Education In Upper Canada From 1783 To 1844

IMMEDIATELY after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, United Empire Loyalists began to make homes in Upper Canada. The Great Lakes and larger rivers were the natural highways. It happened, there-fore, that the earliest settlements were along the St. Lawrence, the Niagara, and Lakes Erie and Ontario.

For a few years these settlers were too busy to think very much about schools. Man’s first wants are food, clothing, and shelter. But just as soon as rude homes were built and a patch of forest cleared upon which to grow grain and vegetables, these Upper Canadian Loyalists began to think of schools. It was natural that they should do so. They were descendants of an intelligent stock, people who had good schools in New England and of a people whose forefathers had enjoyed liberal educational ad-vantages in the old world.

Governor Simcoe reached Upper Canada in 1792, and almost immediately took steps to establish schools. Ile was an aristocrat who firmly believed in such a constitution of society as then existed in the old world. He naturally wished to see a reproduction of that society in the new world. Hence we are not surprised to find that his educational schemes were intended for the classes rather than for the masses. In a letter* written by Simcoe, April 28th, 1792, to the British Secretary of State, he urges grants of £100 each for schools at Niagara and Kingston. He also proposed a university with English Church professors.

In 1797, the House of Assembly and Legislative Council adopted an address to the King praying him to set apart waste lands of the Crown for the establishment of a respectable grammar school in each District, and also for a college or university. In answer to this petition, the Duke of Portland wrote saying that His Majesty proposed to comply with the request and wished further advice as to the best means of carrying it out.

The Executive Council, the Judges and law officers of the Crown met in consultation in 1798 and recommended that 500,000 acres of waste Crown lands be set apart to build a provincial university, and a free grammar school in each of the four Districts. Grammar schools were to be built at once at Kingston and at Niagara, and, as soon as circumstances would permit, at Cornwall and at Sandwich. The university was to be at York. It was estimated that each grammar school would cost £3.000 to build and £18o a year to maintain. The schools were to accommodate one hundred boys each, and have a residence for the master, with some rooms for boarders.* No steps were taken to carry out these plans until after 1807.

Several private schools were opened prior to 1800. The chief of these were at Newark, York, Ancaster, Cornwall, Kingston, Adolphustown, St. Catharines, and Belleville. Some were evening schools. All were supported by fees. Many were taught by clergymen. The principal subjects were reading, writing, and arithmetic.

On December 17th, 1802, Dr. Baldwin, of York, the father of Hon. Robt. Baldwin, issued the following notice ;—

” Understanding that some of the Gentlemen of this Town have expressed much anxiety for the establishment of a Classical School, Dr. Baldwin begs leave to inform them and the Public that he intends, on Monday, the third day of January next, to open a school, in which he will instruct twelve boys in Reading, Writing, the Classics, and Arithmetic.

” The terms are for each boy, Eight Guineas per annum, to he paid quarterly One guinea entrance and one cord of wood to be supplied by each boy.”

John Strachan, afterwards Bishop Strachan, opened a private school at Kingston in 1799. Later he opened one at Cornwall, and still later one at York. Attempts to open a public school in each District were defeated in the Legislature in 1804 and 1805. In 1806 the sum of 1400* was appropriated to purchase scientific apparatus.

In 1807, the Legislature took steps to carry out the plan proposed in 1797. There were by this time eight Districts in Upper Canada—Eastern, Johnstown, Midland, Newcastle, Home, Niagara, London, and Western. The sum of £800 was fixed as an annual appropriation to support ” a Public School in each and every District in the Province.” This meant £100 for each school or teacher. The Legislature also fixed the places where the schools were to be held. The Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council was to appoint riot less than five trustees t for each District school. These trustees were given almost absolute control over the management of the schools.

It must not be supposed that these schools were public schools in the sense we now attach to that term. Their founders had in mind the great English public school, whose curriculum was largely classical and whose benefits were confined to the wealthy. These schools were not in any sense popular schools. It would seem that Governor Simcoe’s proposal in 1798 was to have ” Free Grammar Schools.”* But those established by the Act of 18o7 levied considerable sums in fees. They were designed to educate the sons of gentlemen. They were to prepare for professional life. They were essentially for the benefit of the ruling classes. They were largely controlled by Anglicans,t and in many cases the teachers were Anglican clergymen.

If these schools were not public schools as we now use the term ” public school,” neither were they high schools as we now use that term. The curricula had no uniformity. Each school was a law unto itself and depended almost wholly upon the teacher. If he were scholarly and earnest the school would accomplish much. Often very young boys who could scarcely read were admitted. In some schools a fine training.

In 1830, when the United Presbytery of Upper Canada petitioned the Legislature against appointing so many Anglicans as trustees of grammar schools, the only reply was that Anglicans had not always been appointed in classics was given ; in others even the elements of a common education were neglected.

But although these schools were not for the mass of the people, their establishment was none the less an event of far-reaching importance. It was a decided advantage to the mass of the people that their rulers should have some educational advantages. No one can read the lists of names of men educated in these schools and afterwards prominent in Canadian public life without recognizing that their establishment was a blessing to the whole of Canada. They were caste schools, but they kept alive the torch of learning and civilization. Being founded out of public funds, there was created an interest in their welfare among the members of the Legislative Assembly. As years went on and the members of the Assembly came to really represent the people of Upper Canada, they were led to extend to all of the people such educational advantages as had been granted to a section of the people in 1807.

Several efforts were made to repeal the Act of 1807 and substitute for it one of a more popular nature. These efforts were baffled either by the Legislative Council or through the influence of that body in the Assembly itself. A petition presented by sixty-five residents of the Midland District to the Legislature of 1812 will give a fair idea of the state of feeling throughout Upper Canada in regard to education : ” Your petitioners . . . feel themselves in duty bound to state that ‘An Act to establish Public Schools in each and every District of this Province is found by experience not to answer the end for which it was (le-signed. Its object, it is presumed, was to pro-mote the education of our youth in general, but a little acquaintance with the facts must convince every unbiased mind that it has contributed little or nothing to the promotion of so laudable a design. By reason of the place of instruction being established at one end of the District, and the sum demanded for tuition, in addition to the annual compensation received from the public, most of the people are unable to avail themselves of the advantages contemplated by the institution. A few wealthy inhabitants, and those of the Town of Kings-ton, reap exclusively the benefit of it in this District. The institution, instead of aiding the middling and poorer class of His Majesty’s subjects, casts money into the lap of the rich, who are sufficiently able, without public assistance, to support a school in every respect equal to the one established by law. Therefore, your petitioners pray, that so much of the Act first mentioned may be repealed, and such provisions made in the premises as may be conducive to public utility.”

A repeal bill of the Act of 1807 was passed by the Legislative Assembly of 1812, but thrown out by the Legislative Council. The Act of 1807 limited the schools to one for each District. This was unsatisfactory even to that class for whom the schools were especially designed_ As the country made progress and became more thickly populated, eight schools were a wholly inadequate provision for the education of those requiring it.. But the Legislative Assembly steadily resisted any attempt to enlarge the scope of these class schools. Perhaps it was owing to their resistance that in 1 816 they secured the consent of the Legislative Council to a really forward movement in elementary education.

But it would be a serious mistake to infer that the educational machinery of Upper Canada previous to 1816 was limited to these eight District Grammar Schools. What the Government failed to provide, private enterprise se-cured. More than two hundred schools were certainly in operation in 1816. These schools were maintained partly by subscriptions from well-to-do people and partly by fees collected from the pupils. In many cases they were private ventures, conducted by teachers who depended wholly upon fees. In some cases these schools were of a high order, perhaps superior to the District Grammar Schools ; in other cases, probably in the large majority of cases, they were very inefficient. The average fees paid by pupils in the elementary schools were about twelve shillings per quarter.

William Crooks, of Grimsby, writing to Gourlay, in January, 1818, says : ” The state of education is also at a very low ebb, not only in this township but generally throughout the District; although the liberality of the Legislature has been great in support of the District Grammar Schools (giving to the teachers of each £100 per annum) yet they have been productive of little or no good hitherto, for this obvious cause, they are looked upon as seminaries exclusively instituted for the education of the children of the more wealthy classes of society, and to which the poor man’s child is considered as unfit to be admitted. From such causes, instead of their being a benefit to the Province, they are sunk into obscurity, and the heads of most of them are at this moment enjoying their situations as comfort-able sinecures. Another class of schools has within a short time been likewise founded upon the liberality of the Legislative purse denominated as Common or Parish Schools, but like the preceding, the anxiety of the teacher employed seems more alive to his stipend than the advancement of the education of those placed under his care; from the pecuniary advantages thus held out we have been inundated with the worthless scum, under the character of schoolmasters, not only of this but of every other country where the knowledge has been promulgated of the easy means our laws afford of getting a living here, by obtaining a parish school.”

The Common or Parish Schools referred to in this letter were the result of the legislation of 1816, a red-letter year in school affairs be-cause it saw the first attempts in Upper Canada to give schools under public control to the common people. The sum of $24,000 a year was appropriated for four years to establish Common Schools. The law provided that the people of any village, town or township might meet together and arrange to establish one or more schools, at each of which the attendance must be not less than twenty. Three suitable trustees were to be chosen to conduct the school, appoint teachers, and select textbooks from a list prescribed by a District Board of Education. The Legislature authorized payments to each of these schools of a sum not exceeding £100. The balance needed to maintain the school had to be made up by subscriptions.

In 1819 the Grammar School Act of 1807 received some slight amendments. The grant of £100 per school was reduced to 150 for new schools, except where the number of pupils exceeded ten. A new school was authorized for the new Gore District, at Hamilton. Trustee Boards were required to present annual re-ports to the Lieutenant-Governor and to con-duct an annual public examination. But the most important change was provision for the free education of ten poor children at each District Public School. These children were chosen by lot from names submitted by Trustee Boards of Common Schools.

In 1822 the Governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland, on his own responsibility, had established in Toronto a school known as the Upper Canada Central School, formed on the plan of the British National Schools, which had been established in Britain by Rev. Dr. Bell. These schools were decidedly Anglican in tone, and that established in Toronto was at the instigation of Rev. Dr. Strachan.* In a despatch to Earl Bathurst, Colonial Secretary in 1822, Governor Maitland said :t ” It is proposed to establish one introductory school on the national plan in each town of a certain size. It is supposed that a salary of £100 per annum to the master of each such school would be sufficient. The number of these schools may be increased as the circumstances of the Province may require and the means allow.”

In answer, the Earl of Bathurst, under date of October 12th, 1823, says : ” I am happy to have it in my power to convey to you His Majesty’s consent that you appropriate a portion of the Reserves set apart for the establishment of a University for the support of schools on the National [Church of England] plan of education.” This action established one school, and had in contemplation the establishment of others under the direct control of the Governor and his Council. The Legislative Assembly naturally resented the action, and for two reasons. They objected to the disposal of any Crown property other than upon their authority. They objected to anything being done that would lessen the resources of the proposed University.

A side-light upon education in Upper Canada is furnished by Mr. E. A. Talbot, who published a series of letters upon Upper Canada in London, 1824. I quote from Letter XXX : “The great mass of the [Canadian] people are at present completely ignorant even of the rudiments of the most common learning. Very few can either read or write; and parents who are ignorant themselves, possess so slight a relish for literature and are so little acquainted with its advantages, that they feel scarcely any anxiety to have the minds of their children cultivated. . . They will not believe that ` knowledge is power,’ and being convinced that it is not in the nature of ” book-learned skill ‘ to improve the earnestness of their sons in hewing wood or the readiness of their daughters in spinning flax, they consider it a misapplication of money to spend any sum in obtaining instruction for their offspring. Nothing can afford a stronger proof of their indifference in this respect than the circumstance of their electing men to represent them in the Provincial Parliament, whose attainments in learning are in many instances exceedingly small, and sometimes do not pass beyond the horn-book. I have myself been present in the Honourable the House of Assembly when some of the members, on being called to be Chairmen of Committees, were under the disagreeable and humiliating necessity of requesting other members to read the bills before the Committee, and then, as the different clauses were rejected or adopted, to request these, their proxies, to signify the same in the common mode of writing.”

In 1823 there was established a General Board of Education, consisting of: The Hon. and Rev. John Strachan, D.D., Chairman ; Hon. Jos. Wells, M.L.C.; Hon. G. H. Markland, M.L.C. ; Rev. Robert Addison; John Beverley Robinson, Esq., Attorney-General; Thomas Ridout, Esq., Surveyor-General. The same session of the Legislature set apart L150 as an annual grant for purchasing books and tracts designed to afford moral and religious instruction.

By the creation of a General Board of Education, Rev. Dr. Strachan became very prominently identified with education in Upper Canada. No man was better qualified through zeal, practical knowledge, and a genuine interest in higher education. He had been made an honorary member of the Executive Council in 1815, and an active member in 1817. In 182o he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council. Being a prominent Churchman, an experienced and successful teacher, and re-siding at York, he was naturally consulted by successive Governors on educational matters. Strachan was an uncompromising Churchman with ritualistic tendencies, and in politics a Tory of the George III. school. He had neither faith in, nor sympathy for, a democracy. He accepted things as he found them, and wished to preserve them so. He could conceive of no more perfect state of society for the new world than that which he left behind him in the old. He firmly believed in education of the most noble kind for gentlemen, but it is doubtful if he recognized the right of every man to the highest possible cultivation of his intellectual powers. He would have looked upon such a plan as subversive of the existing orders of society_ At any rate he never evinced any passion for popular education except that moral and religious education given under the a gis of an Established Church. On the other hand, no man in Canada had a more sincere desire to foster higher institutions of learning, and it had from the very first been Strachan’s plan that the District Grammar Schools should be feeders for a Provincial University, and now, in 1824, when he became virtually head of educational affairs in Upper Canada, he determined to carry his scheme to a successful issue.

There were serious difficulties. An endowment had been provided for a university by the Crown grant in 1 797, but it was at this time almost worthless. It consisted of blocks of land, containing several townships, in remote parts of the Province. The lands were good, but so long as the Government had free lands to give incoming settlers, the school lands were not in demand. Besides these school or university lands, there were other lands in possession of the Crown. The original surveyor reserved two-sevenths of all land. One-seventh was the reserve for a ” Protestant Clergy,” which eventually caused so much strife and ill-feeling. The other seventh was known as the Crown Reserve. In many cases this Crown Reserve was becoming valuable, even in 1824, because of the labour of settlers who owned adjoining farms. Much of the Crown Reserve was under lease and giving a more or less certain revenue. Strachan conceived a bold and successful plan. He suggested to Sir Peregrine Maitland that for grants to new settlers the school lands were worth as much to the Government as the Crown Reserves. Why not exchange school lands for an equal area of Crown Reserve land? The matter was put before the Home Government, and in 1827 a favourable reply was given. The result was that the University got 225,944 acres of land, distributed throughout every District in Upper Canada. but having more than one-half its total area in the Home, Gore, and London Districts, the wealthiest and most populous parts of Upper Canada. The Commissioners, appointed in 1848 by Lord Elgin to enquire into the affairs of King’s College, state (pages 16 and I]) : “The Crown Reserves thus converted into the University Endowment, consisted of lands in various parts of Upper Canada in actual or nominal occupation under lease, at rate of rental fixed by a certain scale established by the Provincial Government, and a large proportion of the lots were in an improved or cultivated state.”

In March, 1826, Rev. Dr. Strachan submitted to the Lieutenant-Governor a very able and comprehensive report * showing why a university ought at once to be established. The report gives an interesting and authentic summary of the state of education in Upper Canada at that time. ” The present state of Education in this Province consists of Common Schools throughout the Townships, established under several Acts of the Provincial Legislature, and which are now, by the exertions of Your Excellency, placed on an excellent footing, requiring no other improvements than the means of multiplying their number, which, no doubt, will be granted as the finances of the Province become more productive. In about three hundred and forty Common Schools established in the different Districts of the Colony, from seven to eight thousand children are taught reading and writing, the elements of arithmetic, and the first principles of religion ; and when it is considered that the parents commonly send their children in rotation—the younger in summer when the roads are good, and the older in winter—it is not too much to say that nearly double this number, or from twelve to fourteen thousand children, profit annually by the Common Schools. The consequence is that the people, scattered as they are over a vast wilderness, are becoming alive to the great advantage of educating their children, and are, in many places, seconding, with laud-able zeal, the exertions of the Legislature, and establishing schools at their own expense.

” Provision is made by law for the translation of some of the more promising scholars from the Common to the District Schools, where the classics and practical mathematics are taught. In these schools, eleven in number, there are at present upwards of 300 youth acquiring an education to qualify them for the different professions; and, although they can seldom support more than one master, several of the young gentlemen who have been brought up in them are now eminent in their professions, and would, by their talents and high principles, do credit to seminaries of greater name. But the period has arrived when the District Schools [Grammar Schools] will be-come still more useful by confining themselves to the intention of their first establishment, namely, nurseries for a University—an institution now called for by the increased population and circumstances of the Colony, and most earnestly desired by the more respectable inhabitants.

” There is not in either Province any English Seminary above the rank of a good school, at which a liberal education can be obtained. Thus the youth of nearly 300,000 Englishmen have no opportunity of receiving instruction within the Canadas in Law, Medicine, or Divinity. The consequence is that many young men coming forward to the learned professions are obliged to look beyond the Province for the last two years of their education—undoubtedly the most important and critical of their lives. Very few are able on account of the great expense to go to England or Scot-land ; and the distance is so great and the difficulties so many that parental anxiety reluctantly trusts children from its observation and control. The youths are, therefore, in some degree, compelled to look forward to the United States, where the means of education, though of a description far inferior to those of Great Britain, are yet superior to those within the Province, and a growing necessity is arising of sending them to finish their education in that country. Now, in the United States, a system prevails unknown to, or unpractised by, any other nation. In all other countries morals and religion are made the basis of future instruction, and the first book put into the hands of children teaches them the domestic, social, and religious virtues; but in the United States politics pervade the whole system of instruction. The school books from the very first elements are stuffed with praises of their own institutions and breathe hatred to everything English_ To such a country our youth may go, strongly attached to their native land and all its establishments, but by hearing them continually depreciated and those of America praised, these attachments will, in many, be gradually weakened, and some may become fascinated with that liberty which has degenerated into licentiousness and imbibe, perhaps unconsciously, sentiments unfriendly to things of which Englishmen are proud. . .

The establishment of a University at the seat of Government will complete a regular system of education in Upper Canada from the letters of the alphabet to the most profound investigations of science In regard to the profession of medicine it is melancholy to think that more than three-fourths of the present practitioners have been educated or attended lectures in the United States. .

There are, as yet, only twenty-two clergymen in Upper Canada, the greater number from England. It is essential that young men coining forward to the Church should be educated entirely within the Province, but for this there is no provision. . . . But the wants of the Province are becoming great, and however much disposed the elder clergy may be to bring forward young men to the sacred profession, they have neither time nor means of doing it with sufficient effect. There can be nothing of that zeal, of that union and mutual attachment, of that deep theological and literary enquiry and anxiety to excel, which would be found among men collected at the University, and here it is not irrelevant to observe that it is of the greatest importance that the education of the Colony should be conducted by the clergy.

“Nothing can be more manifest than that this Colony has not yet felt the advantage of a religious establishment. What can twenty-two clergymen do, scattered over a country of nearly six hundred miles in length? Can we be surprised that, under such circumstances, the religious benefits of the ecclesiastical establishment are unknown, and sectaries of all descriptions have increased on every side? And when it is further considered that the religious teachers of all other Protestant de-nominations, a very few respectable ministers of the Church of Scotland excepted, come almost universally from the Republican States of America, where they gather their knowledge and form their sentiments, it is evident that if the Imperial Government does not step for-ward with efficient help, the mass of the population will be nurtured and instructed in hostility to all our institutions, both civil and religious. . From all which it appears highly expedient to establish a university at the seat of Government, to complete the system of education in the Colony at which all the branches requisite for qualifying young men for the learned professions may be taught.

The principal and professors, except those of Medicine and Law, should be clergymen of the Established Church ; and no tutor, teacher, or officer who is not a member of that Church should ever be employed in the institution.”

I have given this long quotation from Rev. Dr. Strachan’s report for several reasons. It shows very clearly the point of view of a remarkable man who had much to do with educational affairs in Upper Canada for a period of nearly seventy years. It shows his zeal for higher education, his belief in the efficacy of a religious establishment, his narrow bigotry and intolerance of all outside of an establishment, his o1(1-world belief that the clergy should control education, his loyal attachment to British institutions, and above all, to those who read between the lines, his lack of real interest in elementary education. He is perfectly satisfied with the state of the Common Schools, although they were then accommodating less than one in twenty of the total population. The schools of which he says, ” which are now, by the exertions of Your Excellency, placed on an excellent footing, requiring no other improvements than the means of multiplying their number,” were conducted in rude buildings, without any apparatus, with a motley assortment of textbooks, and taught in many cases by ignorant itinerant schoolmaster who were of no use at any other occupation, and who received from $80 to $200 a year ! Little can ever be expected in the way of improvement from those who are wholly satisfied with present conditions, and it is safe to say that any improvements that took place in the Common Schools of Canada under the regime of the Rev. Dr. Strachan were owing to other causes than the efforts put forth by that gentleman. The Common Schools of Upper Canada had to wait for a new birth—until Ryerson breathed life into them.

Rev. Dr. Strachan’s Report is interesting for another reason—it deals with the proposed King’s College and its relations with what Dr. Strachan calls the ” religious establishment ” in Canada. This ” religious establishment ” was to have as its basis the one-seventh of all lands in Upper Canada as provided for by the Constitutional Act of 1791. Now these two things, the Clergy Reserves and King’s College, caused more trouble to the Canadian Legislature and engendered more bitter feeling among the people of Upper Canada than any other two questions that ever were debated in the Parliament of Upper Canada, or in the Parliament of the united Canadas. In the Parliamentary struggle over both these questions the Rev. Dr. Strachan was an active and valiant leader of the party of privilege, and among those who led the opposing forces to a final victory none was more courageous or more successful than Dr. Ryerson.

Dr. Strachan went to England in 1826 to use his personal influence towards securing a Royal Charter for a University. He there issued an appeal to the English people for aid on the ground that the proposed College would be largely occupied in educating clergymen for the Anglican Church.* A Royal Charter, making the proposed university a close corporation under the control of Anglican clergymen, was obtained. Besides granting the charter the British Government made a grant toward buildings of £1,000 a year for sixteen years.

When the Legislative Assembly met in 1828 several members presented numerously signed petitions praying for definite information about the newly granted charter of King’s College. The Governor sent down a copy of the charter which was referred to a select committee. The committee protested against the nature of the charter in that the university was to become an Anglican institution, supported out of public funds. This they thought unjust, inasmuch as only a small proportion of the settlers of Upper Canada were Anglicans. t The committee also drafted an address to His Majesty the King. This address was adopted by the Assembly, and immediately despatched to His Majesty by the Governor. The address was courteous and loyal in tone, but the exact condition of affairs in Canada was made clear. The King was petitioned to cancel the charter to King’s College, and grant one that would make possible a university for all classes. This address to His Majesty and the protest of the Assembly of Upper Canada attracted the attention of a select committee of the Imperial Parliament. This committee reported against that part of the Charter which required religious tests. George Ryerson, of Canada, rave valuable evidence before this committee relative to Canadian affairs. It seems doubtful whether His Majesty’s advisers, when the King’s College charter was given, were really made aware of the conditions of society in Canada. Those Canadians who had the ears of His Majesty’s advisers were, for the most part, interested in forming and strengthening an Anglican Establishment.