Original one room school house, burnt down in 1909.

In 1888, the population of the islands was growing, and the City of Toronto donated land to the school board for the construction of a one-room schoolhouse at the southernmost point near the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. The original school burned down in 1909 and was immediately rebuilt to accommodate the 52 children in attendance. By 1921, the number of students had doubled and a second room was added to the original structure. More rooms were added in the early 1930s. Following the Second World War, a housing shortage in the city saw more people living year-round on the islands. The student population continued to grow throughout the 1940s and 1950s, with a total of 630 pupils in 1964.

Existing building, ‘writers wing’, c.1909.

As a result of Metro Parks’ demolition plans, enrolment dropped throughout the 1950s. To make use of the now-empty school rooms, the Natural Science Program was developed. It provided an opportunity for as many as 500 students per year from across the city to live at the school for a week studying nature and science. Because the school housed large numbers of students in these special programs, there were ten classrooms, two large dormitories, thirteen small bedrooms to accommodate teachers, a large kitchen and several portables.

Boys dormitory, now studio D,E,F

In 1960, the Island Public and Natural Science School at Gibraltar Point began running a natural science program for students from across the Toronto school district. The influx of students from Toronto attending the Natural Science School, in addition to the local students who used the building everyday, caused wear and tear on the old structure. In the late 1990s, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) investigated options to renovate or rebuild the school. A decision was reached to build a new Toronto Island and Natural Sciences School nearby and demolish the old site and return it to parkland.

Under threat of demolition, the much-loved and historic old schoolhouse would need to find a compelling new use if it was to survive. A group of Toronto Island residents proposed that the old island school could be re-purposed as an arts centre.

Today, the school houses Artscape Gibraltar Point, and offers 35,000 square feet of multi-use space. Artscape Lodge provides short-term accommodation and studios for professional artists in 10 studios and bedrooms, and 15 long-term workspace studios for painters, sculptors, musicians, theatre companies and a recording studio.

Due to Influenza, windows were opened to filter disease during the winter. Students wore jackets to stay warm!

Many visitors at Gibraltar Point’s old public school have recalled strange occurrences in the building at night. Some sense a strange and ominous presence in the Boy’s Bathroom. A story of students from the Girl’s Dormitory getting lost in and trapped in tunnels underneath the old building has turned into somewhat of an island legend. Some say you can still hear them screaming for help. Others say they can hear the sounds of children singing when no one is around. Wither or not the school is indeed haunted, the history of the building and of the surrounding land imbues the environment and gives visitors a sense of mystery and magic when exploring the area.