History of Toronto Queen Street From The College Avenue To Brock Street And Spadina Avenue
Pursuing our way now westward from the Avenue leading to th...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1828-1863
The Canada's advertisement for the season of 1828 appears i...
King Street: Digression Northward At Church Street: The Old District Grammar School
Immediately north of the church plot, and separated from it...
Yonge Street From Yorkville To Hogg's Hollow
Of long standing is the group of buildings on the right aft...
From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Returning again to the front. The portion of the Common tha...
King Street From Caroline Street To Berkeley Street
Returning again to King Street: At the corner of Caroline S...
Queen Street Digression At Caroline Street History Of The Early Press
A little to the south of Britain Street, between it and Duc...
Queen Street From George Street To Yonge Street
--MEMORIES OF THE OLD COURT HOUSE.
When we pass George S...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the pres...
King Street Digression Into Duke Street
On passing George Street, as we intimated a moment ago, we ...
King Street From John Street To Yonge Street
After our long stroll westward, we had purposed returning t...
Yonge Street From The Bay To Yorkville
The tourist of the present day, who, on one of our great la...
Front Street From The Market Place To Brock Street
The corner we approach after passing the Market Square, was...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
At the southern end of the Church, in which we are supposin...
Queen Street From Brock Street And Spadina Avenue To The Humber
Immediately after the grounds and property of Mr. Dunn, on ...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1815-1827
Soon after the close of the war with the United States in 1...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1793-99
The first formal survey of the harbour of Toronto was made ...
King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Across Church Street from Clinkunbroomer's were the wooden ...
Queen Street From Yonge Street To College Avenue Digression Southward At Bay Street Osgoode Hall Digression Northward At The Av
Leaving now the site of our ancient Court House, the spot a...
King Street: Digression Northward At Church Street: The Old District Grammar School
Immediately north of the church plot, and separated from it by an
allowance for a street, was a large field, almost square, containing six
acres. In a plan of the date 1819, and signed "T. Ridout,
Surveyor-General," this piece of ground is entitled "College Square."
(In the same plan the church reservation is marked "Church Square;" and
the block to the west, "Square for Court House and Jail.") The fact that
the Jail was to be erected there accounts for the name "Newgate Street,"
formerly borne by what is now Adelaide Street.
In the early days, when the destined future was but faintly realized,
"College Square" was probably expected to become in time, and to
continue for ever, an ornamental piece of ground round an educational
institution. The situation, in the outskirts of York, would be deemed
convenient and airy.
For many years this six-acre field was the play-ground of the District
Grammar School. Through the middle of it, from north to south, passed a
shallow "swale," where water collected after rains; and where in winter
small frozen ponds afforded not bad sliding-places. In this moist
region, numerous crayfish were to be found in summer. Their whereabouts
was always indicated by small clay chimneys of a circular form, built by
the curious little nipping creatures themselves, over holes for the
admission of air.
In different places in this large area were remains of huge pine-stumps,
underneath the long roots of which it was an amusement to dig and form
cellars or imaginary treasure-vaults and powder-magazines. About these
relics of the forest still grew remains of the ordinary vegetation of
such situations in the woods; especially an abundance of the
sorrel-plant, the taste of which will be remembered, as being quite
relishable. In other places were wide depressions showing where large
trees had once stood. Here were no bad places, when the whim so was, to
lie flat on the back and note the clouds in the blue vault over head;
watch the swallows and house-martins when they came in spring; and
listen to their quiet prattle with each other as they darted to and fro;
sights and sounds still every year, at the proper season, to be seen and
heard in the same neighbourhood, yielding to those who have an eye or
ear for such matters a pleasure ever new; sights and sounds to this day
annually resulting from the cheery movements and voices of the direct
descendants, doubtless, of the identical specimens that flitted hither
and thither over the play-ground of yore.
White clover, with other herbage that commonly appears spontaneously in
clearings, carpeted the whole of the six acres, with the exception of
the places worn bare, where favourable spots had been found for the
different games of ball in vogue--amongst which, however, cricket was
not then in these parts included--except, perhaps, under a form most
infantile and rudimentary. After falls of moist snow in winter, gigantic
balls used here to be formed, gathering as they were rolled along, until
by reason of their size and weight they could be urged forward no
further: and snow castles on a large scale were laboriously built;
destined to be defended or captured with immense displays of gallantry.
Preparatory to such contest, piles of ammunition would be stored away
within these structures. It was prohibited, indeed, in the articles to
be observed in operations of attack and defence, to construct missiles
of very wet snow; to dip a missile in melted snow-water prior to use; to
subject a missile after a saturation of this kind, to the action of a
night's frost; to secrete within the substance of a missile any foreign
matter; yet, nevertheless, occasionally such acts were not refrained
from; and wounds and bruises of an extra serious character, inflicted by
hands that could not always be identified, caused loud and just
complaints. Portions of the solid and extensive walls of the
extemporized snow-fortresses were often conspicuous in the play-ground
long after a thaw had removed the wintry look from the rest of the
The Building into which the usual denizens of the six-acre play-ground
were constrained, during certain portions of each day, to withdraw
themselves, was situated at a point 114 feet from its western, and 104
from its southern boundary. It was a large frame structure, about
fifty-five long, and forty wide; of two storeys; each of a respectable
altitude. The gables faced east and west. On each side of the edifice
were two rows of ordinary sash windows, five above, and five below. At
the east end were four windows, two above, two below. At the west end
were five windows and the entrance-door. The whole exterior of the
building was painted of a bluish hue, with the exception of the window
and door frames, which were white. Within, on the first floor, after the
lobby, was a large square apartment. About three yards from each of its
angles, a plain timber prop or post helped to sustain the ceiling. At
about four feet from the floor, each of these quasi-pillars began to be
chamfered off at its four angles. Filling up the south-east corner of
the room was a small platform approached on three sides by a couple of
steps. This sustained a solitary desk about eight feet long, its lower
part cased over in front with thin deal boards, so as to shut off from
view the nether extremities of whosoever might be sitting at it.
On the general level of the floor below, along the whole length of the
southern and northern sides of the chamber, were narrow desks set close
against the wall, with benches arranged at their outer side. At right
angles to these, and consequently running out, on each side into the
apartment, stood a series of shorter desks, with double slopes, and
benches placed on either side. Through the whole length of the room from
west to east, between the ends of the two sets of cross benches, a wide
space remained vacant. Every object and surface within this interior,
were of the tawny hue which unpainted pine gradually assumes. Many were
the gashes that had furtively been made in the ledges of the desks and
on the exterior angles of the benches; many the ducts cut in the slopes
of the desks for spilt ink or other fluid; many the small cell with
sliding lid, for the incarceration of fly or spider; many the initials
and dates carved here, and on other convenient surfaces, on the wainscot
and the four posts.
On the benches and at the desks enumerated and described, on either
side, were ordinarily to be seen the figures and groups which usually
fill up a school interior, all busily engaged in one or other of the
many matters customary in the training and informing the minds of boys.
Here, at one time, was to be heard, on every side, the mingled but
subdued sound of voices conning or repeating tasks, answering and
putting questions; at another time, the commotion arising out of a
transposition of classes, or the breaking up of the whole assembly into
a fresh set of classes; at another time, a hushed stillness preparatory
to some expected allocution, or consequent on some rebuke or admonition.
It was manifest, at a glance, that the whole scene was under the spell
of a skilled disciplinarian.
Here, again, the presiding genius of the place was Dr. Strachan. From a
boy he had been in the successful discharge of the duties of a
schoolmaster. At the early age of sixteen we find that he was in charge
of a school at Carmyllie, with the grown-up sons of the neighbouring
farmers, and of some of the neighbouring clergy, well under control. At
that period he was still keeping his terms and attending lectures,
during the winter months, at King's College, Aberdeen. Two years
afterwards he obtained a slightly better appointment of the same kind at
Denino, still pursuing his academical studies, gathering, as is evident
from his own memoranda, a considerable knowledge of men and things, and
forming friendships that proved life-long. Of his stay at Denino he
says, in 1800: "The two years which I spent at Denino were, perhaps, as
happy as any in my life; much more than any time since." "At Denino,"
the same early document states, "I learned to think for myself. Dr.
Brown [the parish-minister of the place, afterwards professor at
Glasgow,] corrected many of my false notions. Thomas Duncan [afterwards
a professor at St. Andrew's] taught me to use my reason and to employ
the small share of penetration I possess in distinguishing truth from
error. I began to extend my thoughts to abstract and general ideas; and
to summon the author to the bar of my reason. I learned to discriminate
between hypotheses and facts, and to separate the ebullitions of fancy
from the deductions of reason. It is not to be supposed that I could or
can do these things perfectly; but I began to apply my powers: my skill
is still increasing."
Then for two years more, and up to the moment of his bold determination
to make trial of his fortunes in the new world beyond the seas, he is in
charge of the parish-school of Kettle. We have before us a list of his
school there, March the 22nd, 1798. The names amount to eighty-two.
After each, certain initials are placed denoting disposition and
capability, and the direction of any particular talent. Among these
names are to be read that of D. Wilkie, afterwards the artist, and that
of J. Barclay, afterwards the naval commander here on Lake Erie. We
believe that Thomas Campbell, author of the Pleasures of Hope, was also
for a time under his care.
In the history of Dr. Strachan's educational labours in Canada, the
school at York presents fewer points of interest than that at Cornwall,
which is rendered illustrious by having had enrolled on its books so
many names familiar in the annals of Upper Canada. Among the forty-two
subscribers to an address accompanying a piece of Plate in 1833, there
are Robinsons, and Macaulays, and McDonells, and McLeans, and Joneses,
and Stantons, and Bethunes; a Jarvis, a Chewett, a Boulton, a
Vankoughnet, a Smith of Kingston, an Anderson; with some others now less
known.--So illustrative is that address of the skill and earnest care of
the instructor on the one hand, and of the value set upon his efforts by
his scholars, on the other, after the lapse of many years, that we are
induced to give here a short extract from it.
"Our young minds," the signers of the address in 1833 say, referring to
their school-days in Cornwall--"our young minds received there an
impression which has scarcely become fainter from time, of the deep and
sincere interest which you took, not only in our advancement in learning
and science, but in all that concerned our happiness or could affect our
future prospects in life." To which Dr. Strachan replies by saying,
among many other excellent things--"It has ever been my conviction that
our scholars should be considered for the time our children; and that as
parents we should study their peculiar dispositions, if we really wish
to improve them; for if we feel not something of the tender relation of
parents towards them, we cannot expect to be successful in their
education. It was on this principle I attempted to proceed: strict
justice tempered with parental kindness; and the present joyful meeting
evinces its triumph: it treats the sentiments and feelings of scholars
with proper consideration; and while it gives the heart and affections
full freedom to shew themselves in filial gratitude on the one side, and
fatherly affection, on the other, it proves that unsparing labour
accompanied with continual anxiety for the learner's progress never
fails to ensure success and to produce a friendship between master and
scholar which time can never dissolve."
Notwithstanding the greater glory of the school at Cornwall, (of which
institution we may say, in passing, there is an engraving in the
board-room of the Toronto Mechanics' Institute,) the lists of the school
at York always presented a strong array of the old, well-known and even
distinguished, Upper Canadian names. This will be seen by a perusal of
the following document, which will also give an idea of the variety of
matters to which attention was given in the school. The numerous family
names which will at once be recognized, will require no comment.--The
intervals between the calling up of each separate class for examination
appear to have been very plentifully filled up with recitations and
"Order of examination of the Home District Grammar School [at York].
Wednesday, 11th August, 1819. First Day. The Latin and Greek Classes.
Euclid and Trigonometry. Thursday, 12th August. Second day. To commence
at 10 o'clock. Prologue, by Robert Baldwin.--Reading Class.--George
Strachan, The Excellence of the Bible. Thomas Ridout, The Man of
Ross. James McDonell, Liberty and Slavery. St. George Baldwin, The
Sword. William McMurray, Soliloquy on Sleep. Arithmetic Class--James
Smith, The Sporting Clergyman. William Boulton, jun., The Poets New
Year's Gift. Richard Oates, Ode to Apollo. Orville Cassell, The
Rose. Book-keeping.--William Myers, My Mother. Francis Heward, My
Father. George Dawson, Lapland.--First Grammar Class.--Second Grammar
Class.--Debate on the Slave Trade. For the Abolition: Francis Ridout,
John Fitzgerald, William Allan, George Boulton, Henry Heward, William
Baldwin, John Ridout, John Doyle, James Strachan. Against the Abolition:
Abraham Nelles, James Baby, James Doyle, Charles Heward, Allan McDonell,
James Myers, Charles Ridout, William Boulton, Walker Smith.--First
Geography Class.--Second Geography Class. James Dawson, The Boy that
told Lies. James Bigelow, The Vagrant. Thomas Glassco, The Parish
Workhouse. Edward Glennon, The Apothecary.--Natural History.--Debate
by the Young Boys: Sir William Strickland, Charles Heward. Lord
Morpeth, John Owens. Lord Hervey, John Ridout. Mr. Plomer, Raymond
Baby. Sir William Yonge, John Fitzgerald. Sir William Windham, John
Boulton. Mr. Henry Pelham, Henry Heward. Mr. Bernard, George
Strachan. Mr. Noel, William Baldwin. Mr. Shippen, James Baby. Sir
Robert Walpole, S. Givins and J. Doyle. Mr. Horace Walpole, James
Myers. Mr. Pulteney, Charles Baby.--Civil History.--William Boulton,
The Patriot. Francis Ridout, The Grave of Sir John Moore. Saltern
Givins, Great Britain. John Boulton, Eulogy on Mr. Pitt. Warren
Claus, The Indian Warrior. Charles Heward, The Soldier's Dream.
William Boulton, The Heroes of Waterloo.--Catechism.--Debate on the
College at Calcutta. Speakers: Mr. Canning, Robert Baldwin. Sir
Francis Baring, John Doyle. Mr. Wainwright, Mark Burnham. Mr.
Thornton, John Knott. Sir D. Scott, William Boulton. Lord Eldon,
Warren Claus. Sir S. Lawrence, Allan Macaulay. Lord Hawkesbury,
Abraham Nelles. Lord Bathurst, James McGill Strachan, Sir Thomas
Metcalf, Walker Smith. Lord Teignmouth, Horace Ridout.--Religious
Questions and Lectures.--James McGill Strachan, Anniversary of the York
and Montreal Colleges anticipated for 1st January, 1822. Epilogue, by
In the prologue pronounced by "Robert Baldwin," the administration of
Hastings in India is eulogized:
"Her powerful Viceroy, Hastings, leads the way
For radiant Truth to gain imperial sway;
The arts and sciences, for ages lost,
Roused at his call, revisit Brahma's coast."
Sir William Jones is also thus apostrophized, in connection with his
"Thy comprehensive genius soon explored
The learning vast which former times had stored."
The Marquis of Wellesley is alluded to, and the college founded by him
"At his command the splendid structures rise:
Around the Brahmins stand in vast surprise."
The founding of a Seat of Learning in Calcutta suggests the necessity of
a similar institution in Canada. A good beginning, it is said, had been
here made in the way of lesser institutions: the prologue then proceeds:
"Yet much remains for some aspiring son,
Whose liberal soul from that, desires renown,
Which gains for Wellesley a lasting crown;
Some general structures in these wilds to rear,
Where every art and science may appear."
Sir Peregrine Maitland, who probably was present, is told that he might
in this manner immortalize his name:
"O Maitland blest! this proud distinction woos
Thy quick acceptance, back'd by every muse;
Those feelings, too, which joyful fancy knew
When learning's gems first opened to thy view,
Bid you to thousands smooth the thorny road,
Which leads to glorious Science's bright abode."
"The Anniversary of York and Montreal Colleges anticipated" is a kind of
Pindaric Ode to Gratitude: especially it is therein set forth that
offerings of thankfulness are due to benevolent souls in Britain:
"For often there in pensive mood
They ponder deeply on the good
They may on Canada bestow--
And College Halls appear, and streams of learning flow!"
The "Epilogue" to the day's performances is a humorous dissertation in
doggrel verse on United States innovations in the English Language: a
pupil of the school is supposed to complain of the conduct of the
"Between ourselves, and just to speak my mind,
In English Grammar, Master's much behind:
I speak the honest truth--I hate to dash--
He bounds our task by Murray, Lowth and Ashe.
I told him once that Abercrombie, moved
By genius deep had Murray's plan improved.
He frowned upon me, turning up his nose,
And said the man had ta'en a maddening dose.
Once in my theme I put the word progress--
He sentenced twenty lines, without redress;
Again for 'measure' I transcribed 'endeavour'--
And all the live-long day I lost his favour." &c, &c.
At the examination of the District School on August 7th, 1816, a similar
programme was provided.
John Claus spoke the prologue on this occasion, and the following boys
had parts assigned them in the proceedings. The names of some of them
appear in the account for 1819, just given: John Skeldon, George
Skeldon, Henry Mosley, John Doyle, Charles Heward, James Myers, John
Ridout, Charles Ridout, John FitzGerald, John Mosley, Saltern Givins,
James Sheehan, Henry Heward, Allan McDonell, William Allan, John
Boulton, William Myers, James Bigelow, William Baldwin, St. George
Baldwin, K. de Koven, John Knott, James Givins, Horace Ridout, William
Lancaster, James Strachan, David McNab, John Harraway, Robert Baldwin,
Henry Nelles, Warren Shaw, David Shaw, Daniel Murray.
In 1816, Governor Gore was at the head of affairs. He is advised, in the
Prologue spoken by John Claus, to distinguish himself by attention to
the educational interests of the country: (The collocation of names at
the end will excite a smile.)--
"O think what honour pure shall bless thy name
Beyond the fleeting voice of vulgar fame!
When kings and haughty victors cease to raise
The secret murmur and the venal praise,
Perhaps that name, when Europe's glories fade,
Shall often charm this Academic shade,
And bards exclaim on rough Ontario's shore,
We found a Wellesley and Jones in Gore!"
We have ourselves a good personal recollection of the system of the
school at York, and of the interest which it succeeded in awakening in
the subjects taught. The custom of mutual questioning in classes, under
the eye of the master, was well adapted to induce real research, and to
impress facts on the mind when discovered.
In the higher classes each lad in turn was required to furnish a set of
questions to be put by himself to his class-fellows, on a given subject,
with the understanding that he should be ready to set the answerer right
should he prove wrong. And again: any lad who should be deemed competent
was permitted to challenge another, or several others, to read or recite
select rhetorical pieces: a memorandum of the challenge was recorded:
and, at the time appointed, the contest came off, the class or the
school deciding the superiority in each case, subject to the criticism
or disallowance of the master.
It will be seen from the matters embraced in the programme given above,
that the object aimed at was a speedy and real preparation for actual
life. The master, in this instance, was disembarrassed of the traditions
which, at the period referred to, often rendered the education of a
young man a cumbersome, unintelligent and tedious thing. The
circumstances of his own youth had evidently led him to free himself
from routine. He himself was an example, in addition to many another
Scottish-trained man of eminence that might be named, of the early age
at which a youth of good parts and sincere, enlightened purpose, may be
prepared for the duties of actual life, when not caught in the
constrictor-coils of custom, which, under the old English
Public-School-system of sixty years since, used sometimes to torture
parent and son for such a long series of years.
Dr. Strachan's methods of instruction were productive, for others, of
the results realized in his own case. His distinguished Cornwall pupils,
were all, we believe, usefully and successfully engaged in the real work
of life in very early manhood. "The time allowed in a new country like
this," he said to his pupils at Cornwall in 1807, "is scarcely
sufficient to sow the most necessary seed; very great progress is not
therefore to be expected: if the principles are properly engrafted we
have done well."
In the same address his own mode of proceeding is thus dwelt upon: "In
conducting your education, one of my principal objects has always been
to fit you for discharging with credit the duties of any office to which
you may hereafter be called. To accomplish this, it was necessary for
you to be accustomed frequently to depend upon, and think for
yourselves: accordingly I have always encouraged this disposition, which
when preserved within due bounds, is one of the greatest benefits that
can possibly be acquired. To enable you to think with advantage, I not
only regulated your tasks in such a manner as to exercise your judgment,
but extended your views beyond the meagre routine of study usually
adopted in schools; for, in my opinion, several branches of science may
be taught with advantage at a much earlier age than is generally
supposed. We made a mystery of nothing: on the contrary, we entered
minutely into every particular, and patiently explained by what
progressive steps certain results were obtained. It has ever been my
custom, before sending a class to their seats, to ask myself whether
they had learned anything; and I was always exceedingly mortified if I
had not the agreeable conviction that they had made some improvement.
Let none of you, however, suppose that what you have learned here is
sufficient; on the contrary, you are to remember that we have laid only
the foundation. The superstructure must be laid by yourselves."
Here is an account of his method of teaching Arithmetic, taken from the
introduction to a little work on the subject, published by himself in
1809: "I divide my pupils," he says, "into separate classes, according
to their progress. Each class has one or more sums to produce every day,
neatly wrought upon their slates: the work is carefully examined; after
which I command every figure to be blotted out, and the sums to be
wrought under my eye. The one whom I happen to pitch upon first, gives,
with an audible voice, the rules and reasons for every step; and as he
proceeds the rest silently work along with him, figure for figure, but
ready to correct him if he blunder, that they may get his place. As soon
as this one is finished, the work is again blotted out, and another
called upon to work the question aloud as before, while the rest again
proceed along with him in silence, and so on round the whole class. By
this method the principles are fixed in the mind; and he must be a very
dull boy indeed who does not understand every question thoroughly before
he leaves it. This method of teaching Arithmetic possesses this
important advantage, that it may be pursued without interrupting the
pupil's progress in any other useful study. The same method of teaching
Algebra has been used with equal success. Such a plan is certainly very
laborious, but it will be found successful; and he that is anxious to
spare labour ought not to be a public Teacher. When boys remain long
enough, it has been my custom to teach them the theory, and give them a
number of curious questions in Geography, Natural Philosophy and
Astronomy, a specimen of which may be seen in the questions placed
before the Appendix."
The youths to be dealt with in early Canadian schools were not all of
the meek, submissive species. With some of them occasionally a sharp
regimen was necessary; and it was adopted without hesitation. On this
point, the address just quoted, thus speaks: "One of the greatest
advantages you have derived from your education here, arises from the
strictness of our discipline. Those of you who have not already
perceived how much your tranquillity depends upon the proper regulation
of the temper, will soon be made sensible of it as you advance in years.
You will find people who have never known what it is to be in habitual
subjection to precept and just authority, breaking forth into violence
and outrage on the most frivolous occasions. The passions of such
persons, when once roused, soon become ungovernable; and that impatience
of restraint, which they have been allowed to indulge, embitters the
greatest portion of their lives. Accustomed to despise the barriers
erected by reason, they rush forward to indulgence, without regarding
the consequences. Hence arises much of that wretchedness and disorder to
be met with in society. Now the discipline necessary to correct the
impetuosity of the passions is often found nowhere but in well-regulated
schools: for though it should be the first care of parents, they are too
apt to be blinded by affection, and grant liberties to their children
which reason disapproves. . . . . . That discipline therefore, which you
have sometimes thought irksome will henceforth present itself in a very
different light. It will appear the teacher of a habit of the greatest
consequence in the regulation of your future conduct; and you will value
it as the promoter of that decent and steady command of temper so very
essential to happiness, and so useful in our intercourse with mankind."
These remarks on discipline will be the more appreciated, when it is
recollected that during the time of the early settlements in this
country, the sons of even the most respectable families were brought
into contact with semi-barbarous characters. A sporting ramble through
the woods, a fishing excursion on the waters, could not be undertaken
without communications with Indians and half-breeds and bad specimens of
the French voyageur. It was from such sources that a certain idea was
derived which, as we remember, was in great vogue among the more
fractious of the lads at the school at York. The proposition circulated
about, whenever anything went counter to their notions, alway was "to
run away to the Nor'-west." What that process really involved, or where
the "Nor'-west" precisely was, were things vaguely realized. A sort of
savage "land of Cockaigne," a region of perfect freedom among the
Indians, was imagined; and to reach it Lakes Huron and Superior were to
At Cornwall the temptation was in another direction: there, the idea was
to escape to the eastward: to reach Montreal or Quebec, and get on board
of an ocean-going ship, either a man-of-war or merchantman. The flight
of several lads with such intentions was on one occasion intercepted by
the unlooked-for appearance of the head-master by the side of the
stage-coach as it was just about to start for Montreal in the dusk of
the early morning, with the young truants in or upon it.
As to the modes of discipline:--In the school at York--for minor
indiscretions a variety of remedies prevailed. Now and then a lad would
be seen standing at one of the posts above mentioned, with his jacket
turned inside out: or he might be seen there in a kneeling posture for a
certain number of minutes; or standing with the arm extended holding a
book. An "ally" or apple brought out inopportunely into view, during the
hours of work, might entail the exhibition, article by article, slowly
and reluctantly, of all the contents of a pocket. Once we remember, the
furtive but too audible twang of a jewsharp was followed by its owner's
being obliged to mount on the top of a desk and perform there an air on
the offending instrument for the benefit of the whole school.
Occasionally the censors (senior boys appointed to help in keeping
order) were sent to cut rods on Mr. McGill's property adjoining the
play-ground on the north; but the dire implements were not often called
into requisition: it would only be when some case of unusual obstinacy
presented itself, or when some wanton cruelty, or some act or word
exhibiting an unmistakable taint of incipient immorality, was proven.
Once a year, before the breaking-up at midsummer, a "feast" was allowed
in the school-room at York--a kind of pic-nic to which all that could,
contributed in kind--pastry, and other dainties, as well as more
substantial viands, of which all partook. It was sometimes a rather
At the south-east corner of the six-acre play-ground, about half-an-acre
had been abstracted, as it were, and enclosed: here a public school had
been built and put in operation: it was known as the Central School, and
was what would now be called a Common School, conducted on the "Bell and
Lancaster" principle. Large numbers frequented it.
Between the lads attending the Central School, and the boys of the
Grammar School, difficulties of course arose: and on many occasions
feats of arms, accompanied with considerable risk to life and limb, were
performed on both sides, with sticks and stones. Youngsters, ambitious
of a character of extra daring, had thus an opportunity of
distinguishing themselves in the eyes of their less courageous
companions. The same would-be heroes had many stories to tell of the
perils to which they were exposed in their way to and from school. Those
of them who came from the western part of the town, had, according to
their own shewing, mortal enemies in the men of Ketchum's tannery, with
whom it was necessary occasionally to have an encounter. While those
who lived to the east of the school, narrated, in response, the attacks
experienced or delivered by themselves, in passing Shaw's or Hugill's
Mr. Spragge, the master of the Central School, had enjoyed the superior
advantage of a regular training in England as an instructor of the
young. Though not in Holy Orders, his air and costume were those of the
dignified clergyman. Of the Central School, the words of Shenstone,
spoken of a kindred establishment, became, in one point at all events,
true to the letter:--
"E'en now sagacious foresight points to shew
A little bench of bishops here,--
And there, a chancellor in embryo,
Or bard sublime."
A son of Mr. Spragge's became, in 1870, the Chancellor of Ontario, or
Western Canada, after rising with distinction through the several grades
of the legal profession, and filling previously also the post of
Vice-Chancellor. Mr. John Godfrey Spragge, who attained to this
eminence, and his brothers, Joseph and William, were likewise pupils in
their maturer years, in the adjoining more imposing Royal Grammar or
Home District School.
Mr. Spragge's predecessor at the Central School was Mr. Appleton,
mentioned in a preceding section; and Mr. Appleton's assistant for a
time, was Mr. John Fenton.
Across the road from the play-ground at York, on the south side,
eastward of the church-plot, there was a row of dilapidated wooden
buildings, inhabited for the most part by a thriftless and noisy set of
people. This group of houses was known in the school as "Irish-town;"
and "to raise Irish-town," meant to direct a snowball or other light
missive over the play-ground fence, in that direction. Such act was not
unfrequently followed by an invasion of the Field from the insulted
quarter. Some wide chinks, established in one place here between the
boards, which ran lengthwise, enabled any one so inclined, to get over
the fence readily. We once saw two men, who had quarrelled in one of the
buildings of Irish-town, adjourn from over the road to the play-ground,
accompanied by a few approving friends, and there, after stripping to
the skin, have a regular fight with fists: after some rounds, a number
of men and women interfered and induced the combatants to return to the
house whence they had issued forth for the settlement of their dispute.
The Parliamentary Debates, of which mention has more than once been made
in connection with the District School, took place, on ordinary
occasions, in the central part of the school-room; where benches used to
be set out opposite to each other, for the temporary accommodation of
the speakers. These exercises consisted simply of a memoriter
repetition, with some action, of speeches, slightly abridged, which had
actually been delivered in a real debate on the floor of the House of
Commons. But they served to familiarize Canadian lads with the names and
characters of the great statesmen of England, and with what was to be
said on both sides of several important public questions; they also
probably awakened in many a young spirit an ambition, afterwards
gratified, of being distinguished as a legislator in earnest.
On public days the Debates were held up-stairs on a platform at the east
end of a long room with a partially vaulted ceiling, on the south side
of the building. On this platform the public recitations also took
place; and here on some of the anniversaries a drama by Milman or Hannah
Moore was enacted. Here we ourselves took part in one of the hymns or
choruses of the "Martyr of Antioch."
(Other reminiscences of Dr. Strachan, the District Grammar School, and
Toronto generally, are embodied in "The First Bishop of Toronto, a
Review and a Study," a small work published by the writer in 1868.)
The immediate successor of Dr. Strachan in the school was Mr. Samuel
Armour, a graduate of Glasgow, whose profile resembled that of Cicero,
as shewn in some engravings. Being fond of sporting, his excitement was
great when the flocks of wild pigeons were passing over the town, and
the report of fire-arms in all directions was to be heard. During the
hours of school his attention, on these occasions, would be much drawn
off from the class-subjects.
In those days there was not a plentiful supply in the town of every book
wanted in the school. The only copy that could be procured of a
"Eutropius," which we ourselves on a particular occasion required, was
one with an English translation at the end. The book was bought, Mr.
Armour stipulating that the English portion of the volume should be sewn
up; in fact, he himself stitched the leaves together.--In Mr. Armour's
time there was, for some reason now forgotten, a barring-out. A pile of
heavy wood (sticks of cordwood whole used then to be thrust into the
great school-room stove) was built against the door within; and the
master had to effect, and did effect, an entrance into his school
through a window on the north side. Mr. Armour became afterwards a
clergyman of the English Church, and officiated for many years in the
township of Cavan.
The master who succeeded Mr. Armour was Dr. Phillips, who came out from
England to take charge of the school. He had been previously master of a
school at Whitchurch, in Herefordshire. His degree was from Cambridge,
where he graduated as a B. A. of Queen's in the year 1805. He was a
venerable-looking man--the very ideal, outwardly, of an English country
parson of an old type--a figure in the general scene, that would have
been taken note of congenially by Fuller or Antony a Wood. The costume
in which he always appeared (shovel-hat included), was that usually
assumed by the senior clergy some years ago. He also wore powder in the
hair except when in mourning. According to the standards of the day, Dr.
Phillips was an accomplished scholar, and a good reader and writer of
English. He introduced into the school at York the English public-school
traditions of the strictest type. His text books were those published
and used at Eton, as Eton then was. The Eton Latin Grammar, without note
or comment, displaced" Ruddiman's Rudiments"--the book to which we had
previously been accustomed, and which really did give hints of something
rational underlying what we learnt out of it. Even the Eton Greek
Grammar, in its purely mediaeval untranslated state, made its appearance:
it was through the medium of that very uninviting manual that we
obtained our earliest acquaintance with the first elements of the Greek
tongue. Our "Palaephatus" and other Extracts in the Graeca Minora were
translated by us, not into English, but into Latin, in which language
all the notes and elucidations of difficulties in that book were given.
Very many of the Greek "genitives absolute," we remember, were to be
rendered by quum, with a subjunctive pluperfect--an enormous mystery
to us at the time. Our Lexicon was Schrevelius, as yet un-Englished.
For the Greek Testament we had "Dawson," a vocabulary couched in the
Latin tongue, notwithstanding the author's name. The chevaux-de-frise
set up across the pathways to knowledge were numerous and most
forbidding. The Latin translation, line for line, at the end of Clarke's
Homer, as also the Ordo in the Delphin classics, were held to be
mischievous aids, but the help was slight that could be derived from
them, as the Latin language itself was not yet grasped.
For whatever of the anomalous we moderns may observe in all this, let
the good old traditional school-system of England be responsible--not
the accomplished and benevolent man who transplanted the system, pure
and simple, to Canadian ground. For ourselves: in one point of view, we
deem it a piece of singular good fortune to have been subjected for a
time to this sort of drill; for it has enabled us to enter with more
intelligence into the discussions on English education that have marked
the era in which we live. Without this morsel of experience we should
have known only by vague report what it was the reviewers and essayists
of England were aiming their fulminations against.
Our early recollections in this regard, we treasure up now among our
mental curiosities, with thankfulness: just as we treasure up our
memories of the few years which, in the days of our youth, we had an
opportunity of passing in the old father-land, while yet mail coaches
and guards and genuine coachmen were extant there; while yet the
time-honoured watchman was to be heard patrolling the streets at night
and calling the hours. Deprived of this personal experience, how tamely
would have read "School-days at Rugby," for example, or "The Scouring of
the White Horse," and many another healthy classic in recent English
literature--to say nothing of "The Sketch Book," and earlier pieces,
which involve numerous allusions to these now vanished entities!
Moreover, we found that our boyish initiation in the Eton formularies,
however little they may have contributed to the intellectual furniture
of the mind at an early period, had the effect of putting us en
rapport, in one relation at all events, with a large class in the old
country. We found that the stock quotations and scraps of Latin employed
to give an air of learning to discourse, "to point a moral and adorn a
tale," among the country-clergy of England and among members of
Parliament of the ante-Reform-bill period, were mostly relics of
school-boy lore derived from Eton books. Fragments of the As in
praesenti, of the Propria quae maribus; shreds from the Syntax, as Vir
bonus est quis, Ingenuas didicisse, and a score more, were instantly
recognized, and constituted a kind of talismanic mode of communication,
making the quoter and the hearer, to some extent, akin.
Furthermore; in regard to our honoured and beloved master, Dr. Phillips
himself; there is this advantage to be named as enjoyed by those whose
lot it was, in this new region, to pass a portion of their impressible
youth in the society of such a character: it furnished them with a
visible concrete illustration of much that otherwise would have been a
vague abstraction in the pictures of English society set before the
fancy in the Spectator, for instance, or Boswell's Johnson, and
other standard literary productions of a century ago. As it is, we doubt
not that the experience of many of our Canadian coevals corresponds with
our own. Whenever we read of the good Vicar of Wakefield, or of any
similar personage; when in the biography of some distinguished man, a
kind-hearted old clerical tutor comes upon the scene, or one moulded to
be a college-fellow, or one that had actually been a college-fellow,
carrying about with him, when down in the country the tastes and ideas
of the academic cloister--it is the figure of Dr. Phillips that rises
before the mental vision. And without doubt he was no bad embodiment of
the class of English character just alluded to.--He was thoroughly
English in his predilections and tone; and he unconsciously left on our
plastic selves traces of his own temperament and style.
It was from Dr. Phillips we received our first impressions of Cambridge
life; of its outer form, at all events; of its traditions and customs;
of the Acts and Opponencies in its Schools, and other quaint
formalities, still in use in our own undergraduate day, but now
abolished: from him we first heard of Trumpington, and St. Mary's, and
the Gogmagogs; of Lady Margaret and the cloisters at Queen's; of the
wooden bridge and Erasmus' walk in the gardens of that college; and of
many another storied object and spot, afterwards very familiar.
A manuscript Journal of a Johnsonian cast kept by Dr. Phillips, when a
youth, during a tour of his on foot in Wales, lent to us for perusal,
marks an era in our early experience, awakening in us, as it did, our
first inklings of travel. The excursion described was a trifling one in
itself--only from Whitchurch, in Herefordshire, across the Severn into
Wales--but to the unsophisticated fancy of a boy it was invested with a
peculiar charm; and it led, we think, in our own case, to many an
ambitious ramble, in after years, among cities and men.--In the time of
Dr. Phillips there was put up, by subscription, across the whole of the
western end of the school-house, over the door, a rough lean-to, of
considerable dimensions. A large covered space was thus provided for
purposes of recreation in bad weather. This room is memorable as being
associated with our first acquaintance with the term "Gymnasium:" that
was the title which we were directed to give it.--There is extant, we
believe, a good portrait in oil of Dr. Phillips.
It was stated above that Cricket was not known in the playground of the
District Grammar School, except possibly under the mildest of forms.
Nevertheless, one, afterwards greatly distinguished in the local annals
of Cricket, was long a master in the School.
Mr. George Antony Barber accompanied Dr. Phillips to York in 1825, as
his principal assistant, and continued to be associated with him in that
capacity. Nearly half a century later than 1826, when Cricket had now
become a social institution throughout Western Canada, Mr. Barber, who
had been among the first to give enthusiastic encouragement to the manly
English game, was the highest living local authority on the subject, and
still an occasional participator in the sport.
We here close our notice of the Old Blue School at York. In many a
brain, from time to time, the mention of its name has exercised a spell
like that of Wendell Holmes's Mare Rubrum; as potent as that was, to
summon up memories and shapes from the Red Sea of the Past--
"Where clad in burning robes are laid
Life's blossomed joys untimely shed,
And where those cherish'd forms are laid
We miss awhile, and call them dead."
The building itself has been shifted bodily from its original position
to the south-east corner of Stanley and Jarvis Street. It, the centre of
so many associations, is degraded now into being a depot for "General
Stock;" in other words, a receptacle for Rags and Old Iron.
The six acres of play-ground are thickly built over. A thoroughfare of
ill-repute traverses it from west to east. This street was at first
called March Street; and under that appellation acquired an evil report.
It was hoped that a nobler designation would perhaps elevate the
character of the place, as the name "Milton Street" had helped to do for
the ignoble Grub Street in London. But the purlieus of the neighbourhood
continue, unhappily, to be the Alsatia of the town. The filling up of
the old breezy field with dwellings, for the most part of a wretched
class, has driven "the schoolmaster" away from the region. His return
to the locality, in some good missionary sense, is much to be wished;
and after a time, will probably be an accomplished fact.
[Since these lines were written, the old District Grammar School
building has wholly vanished. It will be consolatory to know that,
escaping destruction by fire, it was deliberately dismantled and taken
to pieces; and, at once, walls of substantial brick overspread the whole
of the space which it had occupied.]
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