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Thornton Hall Private School (also known as "Thornton Hall" and "Thornton") was an incorporated Canadian co-educational private high school that operated for half a century from 1948 to 1997. It was founded by Stuart E. Mackey.
- 1 Early history, Founding and Philosophy
- 2 Admission, Tuition, Learning Objectives and Efficacy
- 3 Curriculum
- 4 General Approach, Behavioral Standards, Learning Ecology and Structures
- 5 Teaching Methods, Evaluations, Applied Learning and Continuing Studies
- 6 Accreditation
- 7 Faculty and Alumni Relations
- 8 Branding
- 9 Closing
- 10 Legacy
- 11 Notable Alumni
- 12 General References
- 13 Alternate Sources
- 14 External links
Early history, Founding and Philosophy
Stuart Mackey graduated from high school during the Great Depression and while he wanted to pursue a post secondary education that would lead to a career as a psychiatrist, the world economy and financial constraints made such a course impossible. Instead, he went into teaching in the Peterborough Teachers' College after which he assumed a teaching post in Haliburton, Ontario for several years. Advancing his professional interests, he subsequently worked for the Federal Government of Canada and taught on a First Nation Reservation in northern Ontario. At the same time, Mackey continued his professional development studying with the Queen's University Correspondence Course which required him to write and submit essays during the school year and attend instructor led courses on campus during the summer months. While attending a final course, Mackey met some young people connected with private schools in Toronto. With the economy rebounding, Mackey eventually moved to the City and became a resident master at Cantab College located in the neighborhood of Forest Hill. In later years he would study psychology and complete his work to become a counseling psychologist.
In the post-war, baby boom years, Mackey developed a business and educational plan for a school of his own that he described as "... a new concept in education - a private school uniquely engineered for one specific purpose: to provide the serious matriculation candidate with the most individually effective instruction it is possible to obtain". In pursuit of his goal, Mackey began to survey the Forest Hill neighborhood for a suitable location and soon after focussed on a dilapidated single family home located nearby at 241 Poplar Plains Road. The large scaled residential structure had been designed by architect Eden Smith in the Edwardian era and represented a modified English Arts and Crafts styling with a centre hall floor plan. Of red brick and limed mortar, it was originally the home of West Prussian born Frederick Wilhelm Kischel, Vice-President with Toronto's A.R. Machinery Company, Limited, his wife Anna Marie (née Kalbfleisch of Stratford, Ontario) and their sons Emil H., Fred W. and George H. The Kischels lived in the home for decades, attended St. Paul's Lutheran Church and often engaged in typical pastimes of the day such as croquet on the lawn of the back garden. Kischel survived his wife for many years but at the age of 85, died at home leaving the house to later be sold on behalf of his heirs. By the time the property came to market in the late 1940s, it was in a state of decline and Mackey was able to purchase the lot and built form with his personal savings of $1200. Shortly after closing the real estate transaction, Mackey began restoring the exterior, renovating the interior and building furniture for the space, adapting the residential form's basement and first two stories to function as a school with multiple classrooms, museum, science laboratory, study, records room and administrative offices. A kitchenette and private living quarters completed the second and third floors of the structure. Thornton's "fully equipped language stations, special premises for private study, a laboratory with individual work places… these too help to produce a school which can be genuinely helpful", Mackey once said. His rehabilitation of the premises neared completion just a week before classes first started on September 13, 1948 but by then, Mackey had named the school after an old friend - "Thornton". "That's how we got going" he once said of his work. In later years, facilities were expanded and came to include a two-room art studio/lecture hall, flagged amphitheatre and a raised wooden stage where the original garage and back gardens had been located and a fencing terrace and arched security gates where formal side and front gardens had been kept. "We want a separate little space but not a [typical] school. We want them to feel it's different when they get inside" Mackey once said of it all.
As the founder and teaching Principal of Thornton Hall, Mackey conceived that the school would offer a contemporary Canadian curriculum to senior high school students but distinguish itself from most other schools in the overpopulated Ontario educational system by maintaining a very low teacher to student ratio of roughly 1:8. As was the case at Cantab College, individual attention would be available to all students but with Mackey newly devoting himself to teaching the history of human development. Within the history, Mackey believed maths and sciences to be extremely important but felt the humanities to be, in themselves, a more valuable education than the acquisition of practical knowledge related to math and science. He felt the teaching of the humanities to be more productive and the academic yields and life benefits greater to a wider range of students, from the average to the brightest of learners. In summary of the school's philosophy, Mackey noted "We are devoted to the history of human development... Our basic philosophy is you go right back to the beginning and teach the worthwhile things that have happened. It is worth noting because the historical approach is, at the moment, not too popular with the educational authorities but we are wedded to it... Nobody is doing just what we do."
After over a decade of operation, Thornton Hall was significantly influenced by Miss Angela J. Greig, a Scottish intellectual of the clan MacGregor. Greig's Aberdeen family history was linked to the Battle of Culloden Moor and she empathized with the Stone of Scone's return to Scotland. Greig was educated in Scotland where she studied literature, history and philosophy. Greig was also trained in the Palmer Method of script, a popular form of hand-writing that was designed for speed and efficiency so as to keep up with the modern day alternatives of short-hand and typewriting. Broadening her view, Greig later studied the holdings of The British Museum in London, Renaissance art in Italy and portraiture with work done in the studio of artist Henri Matisse in France. En route to study the holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan via Toronto, Greig took a temporary part-time teaching job at Thornton Hall to fund her travels. She began by teaching mathematics and French and eventually taught full-time. By then, Greig had established a long term residence of her own in a newly constructed white brick apartment building. State of the art for the day and of the Modern Movement in styling, "The Plains" was located nearby at 268 Poplar Plains Road. In her second year, Greig fortified Thornton's curriculum with her intelligence, conviction and delivery of the humanities and eventually became Thornton's new teaching Vice-Principal and Mackey's second wife. Greig subsequently studied at The University of Toronto where she first became acquainted with several individuals including literary theorist and archetypal critic, Northrop Frye. Greig's interests also led her to continue painting and to learn languages. Greig was a polyglot and in many cases self-taught. She spoke English along with other languages such as French, Italian, Russian, Latin and the Celtic language of Scottish Gaelic.
Admission, Tuition, Learning Objectives and Efficacy
Soon after its inception, Thornton Hall became well known with personal referrals being the mainstay of applicants though the school did advertise nationally in The Globe and Mail and locally in The Toronto Star newspapers from time to time. Applicants for grades 11 through 13 were invited to apply and submit academic records following which a personal interview was conducted. After such screening, those seeking admission were offered the opportunity of IQ testing. Mackey had been interested in the widely accepted and validated work of Psychologist and Psychometrician Louis L. Thurstone who had also been an assistant to Thomas A. Edison as well as a University Professor and writer. Thurstone was the first to propose an alternate view of human intelligence to the popular theory held of it being a single ability and tied to personality. Instead, he viewed human intelligence scaled in degrees and made up of several "primary mental abilitites". Early in the history of the school Mackey noted "Basic to our teaching and organization is the Thurstone Psychological Examination. It investigates "learning ability" and candidates [are] admitted only subject to an appropriate standing on this test. They are then allowed to undertake only what they can do... "Special aptitudes" [influence] what courses to study [and] what university or business career to follow. "Basic educational skill" [evaluation] permits prompt remedial instruction. "Study habits, emotional balance, personality traits [and the evaluation of] musical and aesthetic judgment" are considered. Adolescent candidates that were initially thought to be psychologically accessible and achieved a minimum score above average were typically invited to attend the school or short listed for admission subject to space availability in an at-will student body that Mackey preferred to cap at 50 individuals. "The small class, compelling instruction, and the careful use of aptitude testing... These are the backbone of our method... Each year many Ontario candidates get marks too low for University admission or even fail for reasons having nothing to do with their intelligence" Mackey once said. In practice, a potential student's academic history was fully considered but it was never held against them. Both Greig and Mackey were out spoken in their belief that each student, accomplished or yet to be, deserved an equal opportunity for education through the Thornton experience as long as they met the minimum admission requirements. They wholeheartedly believed in the potential of young people, the inspiration they could instill and the learning opportunities they could create for them. However they also recognized that alternate educational experiences might be better suited to some individuals. For example, when a member of the Eaton family, John Craig Eaton, sought admission for more of his Grade 13 year, Mackey was quick to encourage his attendance at Harvard University instead. Mackey noted, "He had been accepted by Harvard. I said "go there when you're accepted.""
While Thornton might have been perceived as elitist, it was anything but exclusive. The cost of tuition was comparable to other Toronto private schools but Greig and Mackey were open to choosing students from all walks of life for admission to the school and created socioeconomic diversity using administrative measures that afforded alternate payment arrangements for families without the financial means to pay student tuition all at once. For those parents not able to pay at all, Greig and Mackey were open to a fair and bartered exchange at times. Of the approach, Mackey said "We know that several people come here at a genuine financial sacrifice. We don't change the fee but we do our best."
Summarizing the general approach, learning objectives, productivity and "morality of form" of the Thornton experience, Greig noted "Here we have very intensive work. There is an opportunity to do a great deal of work and feel, actually feel, that you are making progress, see how much better you get from day to day... To relate every subject to every other... It's really one whole thing they are doing with us and then we do try to relate it to the outside world so that they feel that coming here is an exciting thing and a worthwhile thing and at the end of every day they have something more, something new, something better - at the end of every day". In step, Mackey discovered through teaching and then worked from the baseline that young scholars in Canada "genuinely enjoy coming to school and working hard if the experience is worthwhile, if you're teaching the right things in the right way".
While the learning objectives and general stimulus of the Thornton experience were relatively consistent, the response was as diverse and varied as individual students themselves. For those with a record of accomplishment prior to or immediately after admission, Thornton was an opportunity for academic excellence and steady academic advancement. For young scholars with a record of weak academic performance, history of absenteeism, learning barriers and/or behavioral problems, a new approach to academia was offered and the odds of graduation with a Senior Matriculation (later known as a Grade 13 Diploma or an Ontario Academic Credit Secondary School Honours Graduation Diploma (SSHGD)), and/or post secondary study were increased significantly.
Generally, Greig and Mackey agreed to the overall curriculum offered each school year. Mackey designed and maintained the core math and science lessons and Greig, those of the humanities though new learning material was developed in a phased approach over time and then integrated into the curriculum. Greig and Mackey stressed the interrelatedness of all subjects within the history of humankind. Often, they offered mythological and metamorphic themes together with Jungian archetypes as a means by which to understand the fluidity of the human experience across classifications, time and space so as to afford a learner not only the opportunity to acquire knowledge but also to give them the ability to use their learnedness in an ethical, constructive and productive way or, as Greig once wrote, so that they are able to "transfigure human life to humane life".
The following general areas of study were offered each year with individual subjects offered each year or cyclically:
Maths (including algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus)
Sciences (including biology, chemistry and physics)
Languages (including Latin, Sanskrit, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Polish and Russian)
Histories (including Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Western Europe, Renaissance Art and 20th Century Art)
Philosophies (including the study of Western philosophy through the ages, theory and the development and application of philosophical skills of dialogue, writing and rational argument)
Comparative Religions (including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and non-religions (i.e., agnostic, atheist and humanist))
English (including composition, grammar, literature and poetry)
Fine Arts (including Portfolio 1 - General principles of drawing, composition, color theory, the human anatomy and portraiture (multi-media masterwork reproduction); Portfolio 2 - Advanced principles of drawing, still life, landscape, figure and portraiture (multi-media masterwork reproduction); Portfolio 3 - Life drawing, figure and portraiture (masterwork reproduction in oil))
Performing Arts (including the history of the theatre, drama theory, method acting, traditional and modern dance and music (including an historical overview, opera, symphony and sonata)
Sportsmanship (including fencing)
General Approach, Behavioral Standards, Learning Ecology and Structures
Always seeking to promote intellectual development and better shape the personal character of students unfettered, Greig and Mackey established behavioral standards built on the foundational basis of mutual respect and rational thought. Reason was a precondition of productive academic work. In order to stretch and shape the intellect and creativity of adolescent students through learning experiences, Greig once said of her European, systematic and rationalistic stance, "I hammer them enough... I like them to stretch themselves". For example, students were expected to arrive at school in uniform, with supplies and on time. Failure to comply with the behavioral standard often resulted in disciplinary measures such as denied entry leaving a student to modify their approach in order to gain access to a future class without issue. With a code of conduct that was intolerant of anything that disrupted the learning environment or that was contrary to Thornton's humanistic approach, expulsion of a very troubled student or member of the part-time teaching staff was a difficult consideration that was made from time to time though such occasions came as no surprise to Mackey who, taking a theory of mind approach, anticipated that screening and testing were only indicators. He knew from his teaching experience that two or three "incorrigible" students, the "destructive, aggressive and/or brash", might have to be directed away from Thornton (explicitly or implicitly depending on which option best served the student's development together with the student body's interests) and to alternative academic institutions during or immediately after the school year. "I'll try very hard [but] every year I have to put out 2 or 3 people who just don't respond. There are people like that and I can't work with them" Mackey once noted.
During its years of operation, Thornton offered a unique educational experience and provided students with the opportunity of "intellectual excellence as a reason for going to school." While some classes such as maths, sciences, languages and philosophy were structured by grade, others such as English, history, comparative religion, fine art, performing art and fencing were open to students at all grades. Such open classes represented a classic "one room schoolhouse" model or learning ecology that Mackey once likened to the Ontario country school of his youth. Given such, students were exposed to the deliveries of their teacher with additional teaching and reinforcement coming to an individual from classmates of both greater and lesser mental agilities. Of the sociological environment and diversity of learning styles, Mackey once reflected "We know everyone so well. It develops a relaxed atmosphere."
Each school day was tripartite in nature beginning at 9 a.m. and then being divided by two half-hour breaks in order to be broken into three segments each with three subject periods. Most students were given one or two periods a day for self-directed but supervised study. The compressed schedule of weekly classes afforded students one weekday afternoon free from structured classes for personal study, tutorials or unsupervised self-directed field trips related to study or that demonstrated a real world application of their learning. On occasion, "breakfast" classes were slated for select senior students through the school year but early in the regular school day. Led by Greig, they created the opportunity of additional work and credit. Ahead of other schools, both public and private, special programs such as "double time in French" were designed for students as a form of immersion and for a better understanding of the literature and culture of France. Exposure to technology and computer science was available for select senior students as early as the late 1970s and early 1980s. After school programs, such as Life Drawing, were available to both students and parents. Extra curricular activities were elective but both Greig and Mackey occasionally made "life skill" recommendations on a wide range of subjects such as diet, exercise, etiquette and extracurricular reading when they were related to the development and academic well being of individual students or the student body as a whole.
Teaching Methods, Evaluations, Applied Learning and Continuing Studies
Carrying influences of the Socratic method, Greig and Mackey's deliveries were andragogical in nature in that they were aligned with the principles of adult learning first introduced by Alexander Kapp, a German educator, in 1833. Teaching styles were based on cognitive theories and a humanistic approach to the acquisition of knowledge. In contrast, in-class coaching styles were designed to be complimentary but somewhat pedagogical in nature and based on stimulus-response theories, behavior modification, conditioning and methodologies. With a two-track confluence or blended approach of teaching and coaching, a student at Thornton was afforded the opportunity to transition away or change lanes from a pedagogical practice to progress and sustain an independent andragogical approach to, and a lifetime desire for learning and development.
In general, observation, dialogue, critique, homework assignments, notebook evaluations, memorization/recall exercises, quizzes and tests occurred regularly as empirical evaluations. Short answer and essay based examinations occurred at mid-term and end-of-term along a three-term course of yearly study. Evaluations were made on a case by case basis, by grade and by percentile with the results communicated to parents in individual hand written reports by-mail on a bi-weekly basis, mid-term, end-of-term or on an as needed basis. Academic strengths and weakness were noted for all students with a needs analysis being the basis for new learning goals and/or remedial measures. Senior students were individually offered strategic consultation in planning their post-secondary studies, given assistance in completing formal post-secondary applications and provided letters of academic reference to accompany their submissions.
As a demonstration of applied learning, an annual address, art exhibition, dramatic play and graduation ceremony were held onsite for students and roughly 250 of their family members each year, on the first Saturday of June. After the day, the school year was concluded. However, select students that were invited to return to the school for the following school year were offered the opportunity of continued study through the summer months with one-on-one teaching intensives from Greig, Mackey or a part-time faculty member. The personalized approach bridged students allowing them to "catch up" or "get ahead" in their academic work before the next school year began.
In such a time, Greig once noted to the student body "My husband and I would like to tell you how much we have enjoyed working with you... It has given us constant and deep pleasure to see you grow intellectually and artistically under our care. Those of you who are now going on to University carry with you our wishes for your success and happiness - and also much affection. Remember that my husband and I are now a part of your lives, and will always be here to help you. Visit us - we shall miss you! Those of you who were not offered a place with us in the coming year, do not lose heart - try to apply the methods which you were shown at Thornton wherever you go. Work hard and you will have the success you hope for. Those of you coming back - we have much work to do..."
Thornton Hall was registered with The Ontario Ministry of Education and authorized to grant credits in subjects leading to the OSSD. As was the case for all private secondary schools, Thornton Hall was required to provide annual statistical reports and was subject to annual inspections of the standard of instruction in order to maintain its license. Of the inspections, Mackey noted "You have to be inspected year by year and each year you're given approval to give the diplomas at the end of that year. It's got to be done every year - every private school, from Upper Canada [College] on... We have never had a harsh word".
Faculty and Alumni Relations
In the first few years of operation, Mackey invited individual educators to join in the day to day operation of Thornton with E.G. Johnston, M.A., B. Heaps, M.A., and W.H. White, B.A., joining ranks as associates.
As part of their post secondary experience and development, Greig and Mackey also created the supervised opportunity for several graduates pursuing a career in education to provide part-time administrative and/or teaching assistance at their alma mater. Integrated with accomplished part-time faculty members that were often graduates of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/The University of Toronto, the at-will experience provided dedicated young professionals mentorship, a peer-to-peer learning ecology and transferable work experience early in their career with both Greig and Mackey often encouraging individuals to move forward with new work to broaden their teaching experience.
One teacher, Martin Frick, worked at Thornton Hall for roughly 6 years before moving to Mill Valley, California. In his time there, Frick was a music teacher at Tamalpais High School, the choral director at San Domenico School and the music director for the College of Marin. Through public performance, his lyric tenor voice brought to life the great works of Igor Stravinsky and Benjamin Britten. As a teacher, he was held dear in the hearts of his students and remembered for his sensitivity, patience and the ability to work with young people whose experience with music was limited. He maintained a close friendship with Greig and Mackey and stayed with them when visiting Toronto. Frick died in 1996. At that time a scholarship was created in his name at the College of Marin.
In their freshman year of post secondary study, personal correspondence was sent by Greig and Mackey to many Thornton Hall graduates simply to encourage them to "press forward" to reach their learning goals and to wish them well. Given Thornton's "open door" alumni relation practices were behaviorally based, most graduates were given a warm welcome if ever they had a constructive reason to return to visit.
Thornton Hall's dragon logo and typeset were derived from the medieval illuminated manuscript known as The Book of Kells. Found in the "Gospel of Mark", the serpentine form is symbolic of wisdom derived from the engagement of knowledge, as well as renewal and metamorphosis from the shedding of skin. The cresting and embroidery of school uniforms incorporated these elements as well as the Mackey tartan and images of the heraldic creature of myth known as the unicorn. School rings, manufactured by Henry Birks and Sons, Inc. of Montreal, were rendered in gold with the Kells serpent symbol set on a field of white enamel. Following the closing of Thornton Hall, school rings remained available by special order, for a limited time.
With the retirement of both Mackey and Greig to private life and scholarly study in their new home nearer the Toronto intersection of St. Clair Avenue and Yonge Street, Thornton Hall closed in 1997. Their property at 241 Poplar Plains Road was sold and the structures soon demolished for double density subdivision and residential redevelopment of the original lot.
In later years, Greig devoted herself to the care and well-being of her husband until his death. Afterward, Greig maintained her day-to-day life with a small and restricted circle of friends and with intermittent travel outside Toronto.
Together, Greig and Mackey contributed over 100 years of work over the course of their careers as teachers with Mackey once reflecting that Thornton had been successful in preparing students for post secondary engineering and medical courses. Mackey was also noted to have reminded Greig that the steady feedback she had received had reminded them both, that dutifully, they "had done their job".
After their deaths, their personal possessions (personal notes, letters, photographs, unpublished work, wardrobes, accessories, antiquarian and modernist furnishings, fine art, sculpture, tapestries, historic artifacts, academic libraries, "reproduction" teaching tools, lesson plans, notebooks and bibliographies) were distributed according to their final wishes and terms of their Estates and/or sold with the export of certain collections overseas.
Each year, on the first Saturday of June, a small group of Thornton Hall alumni gather at a downtown location in Toronto. There, an annual reunion takes place over cocktails and dinner during which memorabilia and/or surviving effects are distributed. From time to time, gallery exhibitions, art shows, Fran's Specials of the Day and international travel destinations are cause for meet-ups.
Members and relatives of the Eaton, Farr, Seagram, Addison, Bassett, Gardiner, Sifton, Phelan, Osler, Lind, Maclean, Hunter, Cork, Ingham, Weston and Black families were students of Thornton Hall.
Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, OC, PC, KCSG, historian, columnist and publisher, was a student for 2 years and graduated from Thornton Hall. Black was remembered by Mackey as having been "among the brightest". Greig recalled Black as having presented "no problems", having "got good marks" and having behaved in a "quiet, attentive, courteous, charming, very interesting and independent" way and with a general manner that was "not self-conscious". She added "He didn't have a strong sense of competition. He didn't particularly want to be first in every class as long as he did well". In 2014, Black's OC and PC designations were rescinded.
Gail (née Phelan) Regan, B.A., M.A., PhD, M.B.A., President of Cara Holdings Limited, was a student of Thornton Hall. Greig remembered "one of our happiest memories and I would say one of the cleverest people we have ever had is Gail Phelan. She has done very well and she has kept in touch with us all the way...". Her sister Rosemary Phelan also attended.
Fredrik Stefan Eaton, OC, O.Ont, businessman and diplomat, was a student of Thornton Hall. His brothers George Ross and Thor Edgar Eaton also attended.
Brian Stewart, Canadian journalist and former Senior Correspondent for the CBC's "The National", was a student of Thornton Hall. Greig remembered Stewart as "outgoing" and noted "I have close and very affectionate memories of Brian especially in my English composition class... Brian was strongly under the influence of Ernest Hemingway when he came to me and I was trying to break this grip... I was trying to introduce the boys [and girls] to writers like [Joseph] Conrad and many of the poets rather than the more popular novelists of the time".
Kim Reeves, sister of actor Keanu Reeves, was a student of Thornton Hall.
From time to time, Toronto newspapers and tabloid-style publications made mention of Thornton Hall.
Peter C. Newman noted Thornton Hall in his book The Canadian Establishment (1975).
Katherine Govier used her daughter's experiences as a student at Thornton as material for her novel The Truth Teller (2000) though she was noted to have "been inspired" by teachers of her own.
Based on true events, the CTV television dramatization Shades of Black (directed by Alex Chapple, 2006) made a scripted reference to Thornton Hall.
The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University Libraries
Peter C. Newman fonds. Fourth accrual.
Establishment Man: A Portrait of Power (1982) This accrual includes correspondence, “back-up” (research) material, sound recordings and transcripts of interviews, manuscript and proofs.
Box 132 F.7 Greig, Angela, April 29, 1980, 15 pp. transcript, audio cassette 54
Box 117 Mackey, Stuart, ALs, from, May 7, 1980
- Thornton Hall Private School An independent commentary, including individual comments defamatory in nature, on Thornton Hall Private School.
- Map. An historic aerial view of Thornton Hall and neighborhood.