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Schoolhouse Revolution, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

It is impossible to understand the development of schools in Victoria County without some knowledge of the evolution of the school system of Ontario as a whole. A brief history of education in Ontario therefore follows as an introduction to the record of our county schools. For the convenience, however, of those who are not interested in systems and developments, this chapter has been divided into two parts, (A) and (B). By skipping the general history in (A), one may pass directly to the more intimate annals of the county's schools in (B).

(A) General History of Education in Ontario

It may well be pointed out here that the educational system of Ontario is divided into three stages: elementary or Public Schools, secondary schools, and universities, each with definite limits and distinct functions. As only elementary and secondary schools have grown up in this county, the history of the universities will be passed over lightly.

Administration of School System

The past administration of the educational system of Ontario falls into two main periods: a bureaucratic period, from 1823 to 1875, and a period of administration by responsible ministers, from 1876 down to the present.

In 1823, a General Board of Education for Upper Canada was established with the Rev. Dr. John Strachan as Chairman. This Board was too busy with clerical plotting to accomplish much for the benefit of the province; and ultimately disappeared.

On October 18, 1844, Sir Charles Metcalfe appointed the Rev. Egerton Ryerson as Assistant (and later Chief) Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. An Act in 1846 provided for a General Board of Education (consisting of Ryerson and six other members appointed by the governor-general) and a Council of Public Instruction to look after the Normal School. These two bodies were amalgamated in 1850 as the Council of Public Instruction. Ryerson was the real administrator of education in the province until 1875, when he resigned.

In 1876, non-responsible paternalism ended and a Department of Education, with the Hon. Adam Crooks as responsible Minister, was formed.

Subsequent Ministers of Education have been:
Hon. G. W. Ross (1883-1899)
Hon. Richard Harcourt (1899k1904)
Hon. Dr. R., A. Pyne (1905-1918)
Hon. Dr. Cody (1918-1919)
Hon. R. H. Grant (appointed 1919)

In the reconstruction of 1876, the Council of Public Instruction was replaced by a Committee of the Executive Council, which really functioned in a Central Committee of Examiners consisting of Professor George Paxton Young of Toronto University (as Chairman), the three High School Inspectors (J. A. McLellan, J. M. Buchan, and S. A. Marling), and four Public School Inspectors (J. C. Glashan, J. J. Tilley, G. W. Ross, and J. L. Hughes). The Central Committee of Examiners was succeeded in 1890 by a "Joint Board" of eight members, half of whom were appointed by the University of Toronto and half by the Department of Education. In 1896, this Joint Board became the Educational Council, consisting of nine university representatives, one High School representative, and one representative of the Public School Inspectors. The Conservative government of 1905 changed this body into an Advisory Council of Education comprising twenty members, who represented all branches of the educational service. In 1906, as the new Minister was a physician and not an educationalist, the old office of Superintendent of Education was revived and John Seath, B.A., then junior High School Inspector, was appointed to the office. Seath was virtual dictator in the Department until his death in 1919. The Advisory Council was abolished in 1915 and no similar body created. No successor to Seath has as yet been appointed.

Public School System Develops

The beginnings of our present elementary school system are to be found in a Parish or Common Schools Act passed in 1816 by the Assembly of Upper Canada. By this Act the people of any village, town, or township might establish a Common School by building a school house, furnishing at least twenty pupils, and electing three trustees. At the same time a District Board of Education of five members was appointed in each District by the governor for the purpose of superintending the Common Schools, distributing the annual government grant among the teachers, and making an annual report to the governor. There was to be a permanent yearly grant to each District of $1000 for salaries and $600 for books; the balance of the cost of school maintenance had to be made up by local subscription.

No advance on this legislation was made for over a quarter of a century. Strachan, who dominated the situation, did not believe in education except for the sons of the Family Compact Anglicans. The school houses were log shacks without blackboards, maps, or adequate text books. Salaries were so small that boards often could hire only common idlers, impecunious vagabonds, or disabled and ignorant veterans. In 1841 there were 800 Common Schools in the province, serving about one in eighteen of the population. Not one teacher in ten was fully qualified. There was no efficient supervision and no way of enforcing improvements. Worst of all, few people had any interest in education or any appreciation of its worth.

With the union of the provinces in 1841, a great change began. The Municipal Act of that same year supplied local machinery working in harmony with a central government. School Acts were passed in 1841 and 1843, but were poorly drafted and did not work well. In 1844, the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, head of Victoria University, Cobourg, was appointed Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. After a year of foreign travel and investigation, Ryerson prepared the Common School Act of 1846. His aim was to supply training for the unqualified teachers of the province and then through the leverage of the government grant to compel Districts and school sections to employ qualified teachers, to pay more adequate salaries, to use authorized text books, and to provide proper buildings and equipment. The Act therefore provided for a Normal School and a Model School, situated in Toronto, at which teachers could secure technical training, and for a Superintendent of Schools in each Municipal District, who should examine every school at least once a year and report on its eligibility for the government grant.

The Normal School was opened in 1846 under the principalship of Thomas Jaffray Robertson. Up until 1871, teachers' certificates valid only in the county where granted, were issued by County Boards of Education. The Normal School began to issue general certificates in 1853. At last, in 1871, it was enacted that only the Normal School could grant first and second class certificates and that all that County Boards could bestow was a three-year third-class certificate to those who had passed a definite Departmental examination. A tremendous change had thus been brought about. In 1844, Ryerson had found all schools taught by teachers without certificates and without profession training.

By 1875, every teacher in the province was certificated under Government examinations and a great many of them had been trained at Normal School. This end had not, however, been attained without many pitched battles with the friends of incompetent teachers and with trustees who wanted cheap teachers regardless of qualifications. Additional Normal Schools have since been established at Ottawa in 1875, at London in 1900, at Hamilton, Stratford, and Peterborough in 1908, and at North Bay in 1909. A system of County Model Schools was set up in 1877 but had practically disappeared by 1907.

In 1850, Ryerson passed a second Common School Act, which has often been called "The Charter of the Ontario School System." This Act permitted the levying of school taxes on all property and not simply on the parents of school children, as had been done before, and the admission of all children free of charge. This ran sectarian schools practically out of business, for the denominational school, even though partially parasitic on government aid, was unable to compete with the free school. The Act was thus a death blow to the efforts of busy clergymen to get education into their own hands and to train up the youth of the country in an atmosphere of prejudice. The Act also made Trustee Boards corporate bodies with full power to levy taxes and to manage schools, subject to governmental regulations.

By another Act, passed in 1871, the principle of free schools and general taxation for school purposes, made permissible in 1850, became compulsory. As a natural corollary, attendance became compulsory as well, for all children between the ages of eight and four-teen. Common Schools were renamed Public Schools. County Inspectors of Public Schools, who had to be qualified teachers with long and successful teaching experience, were appointed. Teachers were to make small payments towards a super annuation fund. This most vital scheme had been set going on an optional basis by Ryerson in 1854. It was abolished by the Mowat government in 1885 and was revived again April 1, 1917. All conscientious teachers are now giving it their full support.

During the past fifty years, while no great change has been made in the administration of the Public School System, many changes have been gradually worked into the curriculum.

Kindergartens were begun in 1882 and officially recognized by 1885. Since 1914, this work has received fresh impetus with the formation of a new Public School department, known as the Kindergarten Primary.

The study of Agriculture was mooted as early as 1871 but nothing effective was done until 1907 when a system was worked out where by graduates of the Ontario Agricultural College were appointed as County Agricultural Representatives and included school instruction in Agriculture among their duties. In 1918 such instruction was being carried on in 1020 Public and Separate Schools.

Domestic Science for girls and Manual Training for boys were introduced in 1900, the former by a Mrs. Hoodless and the latter by Wm. McDonald of Montreal, assisted by A. H. Leake. In 1918 Domestic Science was being taught in 85 centers and Manual Training in 93 canters.

A system of Continuation Classes was originated in 1896, where by pupils could receive, while still in Public School, advanced instruction similar to that of junior High School classes. In 1918 there were 137 of these Continuation Classes, with an enrolment of 5104 pupils.

Development of Secondary Schools

The antecedents of our High School system go farther back into the past than do those of our elementary schools. In 1798, some 549,217 acres of land were set aside to support free Grammar Schools and .a University. An Act passed in 1807, made an annual grant of 100 to one Grammar School in each of the eight municipal Districts then established. These Grammar Schools were supposed to be classical seminaries after the model of the great English Public Schools. In practice, they were taught and controlled by Anglican clergymen and reserved for the children of the Family Compact oligarchy.

So incompetent did these schools become that in 1829 a Select Committee on Education, appointed by the Assembly, recommended their abolition. They were, however, maintained by the influence of the Compact; and in 1830 their revenue and management was placed under the Council of King's College, an Anglican University whose charter had been secured in 1828 by Dr. Strachan.

No control of Grammar Schools was given Ryerson on his appointment as Superintendent in 1844. He succeeded, however, in having investigation made It was found that in 1849 forty Grammar Schools had only eight matriculants altogether. Most of them were doing Common School work and doing it poorly.

A Grammar School Act which became law on January 1, 1854, made secondary schools part of the provincial system. Grammar School Trustee Boards, with power to levy rates, were to be appointed by County Councils. Legislative grants, though generous, were to be made only when balanced by local taxation. Strict supervision was to be conducted by Grammar School Inspectors appointed by the Council of Public Instruction.

Four years later, Ryerson founded a Model Grammar School at Toronto for the professional training of Grammar School teachers. This school was closed in 1863 and all such instruction given in the Normal Schools until 1865, when Training Institutes were set up in connection with the Collegiate Institutes at Hamilton and Kingston. In 1891, the Training Institutes were replaced by the Ontario School of Pedagogy, established at Toronto, with James A. McLellan as principal. In 1896, this was affiliated with Hamilton Collegiate Institute as the Ontario Normal College. In 1907, Faculties of Education at Toronto University and Queen's University took up the work. And in 1920, these Faculties of Education were centralized at Toronto as the Ontario College of Education.

Ryerson drafted a second Grammar School Act in 1865. It was now necessary for headmasters of Grammar Schools to be graduates of universities in the British dominions. Half the Grammar School trustees were to be appointed by the council of the town or village where the school was situated. And the government grant was based on the number of pupils studying Latin or Greek. As a result, almost all the students in each locality, boys and girls, fit and unfit, were thrust into the Grammar School and set at Latin so as to secure a large government grant. The result was widespread demoralization of the school system.

George Paxton Young, one of the Grammar School Inspectors, diagnosed the ease and prescribed the remedy in a High Schools Act which was passed in 1871. By this Act, the term "Grammar School" was abolished and the name "High School" (borrowed from the United States) was substituted. The classical obsessions of the past were disregarded and provision made for training in advanced English, natural science, and commercial subjects. Languages became optional only. A departmental examination was also prescribed for all seeking admittance to High Schools. This examination, which still persists, was superlatively sensible in that it shut out all unfit pupils and gave the High Schools a distinct status in the educational system. Considerable agitation against the Entrance examinations has been carried on in recent years but such efforts have been confined to doctrinaires, politicians, incompetent Public School teachers, and the zealous parents of stupid or lazy children. In cities like Toronto, where Public School staffs are comparatively permanent and inspection is incessant, promotion to High Schools on teachers' re-commendations is perhaps feasible; but outside of urban centers, the abolition of the Entrance Examination would soon demoralize our secondary schools.

The Act of 1871 also made provision for a superior class of High School, to be known as "Collegiate Institutes." The chief differences from High Schools lay in a higher standard of equipment and in "specialist" qualifications for teachers at the head of departments.

During the fifty years which followed, the outstanding phenomenon in secondary education in Ontario was the way in which the Universities and Normal Schools dominated and encroached upon the High Schools.

The earliest universities in the province were King's College (chartered 1828), Queen's College (chartered 1839), and Victoria College (chartered 1841). Many other colleges followed in the course of time, but all except three (Queen's, McMaster, and Western) have been affiliated with Toronto University under a federation scheme worked out in 1887.

For half a century, the courses of study in our High Schools have been almost wholly determined by the requirements laid down by the universities for matriculation into courses towards the professions and by the departmental requirements for entrance into Normal Schools and the teaching profession. No provision was made to meet the real needs of the great number of students who did not go beyond High School. For girls especially, the usual consummation of whose career is homemaking and not the sterility of a profession, such a system was almost criminal in its insistence on useless subjects and its omission of training for domesticity.

Another weakness in provincial education was the way in which a bureaucratic Education Department, in its passion for uniformity regardless of local needs, keep promulgating an everlasting series of elaborately detailed syllabi for the guidance of teachers of all grades down to the most obvious and trivial detail. The Department was apparently loath to credit any teacher with the administrative intelligence of an anthropoid ape.

A transformation was foreshadowed by the appointment in 1920 of a representative Committee to examine the secondary school system of Ontario and report on necessary or desirable changes in organization.

The report of this Committee is to take effect in September 1921, and will inaugurate many drastic changes. The secondary schools will now provide a five-year course, consisting of a Lower School course of two years, a Middle School course of two years, and an Upper School course of one year. The study of English is compulsory throughout every year and the study of Canadian History and Civics, Physiography, Algebra, and Geometry each obligatory in the Lower School for one year only. All other subjects are optional, but at least three and not more than five are to be taken each year. Options are to be decided by the Principal and not by the student. Provision is made for the study of Agriculture, Household Science, Manual Training, or indeed and subject whatsoever which the Principal and School Board may decide is desirable in the locality. Pupils who do not wish to go beyond the High School may secure a Graduation Diploma by passing on 12 subjects, at least 6 of which are in the Middle School. In all examinations, pupils will be credited with every paper on which they obtain 50%. The changes in the system are far reaching and will require at least two years for proper assimilation by our schools.

Further drastic changes, affecting both Public and High Schools, will be made by a recent Adolescent School Attendance Act, which is supposed to take effect this September, more particularly in urban centers. This measure is modeled after the Fisher Bill in England and provides that every adolescent between 14 and 16 years of age, with certain qualified exceptions, must attend school full time each year. Moreover, those between 16 and 18 who have not put in full time up to the age of 16 must take part time instruction of at least 320 hours each year. It will be vital, in the operation of this scheme, that such extra training shall be preparation for practical life and not a mere grind in an academic treadmill. Special provision must also be made for the very bright child and the very dull child. In most Public Schools at the present day, a downright crime is being committed against very intelligent children by holding them back to the pace of the average child and keeping them for the full term in each of an unreasonable number of class subdivisions. On the other hand, most backward students have actual physical or mental defects or deficiencies and require individual examination and special instruction.

Libraries and Technical Education

Public libraries and industrial training are also integral parts of Ontario's educational system.

As early as 1835, we find the government giving grants to Mechanics' Institutes at Toronto and Kingston. These Institutes aimed at providing class instruction adapted to the wants and circumstances of workingmen and at furnishing a reading room as supplementary to such instruction. In 1851, an Act was passed for the better management of Mechanics' Institutes and Library Associations, and in 1857 a Board of Arts and Manufacturers was incorporated to promote their growth. In 1868, after Confederation, the Board of Arts and Manufacturers was abolished and the Mechanics' Institutes placed under the Department of the Commissioner of Agriculture for Ontario. Provision was made in 1872 for a semi-annual inspection of Mechanics' Institutes by County School Inspectors; and in 1880 they were placed under the Minister of Education and incorporated into the provincial educational system. A Free Libraries Act, passed in 1882, then permitted Mechanics Institutes to become free libraries, supported by a maximum tax of half a mill levied on the municipality; and in 1895 the official name was changed to "Public. Library." Great financial assistance was given to most of the provincial libraries by the late Andrew Carnegie the Scotch-American millionaire. Supervisory control, however, has remained vested in the Education Department. An important revision of the Public Libraries Act in 1920 granted libraries the support of a municipal per capita tax of fifty cents.

The industrial class instruction of the old Mechanics' Institutes has largely disappeared from the modern Public Library and has been otherwise provided for. In 1909 a Technical and Art School was opened at Hamilton and in 1910 a large Technical High School began operations in Toronto. In the following year the Minister of Education established a sub-department known as the Department of Industrial and Technical Education, with Dr. F. W. Merchant as Director. Great progress has since been made and in 1920 there were 12 industrial day schools with 177 teachers and 4790 pupils and 49 industrial night schools with 845 teachers and 26,527 pupils.

Victoria County, Ontario Canada Centennial History, Watson Kirkconnell M.A., 1921

Victoria County


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