopted a more computer-based approach. Thornhill’s spirit of generosity continued as student-run activities helped contribute to the community (fashion show for charity, Walk Against Male Violence, Terry Fox, etc.). The building was once again altered with the addition of a new science wing (1997). Programmes added in recent years include gifted education, the High Performance Athlete program, and a class for developmentally delayed students to round out a high school which offers education to the widest range possible of Thornhill’s young people.
The school was updated with modem wiring and Internet/lntranet capability in 2000. More tellingly, TSS has continued to demonstrate its culture of inclusion as it has throughout its history. As demographic changes in the neighbourhoods surrounding the school have evolved, the school has adapted to each of these transitions and maintained its integrity as an institution of learning.
Many of Thornhill’s staff have gone on to positions of responsibility over the years throughout York Region and many of its students have made progress in their careers, achieving success in a variety of fields and much happiness in their lives.
At its inception, it was predicted that TSS would transform lives. More than just a school for academics, TSS has helped develop life skills which have served so many of its graduates and their communities so well. Whatever era we were part of at TSS, the building, the people and the memories will stay with us forever.
Taken from Thornhill’s 50th Anniversary Reunion Yearbook, 2004