The Unknown Story of Thornton-Dundee Community Centre

Nestled between well-established subdivisions on the corner of Thornton Road and Adelaide Street in Oshawa, just north of Union Cemetery, lies an unusual building.  Now called the Thornton-Dundee Community Centre, the yellow and red-brick structure is modest in size, but its history can be traced back to 1879.

There are very few buildings left in Oshawa that would be instantly recognisable to residents from both the 19th and 21st centuries, but Thornton-Dundee Community Centre is one of them.

The bell on the roof that would have signalled the start of a new school day is gone, but the exterior of the building remains virtually unchanged since the day it was built as Thornton Corners, Union School #5, in 1879.

The school was named for Dr. Robert Thornton, a prominent Presbyterian minister from Scotland who lived in the area from 1833 to his death in 1875.  Robert Thornton was thought to be a rebel sympathiser during the MacKenzie rebellion in 1837, a rumour which will likely never be proved or disproved, but he was a well-known minister, active in the anti-alcohol Sons of Temperance movement, and a champion of community libraries and free, universal education for all children.

And while most of us have forgotten about how important Robert Thornton was to the area, there are clues still found today that indicate his prominence:  Thornton Road still bears his name; a cairn on the corner of Kendalwood Avenue and Highway 2 in Whitby acts as a marker for where where his original Presbyterian church was located; and Dr. Robert Thornton Public School in Whitby, built in 1955, is still active today.

Union School #5 closed in 1954, but reopened a few years later as a recreational building. Now called the Thornton-Dundee Community Centre, it’s a designated historic property under the Ontario Heritage Act, which protects it for future generations to enjoy.

So the next time you’re at the corner of Thornton and Adelaide, take a moment to look at the unusual yellow brick building on the corner, that’s been an unchanged part of the community for over 130 years.

Image (c) the Oshawa Museum

Find out more about Oshawa’s history by visiting the Oshawa Museum Blog!