The Claude Watson School for the Arts opened its doors in 1981. In 1978, the North York Board of Education began investigating the possibility of creating a program for gifted and talented students. The committee was made up of a number of school superintendents, principals and trustees. The committee was spearheaded by the assistant director Claude E. Watson. On Wednesday, February 27, 1980, the North York Board of Education passed a resolution at its board meeting for the creation of a "segregated program for gifted and talented students". Mr. Neil P. Johnston was seconded to be the first principal of the school. The search then began for a location for the new school, one that would accommodate both the academic needs of the students and the requirements of a specialized arts program. A number of sites were considered and on October 22, 1980, it was decided that the Spring Garden Public School would be reopened as the Claude Watson School for the Arts in September 1981.
The 50 Spring Garden location had been a number of different schools. In 1923, the buidling was opened as Lansing Public School #4. It went on to be the Duke of Kent Public School and Spring Garden Public School before it reopened as the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
When the school opened in September 1981, there were 180 students who had been screened through a series of auditions that were done throughout the City of North York. The student population grew each year by sixty until it reached its capped population of three hundred. The secondary level of the Claude Watson program was established at Earl Haig Secondary School to accept the students who graduated from the elementary program.
In 1998, the North York Board of Education amalgamated with the other five education boards in the city of Toronto to form the Toronto District School Board. The Claude Watson School for the Arts is now a proud member of the TDSB. In September 2006, the Claude Watson School for the Arts moved into its new location at 130 Doris Avenue.
In 2015 the staff and parents of CWSA decided to introduce Digital Arts into the program. This new program gives student the opportunity to use digital media (film, photography and music) to showcase their art.