Drive down Park Road south towards Bloor Street, and you’ll notice a few things: the sprawl of modest, post-war homes, a handful of uninspiring strip malls, and a 1970s-style church.
But back in 1876, the area know known as College Hill was also home to, you guessed it, a college. Here’s the story of the rise and fall of DeMill Ladies’ College.
DeMill Ladies College was the vision of Methodist minister Reverend Alfred B. DeMill. Assisted by his well-educated wife, who, in her role as Lady Principal, took on the responsibility for the student’s moral training, the purpose of DeMill’s college was to provide higher education for girls, including domestic training, and a heavy dose of non-denominational religious influence. DeMill believed that educated girls, who were well-versed in not only the domestic arts, but also religion, became superior mothers who would raise good, Christian children.
The school opened in 1876, on a beautiful and commanding site with views of Lake Ontario, in the flourishing town of Oshawa, located on the east side of what we know refer to as Park Road. Boasting four stories, high ceilings, and the latest in heating and lighting technology, the school’s inaugural year saw 29 girls walk through the doors.
Four years later, DeMill Ladies’ College was home 100 female boarding students, a mix of girls from local families, as well those from across Canada and the United States. The entrance age for the College was 16 years, and tuition was deliberately kept affordable for families bringing in an average wage. Not unusual for the time, the DeMill’s had strict rules about student attire, written correspondence with the world outside of the College, and family visitors.
While the focus of the College was to prepare young women for their lives as wives and mothers, it also offered training for female vocations of the time. Students could earn teaching certificates, prepare for work as a professional artist or music teacher, or continue on to advanced European conservatory music instruction.
In 1896, DeMill saw his life’s work go up in flames, when the College burned to the ground. The Fire and Water Committee of the Oshawa Town Council lead an investigation into complaints regarding the response of the Fire Brigade at the fire scene, but, on May 8, 1896, after considering the difficulties the Brigade had to contend with, exonerated them from all blame.
The school was never rebuilt, and is now only remembered in the area’s name: College Hill.