Toronto Normal School – First Years

THE FORMAL OPENING of the Normal School, as described in the previous chapter, was to use Churchill’s phrase, the end of the beginning. Some years of study, planning, and effort had gone before.

The first Common School Act of Upper Canada had taken, in 1816, a first step towards publicly supported schools, and in succeeding years, under the direction of the Rev. Dr. John Strachan, an educational sys­tem had been established in the Province. Rut the political turmoil pre­ceding the rebellion of 1837 had obstructed educational progress, and it was not until after the union of the provinces in 1841 that overdue measures were taken to improve conditions in schools. The establishment of a Normal School then became a matter of concern.

In many countries, notably Prussia, France, Great Britain. Ireland, and the United States, schools for the training of teachers were much in the public mind during the first half of the nineteenth century. The first publicly supported Normal School in North America was opened at Lex­ington, Massachusetts, in 1839. Parallel interest in teacher-training was evident in Upper Canada. In 1836 the Duncombe Report declared, “We stand upon the threshold of a new dispensation in the science of education; . . . [we shall soon be able] to make certain and extensive provi­sion for the support of schools for teachers and tutoresses.” The McCaul Report of 1839 echoed the sentiment, while Lord Durham’s Report advo­cated that “both normal and model schools ought immediately to be set on foot.”

The Act of 1843 assumed that a Normal School would be set up. but someone was needed to devise and administer a new educational policy. Such a man was found in the Reverend Egerton Ryerson who was ap­pointed Assistant Superintendent of Education for Canada West in 1844. and Chief Superintendent of Education in 1846. Ryerson’s views on edu­cation were not original, but they were strongly held and advocated with persistence. “By education, ” he wrote, “I mean not the mere acquisition of certain arts, or of certain branches of knowledge, but that instruction and discipline which qualify and dispose the subjects of it for their appro­priate duties and employments of life, as Christians, as persons of busi­ness, and also as members of the civil community in which they live.” The new Superintendent had organizing and administrative ability; he could make long-range plans, and prepare in advance for eventualities; and he had the happy knack of selecting capable subordinates whom he inspired with intense devotion to himself and his work.

Ryerson early recognized the fundamental importance of the teacher in the educational system. He was convinced that teachers should be com­petent, that they should be persons of high character, and that they should be adequately paid. To elevate teaching to the rank of a profession, a Normal School was a necessity, and the founding of such a school became one of his first aims.

In taking up his new duties, Ryerson had stipulated that he should be allowed to visit Europe to investigate educational systems of other lands. He was absent from Canada just over a year, visiting Austria, Prussia, France, Great Britain and Ireland. His interest in the elementary schools of these countries was equalled by his interest in the professional training of their teachers. The normal schools of Prussia, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin impressed him greatly—that of Dublin, most of all. It had, he wrote, “pre-eminence over all similar establishments in the British Dominions.”

Ryerson’s Report of 1846 recommended the establishment of the Normal and Model Schools in Toronto, and steps were taken to make the dream a reality. First of all, J. George Hodgins, chief clerk in the Educa­tion Office, was sent to Dublin to attend the Normal School there, and to familiarize himself with the administration of such an institution. Then the National Board of Education, Dublin, was asked to nominate a head­master for the Canadian school. John Rintoul, headmaster of the Model Schools, Dublin, was first suggested, but, when he found it impossible to leave Ireland, Thomas Jaffray Robertson, also of Dublin. was recommended and appointed. Robertson crossed the Atlantic in a sailing vessel, and reached Toronto in September. 1847. With his wife and family he was soon established in a suite of rooms on the second floor of Old Government House.

The second master, Henry Youle Hind, was a colourful figure. A scholar at Queen’s College, Cambridge, and later a student for two years at Leipsic, he came to Canada in 1846, at the age of twenty-three. His specialties were mathematics and science. After serving the Normal School for six years, he became professor of chemistry and geology at Trinity College, and later led the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expeditions of 1858.

Additional teachers, on a part-time basis, were engaged to teach such subjects as bookkeeping, drawing, writing, and music. Among these special instructors was William Hind, drawing teacher and younger brother of the second master. Later to achieve some fame as a Canadian artist, William Hind introduced his students to drawing from actual objects instead of merely copying other drawings.

The School. at the time of its opening, was well equipped with L400 worth of books and apparatus which the headmaster had been authorized to purchase before leaving the old country. All in all, there was a good reason for Lord Elgin, who visited the school in the autumn of 1847, to express himself as highly pleased.

Rev. Egerton Ryerson

Courtesy United Church Observer

Sir John Beverley Robinson

It had been intended that the course of studies should emphasize methods of teaching, but this plan presupposed that the students pos­sessed thorough knowledge of the subjects they would be required to teach. When it became clear that the students did not have such knowl­edge, the curriculum was framed to include all the subjects taught in common and grammar schools. Reading, writing, grammar, composition, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, history, drawing, the elements of logic, and elementary science were the chief subjects taught. Two hours a week were devoted to religious instruction, when ministers of the various denominations came to the school and taught members of their own faiths.

Attending Normal School in the early years was a full-time job. Classes began early, ended late, and flowed over into Saturday mornings. The daily time-table did not end at four o’clock, but called for lectures from six to eight in the evening as well. On Sundays the students were required to attend their own churches.

Agricultural Chemistry was an additional subject begun in 1848 “to promote the study of Agriculture in our schools and to prepare the Stu­dents of the Normal School for teaching it.” Two prizes, of the values of $20 and $12, were offered by Lord Elgin, the Governor-General, for pro­ficiency in the subject. With such encouragement, the students were given an intensive and practical training in Agriculture; thus the Toronto Normal School may be regarded not only as the forerunner of the Ontario Agricultural College, but as a prime mover in the study of agriculture in the elementary schools of Ontario.

To supplement their academic training, the students were given much practical experience in the Model School, which came into operation in the renovated stables of Government House on February 21, 1848. There the teachers-in-training observed classes being taught and instructed classes themselves. Counsel and criticism were given in connection with these periods of practice-teaching.

The first session of the School ran from November 1, 1847, to April 13. 1848; the second began on May 15 and ended on October 12. A startling in­novation occurred during the second session, when twenty-two women were admitted in addition to ninety-six men. Co-education was a novelty at the time and was viewed with some alarm, while prejudice against women as teachers was common. As late as 1859 a local superintendent of schools wrote in his official report, “Few females possess that mental ability and decision of character which are so essential to the successful Teacher . . . the framers of the School Law committed a grave error in authorizing females to teach at all.” But once admitted, women continued to attend the Normal School. In 1897, an early student, Dr. Emily H. Stowe, organizer of the Woman Suffrage movement in Canada, wrote: “It is with much pleasure that I contemplate what the Normal School has done for the women of Canada. She was the first to open the doors to women’s higher education; first to recognize equality in the ability of the sexes to compete in the halls of learning, and first to establish a system of co­education. All hail to our Provincial Normal School!”

Upper Canada had reason to be well pleased with the beginning its Normal School had made. “I know,” wrote Ryerson in his Annual Report, “of no country in which the establishment of a normal school has been attended with so little delay and opposition as in Upper Canada, and in which its operations have been so successful in so short a time.” General opinion throughout the Province at that time is reflected in the following report of a local superintendent in 1848:

“Whenever the trustees are fortunate enough to procure a Normal School teacher .. . we see great energy and a spirit of emulation infused among the scholars. . . . Wherever I have found these teachers (and we have about a dozen of them in this district) the parents always tell me with great satisfaction that heretofore they could scarcely hire their children to go to school, but now they cannot hire them to stay at home. The value of the Normal Institution is beyond all price.”

Suddenly, however, in 1849, came word that the Normal School buildings were to be vacated.