You may have noticed the Normal School building in the Old South neighbourhood because of its Victorian architecture – or maybe because you heard the chatter of kids running around on its grounds.
Built in 1889 by architect Francis Heakes, this historic site in the center of the Old South neighbourhood adds a unique charm to the atmosphere of Wortley Village.
Now functioning as a YMCA, the Normal School once housed Ontario’s first teacher training facility – a transition from past to present that keeps the building’s educational history alive and vibrant.
Bob Porter, former President of the Old South Community Organization (OSCO), and member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), states that normal schools were introduced as a way for the government to “standardize its school system.”
Since its inception, the Normal School has always been a locus for the growth and development of London’s educational system. Where, until 1958, the building offered a space where new teachers learned classroom management skills, educational history, and philosophy.
The site briefly housed a junior high school, and later, in 1963, was converted into the headquarters for London District Catholic School board.
In 1986, the Separate School Board moved into the building and renamed it the Monsignor Feeney Center for Catholic Education, where they stayed before moving to the Wellington Rd. location.
In 2005, after the Catholic School board left, the Normal School fell into vacancy and disuse.
“We were concerned about the future of the building,” Porter says. “We didn’t want that building without a tenant for long in case of vandalism or fire – you know what happens to vacant buildings.”
Porter says that OSCO wanted to save the building for its heritage value, find a tenant for the structure, and turn the surrounding green into a public space. To accomplish this, OSCO looked hard for a future tenant, even investing $5000 of their own money into an advertisement in the Globe and Mail.
The Normal School remained empty until May 2007, when MPP Chris Bentley announced a plan for $5 million repairs to be done to the structure.
These repairs exceeded $11 million, but they assured that the Normal School could guarantee its spot in London’s bright future instead of falling into further disuse.
In Feb. 2014, efforts by OSCO and others succeeded, and the City of London bought the building for $1.7 million. In Jun. 2016, the landmark was converted into a space for YMCA child care, learning programs, and administrative spaces.
The Normal School building continues to be an integral part of Old South community, as the YMCA is home to a state of the art child care center, as well as the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC).
Programs which Porter says will help, “bring business to the neighbourhood, and introduce new Canadians to Old South.”
In the heart of the Old South lies a continuing history of commitment to education, where the storied past of the Normal School mingles with the rich heritage of the surrounding neighbourhood, and is kept alive and well even after 120 years.