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 w
s 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

Horace Ridout."

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

"Asiatic Researches":

"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 Calcutta:

"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

be traversed.

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

riotous affair.

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.]