Monday, February 05, 2007

The Oak Windows

The W. Ross Macdonald School, originally called the Ontario School for the Blind was founded in 1872. This school provides instruction from kindergarten to secondary school graduation for blind and deaf-blind students.

I have been through The W. Ross Macdonald School on a number of occasions. The first thing that caught my attention was the amount of solid oak used throughout the school. The craftsmanship was astounding! Upon walking through two sets of large oak doors and up the oak stairway, you would enter a long oak trimmed hallway where oak doors with solid brass knobs would stand ready to usher you into various rooms. Upon entering these rooms, you couldn’t help but marvel at how oak flowed throughout. The rooms were bright and warm as the bright sunlight flowed through the large oak windows with solid brass handles.

You may notice the overusage of the adjective “oak” but that was for a reason. I had never before seen such a beautiful oak and brass filled building! Now in 1984, this building was 112 years old. Nowadays, you would never see building built in this fashion. New is not always better. Back then, buildings were built with pride…They were built to last. Unfortunately, with the focus of saving energy and its related costs today, modifications had to be made. The solid oak windows had to go.

In 1984, workman went into the building, ripped out the windows and replaced them with new energy saving vinyl ones. In order to save time, once the old ones were ripped out, they were merely tossed out the “window hole” and onto the grounds below. There were three floors in this building and so you could imagine the mess that was made by shattered glass and splintered wood. What a waste! These windows lasted over one hundred years only to be tossed out with the garbage. The good news however, was that not all the windows were smashed upon impact; a number of them survived.

One evening, upon hearing the news about the windows, I ventured onto the school grounds to see what the talk was all about. I was dismayed at what I saw. I was hoping for the opportunity to be able to retrieve a couple of windows in order to restore them back to their original beauty to be used as living room mirrors but unfortunately, it appeared that I was out of luck. As I wandered near the broken windows, I came across a large walk-in dumpster about six feet wide, ten feet deep and six feet high. I stuck my head into it to see what was in there. It was a dumpster full of shattered glass and wood. I ventured into it in hopes to find some retrievable oak. I was a little nervous at this adventure that was upon me since, had I fallen; I would have been sliced or stabbed by the shards of glass. Each and every step I took shattered glass which, in turn, spewed away in all directions. I regretted not wearing gloves and, on a number of occasions, considered a safe retreat. Every time I considered wisdom, I thought of how I would regret it in the long run as I would look on my bare living room wall. I forged ahead. I succeeded in carrying out my task at hand in looking for whole windows and the gingerly retreated from the "Dumpster of Terror." All in all, I was able to retrieve five complete windows.

Since then, I have only restored one of the windows. I have two more to work on as I gave two of them away to a buddy of mine. This restoration hangs from my living room wall. I often look at it and say to myself … “I gotta restore another one of these ...Maybe one day!” and then I walk away.

I suppose that the reason why I love this window so much is that it is a part of the history of a beautiful building and that I had the opportunity to give it new life, so to speak. These windows gave joy to many of the children who resided in that building. Over the 112 years, how many deaf-blind children, unable to see God’s beauty through their eyes, were able to feel the sun’s rays upon their faces as they stood by these windows? The windows gave joy to the children and now they give joy to me!


Hammer said...

Beautiful. I would have salvaged them too. Wood like that is very rare and expensive these days.

Michelle said...

I love old oak but, even more than that, I love the stories that play out in my head of all off the lives of those who may once have touched that oak.

I think that you have found a treasure in the trash! Good for you to recognize it!

Cheryl said...

What a beautiful post. I can just picture the building and all the majestic oak. What a shame they didn't invite the public to take away what they didn't want. I am glad that someone like you, who appreciates the history of things, has a piece of it. I imagine that was quite a job to restore that window.

Monika said...

Lovely, post and window. We bought and restored an 112 year old farm house (restored it for 12 years). We got it for a lick and sold it to a great prize. But the important thing is, that from the first day living there, even though it was never complete, I loved the thick walls and it's history, which we were told by our neighbors.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am speechless, new wonders we see. The restored window/mirror is fantastic. Great post.

Janice said...

Beautiful windows Dave...wonderful that you saw the value and did not let them go to waste. It is neat that someone had the compassion to build such a beautiful building for blind persons- people don't realize that most blind people still have some vision and that building must have been a beautiful place for them to receive their education.

Le Nightowl said...

You've done the little "mouse over" trick again, Dave :)
You've done a wonderful job giving the poor discarded window a new life, and a new home.
Beautiful picture, the colours create a warm feeling.

Wendz said...

Nothing like making something old relive again. Great job Dave.

Becky Wolfe said...

What a beautiful project and even greater story behind it. Glad you risked life and limb to get such a unique piece.

I have a similar, though not so historical project, in the next couple weeks. Found a fantastic old door that I will be restoring to become an interior door in my house. One side of it is yellow, the other green, awaiting my sander, but the best part is, the top half is windowed & none of the panes are broken. Maybe I will blog about it when I get to it. I can't wait.

Dave said...

Hi Hammer... I would never have been able to buy a mirroe like that due to its expense. Besides, it would be without history.

Hi Michelle!...I wonder at times how many hands or lives have come across certain pieces of antiquity.

Hi Cheryl.. It took quite awhile for me to effectively take off all the old layers of paint and get right down to the bare wood. It was worth the effort though!

Hi Monika...We used to live in an old house like that during my teenage years... VERY THICK double brick! :-)

Thanks LGS!... Nice story on your blog by the way! :-)

Hi Janice!...It is definitely a beautiful building! I am sure that the children that passed through it have quite a few positive memories!

Thanks Marie!... The "mouse over" was just for you! LOL :-)

Hi Wendz!...You are so right about that!

Dave said...

Hi Becky!... I will look forward to seeing a photo of that door (before & After) in your blog when your project is finished. :-)

sAssY brOwn said...

Lovely post. I did a student placement at that school & have very fond memories of the children there. I have worked with people who are blind for 6 years now.
I also have a mirror that looks almost identical to the one you pictured!