County of Brant Public Library Digital Collections
D. A. Smith's Article on Education
D. A. Smith, Author
Media Type
Item Type
This is a newspaper article by D. A. Smith about the history of education in Paris, Ont. It was originally published in the Paris Star newspaper.
Property of the Paris Museum and Historical Society.
Inventory No. 2001PM038
Date of Original
Personal Name(s)
John Penman
Local identifier
Paris Museum School Memories Collection
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.2 Longitude: -80.38333
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Protected by copyright: Uses other than research or private study require the permission of the rightsholder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permissions and for any use rests exclusively with the user.
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The Paris Star
Recommended Citation
D. A. Smith. Education, The Paris Star. 1985.
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The information and images provided are for personal research only and are not to be used for commercial purposes. Use of this information should include the credit "Paris Museum and Historical Society."
Paris Museum and Historical Society
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Paris Museum and Historical Society

51 William Street, Paris, ON

N3L 1N4

(519) 442-9295

Full Text


By D.A. Smith

About 1831, according to tradition, a young woman from the town of York (Toronto) came by wagon to Paris, rented a house, and then announced to the village and its countryside that she was prepared to teach the rudiments of education. When questioned regarding her qualifications, she proudly declared that she had a very comprehensive grasp of the true elements of a liberal education: namely reading, writing, and spelling. But somebody asked was she proficient in the art of ciphering? Oh not - was her reply. She could, of course, do simple sums; but as for the intricacies of division and multiplication - she did not concern herself with such frills. Evidently the majority of interested patents were quite satisfied with her degree or erudition and her philosophy of education. Since most of them could not read or write they were not very demanding' At the end of the year she had 20 pupils, and was receiving about $20 a week from fees.

But the success of this first teacher in building up a class meant the end of her school; for as soon as 20 pupils were under her guidance, the most important requirement for the establish¬ment of a common school in Paris had been met. According to the Common School Bill of 1816, All Parisians interested in establishing a school could now legally meet to elect three trustees and build a shoolhouse, A meeting was held in 1832; and there one of the elected trustees, Hiram Capron, promised at his own expense to build a school.

By the end of 1833, Capron's school had been built. It was on the Grand River Street in the Upper Town, perched on the edge of the high bank of the Grand. Concerning it The Western Mercury of 1834 says "A large commodious School House is now open daily in which is a well taught school, displaying the rudiments of the English language." During many years this building looked down upon the river, and served not only as a school but later also as a church and village hall; and finally after 1857, as a fire station. It was not pulled down until after 1890.

The newly appointed trustees had considerable power. They could, for example, hire and fire the teachers, make the rules for the government of the school, choose the text books, collect quarterly fees from the parents, and refuse admission to children whose parents did not pay the fees. They could also present the teacher with a certificate of service and merit, so that he could claim a share of the legislative grant of $30,000, which was then the total sum set aside by the government of Upper Canada for the support of the common schools. All their decisions, however, had to be approved by the district board, a group of men appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council for the purpose of seeing that the trustees did nothing contrary to the interests of the small ruling-group of Upper Canada.

Unfortunately little is known about the first schools, except that about 1845 the one built by Capron had become too small for the growing village and was abandoned in favour of an Upper School and a Lower School, one of which for administration purposes was in Dumfries Township and the other in Brantford Township.

Between 1850 and 1865 a number of important changes were made in the school system of Paris. In 1850, the first village council appointed the Reverend David Caw as superintendent of the village schools at a salary of $25. per year. His duties were to examine orally the qualifications of prospective teachers and to grant them a licence to teach if they could satisfy the standards set by himself; to inspect regularly the schools; and, in collaboration with Thos. Bosworth, the village clerk, to choose the books for the school library.

Another important change was made in 1852, when the first grammar school (high school) was established in Paris. It is true that a private grammar school had been established here about 1840; the Reverend William Morse of St. Jame's Church, for a yearly tuition fee of about $25. taught Latin, Greek, Mathematics and Euclid to a small and select group of young ladies and gentlemen . But not until 1852 was a government supported grammar school established. In that year, at the request of the citizens of Paris, a grammar school was established here by the Board of Trustees for Grammar Schools in Brant County, a body appointed by the Crown to administer the grammar schools of the county.

Except for a small grant from the government, the school was dependent upon fees for its support: the municipal councils were not required to levy taxes for the support of grammar schools. Thus the board had scarcely enough income to pay the salary of the teacher (about $700 a year), and could not erect a new building.

In September, Mr. Lightburn opened the new school with 20 boys. No girls were admitted. At first his classroom was in the old village hall, but later it was moved to a room in the new town hall. At the end of the year, Mr. Lightburn resigned. His successor, the Reverend P.D. Muir, lasted only a month. While he was in charge the pupils were "riotous and disorderly", and "broke windows not only in the hall itself but in nearby buildings." When he was discharged, he preferred a complaint against certain parties among his scholars who had caused great annoyance to his school.

In May, 1855, the board advertised for a new headmaster and from among a number of applicants, the board selected Thos. D. Phillips. He remained until December, 1856. Next it appointed David Lennox, Esq. A.B. He remained until asked to resign in 1858. Then John W. Acres was chosen. He was to remain headmaster of all the Paris schools until 1891, and of the grammar or high school until 1897.

Meanwhile the location of the grammar school had been changed. On February 6, 1856, the trustees received a letter from the town council "intimating that as they required for their own USB the room in the Town Hall which we occupy as a Grammar School, we could have it no longer. But that we might occupy the empty house on the corner of the square as a temporary accommodation for the Grammar School.'

The school moved to a room in this house, but did not remain there long. A short time later, it was being held in the lower room of the South School. Since the board had almost no source of income apart from fees, it began to despair of finding suitable quarters, or of maintaining them if it did.

In January, 1856, however, a change in the school law favored the grammar school. By this law, an elected board of common-school trustees could require the town council to provide funds for elementary education; and if the common-school board and the grammar-school board united, the joint board could also require funds for the support of a grammar school and could build a union school to accomodate both elementary and secondary-school pupils.

Accordingly in April, 1857, the two boards united, and steps were taken towards building a union school. The members of the two boards at the time of union were: Grammar School Board (appointed by the County Council): Reverend David Caw, Reverend James Boyd, Thos. N,

Bosworth, and H.J. Green-street. Common School Board (elected by the ratepayers of Paris): George McVicar, George Hitchell, Peter Wilson, and Daniel Totten.

When the members of the new board attempted to reach an agreement concerning the site of the proposed school, the old feud between Upper and Lower Town flared up. A group of members left one meeting in a rage, swearing that they would never return. Finally, after weeks of dissension, it was agreed that Professor Wm. Ormiston, in¬spector of grammar schools, should be asked to make the final choice between a site on Walnut Street and one on the grounds of the present Queen's Ward School.

The professor was to read a statement by each group, and then was to visit the sites in company with Mayor Hugh Finlayson and Chas. Whitlaw, both of whom could answer the professor's questions, but could not seek to influence him in any way. He was then to make his decision without giving any reasons or comments.

Professor Ormiston decided in favor of the hill-site. Soon afterwards, the building that is now remembered as the Old High School was erected. The Old High School was on the site where Queens Ward School now stands. With the opening of the school on August 9,1858, Paris for the first time had a well constructed school-building, and the board could look forward to a small but steady income with which to support it.

The elementary school-system of Paris between 1850 and 1900 had a number of distinctive characteristics, although some of these were gradually modified during the passing years. For example, the majority of the earlier teachers were probably no better educated than the average Grade VIII pupil of today.

Some of the Paris teachers, ever as late as 1885, did not have even a third-class certificate; and frequently a monitor (an older pupil) was placed in charge of a class.

The strap and the switch were continually in use. They were used as incentives both to industry and obedience. When a woman teacher found that her muscle was not strong enough, she would send a culprit to Mr. Acres - "To the higher power", one woman teacher used to say.

The ' men teachers were sometimes violent. They dragged or kicked pupils from the room, and struck them with their fists. For example, in 1883, a teacher was fined $1.00 by Esquires O'Neail and Finlayson for striking a boy twenty-five times, until his eyes were black and his ears swollen. The esquires said that the teacher had exceeded his duty, and that "the teacher's position often is a very difficult one and scholars are often exasperating".

The truth is that both teachers and pupils suffered from frustration because of dull textbooks, drab school-rooms, the rote system of learning, a lack of extra-curricular activities, and the belief that a multitude of stifling rules and regulations should be harshly enforced.

Even the potentially efficient teachers labored under a multitude of handicaps. They were handicapped, first of all, by a lack of textbooks. Often half the members of a class would lack a book, and often the same book would be used in three or four successive grades. And many of the textbooks were even duller than some modem ones, as the following extracts from "The Third Book of Lessons", used by William James Mitchell of Paris.

The tiger is one of the most beautiful, but at the same time, one of the most rapicious and destructive of the whole animal race. It has an insatiable thirst after blood, and even when satisfied with food, is not satiated by slaughter.

The wolf, In Its external form and internal structure, exactly resembles the dog tribe, but possesses none of its agreeable dispositions and useful propensities. It has, accordingly, in all ages been much detested, and universally considered as one of the most savage enemies of mankind.

The exquisite melody of the nightingale compared with the plainness of their appearance is an Impressive proof of the goodness of the Creator in the impartial distribution of his benefits to the feathered trible.

The potentially efficient teachers were handicapped, too, by a lack of equipment. In 1862, the board paid only $6 for "maps, apparatus, prize books and library books"; and in 1875, Inspector Henderson had to recommend that a blackboard brush be bought for the South Ward School. Moreover, they were handicapped by having classes with more than 80 pupils. In South Ward School, in 1872, one teacher was trying to instruct 112 pupils. The board's solution was to place a second teacher in the same room. And they were handicapped by the irregular attendance of pupils. Before 1871, attendance at school was not compulsory, and many parents either put their children to work or sent them only occasionally to school. For some years after 1871, regular attendance was required only during four months of the year, and a truant officer was not appointed until 1889 - at which date, the board stated that "many children remain away from school with the knowledge of their parents, and it is expressly advisable that boys be not allowed to loiter around livery stables or other public places during school hours". How could a teacher be efficient in 1862, for example, when with a total common-school enrolment in Paris of 422, the average daily attendance was 264?

In general, the morale of the teachers was low. Harassed by poverty and endless conflicts, they escaped to other work when they could. According to a government report, the average teacher in the province taught only three and one-half years, and during that time might have been in as many as four schools. Since teachers could resign with two weeks' notice, and held their positions "at the pleasure of the Board", they often left during the middle of a term with, one would imagine, serious results to the progress of the pupils.

Until after 1900, the board of education exercised a much closer supervision over class¬room activities than it does today. This was partly because the educational system of Ontario was not so highly centralized as now, and partly because many of the teachers knew little more than their pupils.

Before 1860, a number of young ladies from well-to-do families had been educated in a private school called the Ladies' Academy. This school was first established in 1851 in a house on Dumfries Street, and was later moved to 4 Elgin Street. There it continued to attract a few pupils as late as 1885. Occasionally, too, a charm school flourished for a while.

In 1871, an act of the Legislative Assembly abolished the grammar school system. The Paris Grammar School became the Paris High School. English rather than Latin was ranked as the most important subject, and greater emphasis was placed upon science.

Between 1858 and 1923, a number of school buildings were erected in Paris. In 1868, on the foundations of the first South School (59 and 61 Dumfries Street,) the board built a new two-roomed school. Not long afterwards, the Sisters of St. Joseph, who had for some years been teaching in the old Catholic Chapel on Burwell Street, moved their pupils to a new stone building that stood on or near the site of the present separate school.

In 1872, since the northward growth of the town was causing over crowding in the old North Ward School, a new two-roomed school was built. Two or three years later, a small school for primary pupils was built at the corner of Jane and Jury Streets. In 1880, another small school was built on the corner of William and Walnut Streets. In 1881, a new King's Ward School was built on Broadway Street and the other schools north of Mechanic Street were closed. By 1884, about 200 pupils, all in the lower grades, were attending the new King*' Ward School, and were being taught by three teachers.

Between 1898 and 1923, the school population of Paris in¬creased steadily. By 1905, over¬crowding had become a serious problem. The high school, particularly, was crowded. In 1898 there were only 40 high school pupils. In 1905 there were more than 100.

Public opinion was very much against the building of a central school to relieve the over¬crowding but in February, 1907,

John Penman announced at a banquet that he would pay 20 per cent of the cost of a new buildings.

On September 1, 1909, Central School was opened.

Between 1908 and 1922, the old

Union School on the hill was used only by high school pupils. They gradually filled all the rooms until finally no space was left.

In 1921, the voters turned down a proposal for adding two rooms to the old building, but later, when they realized that another public school building was needed in the Upper Town, and that the old building could be used by the public school classes, they approved a bylaw for the erection of a new high school. In 1923, the cornerstone of the present high school was laid; and in the spring of 1924, the pupils moved from the old building to the new.

Many developments have taken place in Paris over the past 20 years. A new school was built in North Ward, A new Queens Ward School built on Dundas, a new Central School on Broadway and the most elaborate, of course, was the gradual evolvement of the old high school into its present state.

The separate school board also found itself in need of new quarters and a new school was built near the church - the one in use today.

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D. A. Smith's Article on Education

This is a newspaper article by D. A. Smith about the history of education in Paris, Ont. It was originally published in the Paris Star newspaper.