History | Early Education: Part 1: Pegg | Part 2: Osborne | Back

The following is an edited transcript of Dr. James W. Osborne's letter 
to Mr. W. W. Pegg, in response to Pegg's request for reminiscences of Osborne's childhood memories, which was published on page 4 of 
the 24 Nov 1910 issue of the Waterford Star newspaper.

Letter by Dr. Osborne 
read at the Norfolk Teachers' Institute

My Dear Old Friend, Mr. W. W. Pegg, --
As to the information you desire re the history of education in the County of Norfolk, I fear you'll be disappointed by its scantiness, for my knowledge of the schools and the books used in the county previous to the series introduced by the Council of Public Instruction for the Province, is very limited.

-- Books --

The books used in the Bealton school were by American authors: Kirkham's grammar, Dabol's arithmetic, Olney's, and later Morse's geography. The highest reader, however, was an English production -- the old English Reader.

Whether there was a reader between this and the spelling book in this school or not, neither Mrs. Osborne nor myself remembers, but in schools I had attended in others parts of the province, the New Testament was used as a reader by the classes before they began in the English reader.

Arithmetic was not then taught by classifying the pupils, but each one studied his own book, getting what help he could or needed from the teacher, if the teacher was able to render it, which was not always the case.

There was, now and then, a different arithmetic used -- one that the pupil's father had probably used.

As there was no authorized set of school books by the government, and the population of this part of Canada was made up largely of immigrants from Uncle Sam's side of the line, and some of the teachers from there too, and American books were cheap and readily accessible, it was very natural and likely that they would be used and preferred.

-- Teachers --

The people's ideas as regarded the moral qualifications of teachers at that time were not up to the high-water mark.

The teacher that taught the longest in the neighborhood where I got most of my common school training, was a man addicted to intoxication. He would get on a regular old bender every two or three months, for about a week. It would take him another week and often more to get in shape to return to school. The children had many vacations while he was employed.

But he was liked when he was himself, and was a teacher by profession and better qualified other ways that the average, so he was tolerated longer than he otherwise would have been.

The teacher (an old man) that gave me my first start in reading and writing, was another old tipler, but he took his grog in the afternoon every two or three weeks, so as to enjoy its effects in the evening. He would thus be ready for business by the next morning.

Only two or three years before the County Boards were established for examining teachers and granting certificates, there came to Hartford an elderly man shabbily dressed who applied for the school at a time when it had been vacant for some time, so he was employed.

The schoolhouse was at that time used as a chapel and the pulpit was of the old fashioned style, breast-high, semi-circular and on quite an elevated platform.

The old teacher was observed by the pupils to go up into it at the noon recess, not to preach, but to take off his shirt and sew up the holes. The secret of such a state of affairs would not be hard to guess.

Of course his services were dispensed with as soon as was considered legal, as matters had turned out worse than his employers had expected. But trustees at the present would be wider awake. They thought, no doubt, of two evils, they were choosing the least. Your decision and mine would be that it would be better to leave the school vacant a while longer and take chances for a little more respectable teacher.

Even aside from intemperate habits, none of the teachers that I knew anything about from the days of my childhood, were as well qualified as our Second Class teachers are now. Many of them could not have obtained a third-class certificate.

But now and again there was one quite dignified in manner, who would dress with considerable style, and as the saying goes, carry a high head.

-- Tricks --

The boys of one school I attended adopted a plan of playing tricks on their teachers on the last day of term. If the teacher left the school room, they would lock the door and keep him out the rest of the day. The teacher generally took it in good part, quite willing to have a half holiday.

They tried the game with one of those lofty teachers on one occasion but it did not work favorably. When he returned from his dinner and found the door fastened, he called out for some of us to open the door, but we all disobeyed. He stepped to the fence, got a heavy rail, and came against the door with a force that would have shattered it had not the latch given way.

Coming in in a terrible and terrifying rage, he demanded the name or names of the one or more who had fastened the door. It was a couple of young men really, but we all kept mum. He then pressed a young and well-behaved negro to give him the names, and whether through fear or out of respect, he did.

Such was his exasperation that we all expected those young men world get a very rough handling ever if the rest of us escaped. But they got only a severe tongue lashing. They in particular and the rest of us in general -- a lengthy and very emphatic lecture on good behavior and how to treat our teachers with respect.

The culprits apologized and asked his pardon, protesting that they had not done it with the least intention of insulting him or treating him with any disrespect whatever, that it was a thing they had been in the habit of doing as a joke and that other teachers had always taken it as such.

He however gave them to understand that such a custom was half heathenish and should not be tolerated in any civilized community.

-- Improvements --

There being no trustees appointed during my early school days, nor superintendents, when a teacher wanted a school he went around among the people soliciting subscribers. If he could raise money enough to satisfy him, he took the school and collected his pay at the end of his term.

This state of school affairs changed, I think under the regime of Lord Sydenham in 1841, as our school histories state that "Provision was made for extending and maintaining a system of Common School Education" at that time.

If you know the nature and extent of this change, or have any information from those old gentlemen, Mr. Shearer or DeCou, relative to it, I would be obliged if you would furnish me with the same. I was too much of a boy at the time (13 years old) to take much interest in such matters.

There were further improvements under the Chief Superintendency of Dr. Egerton Ryerson, whose appointment was in 1844, but it was not until a few years later that Township Superintendents  and County Boards were appointed for examining teachers and granting certificates.

Previous to that, I think, there had been County Superintendents appointed to do all the Board did later.

Before the Boards were established there was an American Baptist minister in charge of the church at Hartford. The school being vacant, the people wanted him to take it. I took him to Simcoe to a gentleman (an English Church clergyman, I think) to be authorized, but not being a British subject, he could get no document -- but was told to go on and teach the school and the public money would be forthcoming.

-- Superintendents --

I do not think the Township Superintendents had any authority to examine and grant certificates apart from the County Board, and I presume you know as much about their methods of examining the schools under their charge as myself. It was simply hearing the classes read, spell, recite, parse, and go through with their lessons in Geography.

During the two years I taught school in Walpole, only three miles from the local superintendent's residence, he never showed his face inside the schoolhouse. That was his style! He told me on one occasion it was a "mere farce" for a man to sit and listen to a lot of children going over their a b c's, spelling cat, dog, etc.

-- My Experiences --

You asked me about my own experience in the business.

I began with a limited Third Class Certificate, and quit four or five years after I had obtained an unlimited First.

My first school was in a neighborhood called Jerusalem, and the little log school house was called the Temple! The idea was preposterous: a man teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem holding only a Limited Third! Even that was enough to inspire me with a determination to push on and get higher. This school was two miles south of Villa Nova and the smallest school I taught, my largest being Waterford.

During the years of my service as a teacher I had several rather episodical experiences.

One was the case of a youth who considered himself a man, who was bound to master the situation himself. For some misdemeanor I ordered him to come out from behind the writing desk, and he refused. I stepped in by his side and slipped by right arm under his legs and my left around his back, while he was holding himself with both arms on the under side. As I exerted myself the desk gave way and he came over it, falling full length on the floor, face down, books, slates inkstand, etc. went flying over the floor. When about to apply the rod he said he would leave the school right away. As he was over school age, I told him to go.

He went across the road, got a shoe-maker's picking stick and came back to the door daring me to come and he would show me. I rushed out and he ran backwards saying he would get on his own side of the road. I was close upon him when he heel struck something  and he went backwards. I grabbed the poker and jerked it out of his hands, telling him I ought to give him a very severe flogging. He got up and went off looking pretty badly sold.

One another occasion I had an encounter with a burly youth of about 16, who positively refused to obey my orders. I commenced rather unwarily trying the effects of the rod, when he sprang to his feet and gave me a hard blow with his fist on the side of my head, but as he failed to floor me, I kept on with increased force applying the rod, when he soon began to beg, saying he would behave if I would desist. He kept his promise and after a while got to be a teacher himself, after which he told me on one occasion I had done him justice.

On yet another occasion, I had quite a sensational experience with an old man, a trustee who was an Irishman. It was in his own home.

We had made out the annual report and he wanted me to sign it. If I had done so, I would be acknowledging that I had received the whole of my salary for the past year when they were $5 behind.

He was also treasurer and had the money to pay. I told him it was not business for me to sign that report till they paid me in full. He said they would pay it soon. I replied that signing would be giving the trustees a chance to do just as they had a mind to do about that.

He flew into a passion, jumped up, drew his fist, and threatened to spill my brains out! His wife grabbed his arm, but I told her to let him strike if he wanted the pleasure of a lawsuit and paying costs.

He paid the $5 next day as the result of an arbitration, his arbitrator agreeing with mine that he should do so before I signed the report.

-- Teachers --

As to teachers, I can furnish you the names of a few. The first who taught in the neighborhood of Bealton after a school house was built, was Mrs. Mary Hayes. Then a one-armed gentleman by the name of Simpkins, then a Miss Rogers, then a Mr. Hawley. Those and probably two or three others taught this school before Boards for examination were appointed.

After that, a Mr. Stephen Fairchild whose school I attended a couple of winters. He was quite an energetic and thorough-going teacher as far as he was qualified. A little later Miss Selina Freed. She qualified at the Normal School in Toronto.

An Englishman by the name of Bradly who had lost his right arm, taught quite a long time at Hartford. When the boys got too boisterous he would grab them with his left hand, bring their heads between his legs and [the gad on behind]!

Mr. Jesse Ryerson taught a considerable time in Bealton after me. He was pretty well up in Latin and considerable of a metaphysician, and good company. He also taught the school in Oakland and Waterford, and was a particular friend of mine.

Another particular friend of mine was Thomas Hall. He took a collegiate course at Rochester, N.Y. with a view to the Gospel Ministry, but for some reason changed his mind and followed the business of teaching all the rest of his life. He taught for years in Norfolk, then went to California and continued in the same employment to nearly the time of his death, two or three years ago.

Christopher Walker of Villa Nova taught for some time at Bealton and elsewhere in the county. He was a brother-in-law to Mrs. Frank Turner and Oliver Barber.

Mr. Olmstead was a teacher well up in the profession and taught a long time in in the county, for some some time at Villa Nova. I think Mr. Olmstead retired a superannuated teacher. He officiated as a Methodist local preacher the rest of his life.

Miss Emma Overholt taught the school at Tyrrell, and her sister, Miss Jane, taught at Townsend Centre. My daughter Mary taught at Kelvin, Boston and Bealton, and then concluded to take a less public school. Miss Anna Tupper taught in Bealton for some time.

There were two young gentlemen by the name of Hilyar [sic] who were teachers in Norfolk. One continued in the profession a good while I think. The other soon got into medicine, but not being a success as a practitioner, got discouraged and committed suicide in Hamilton.

A Mr. Earl and a Mr. Vanderburg also taught at Bealton, also a young gentleman by the name of Chatman. Before that, Mr. Noah Bates, a native of the neighborhood before it was called Bealton, taught the school of his native place for a while, as well as at Burtch's Landing in the County of Brant, then went into the medical profession and has been a medical man in Flint, Michigan over 40 years, I think.

You'll not forget Mr. James Ross, long a successful teacher in the schools of Boston and Bealton, and now Township Clerk, Division Registrar, etc., for the Township of Townsend.

And do not forget Mr. W. W. Pegg, a marked success in the profession, who after teaching in Bealton for about 10 years (the last years of his teaching), retired with a good grace on a superannuated income. Should you not mention his name till the last, be sure to add "not least."

-- From Texts --

Consulting history since I began this, I find Emily P. Weaver, when she comes to the close of the 18th century states "The schools were very poor except Kingston, sometimes the only books used were a New Testament and spelling book."

In The Canadian History for Boys and Girls, "In 1816,"
(12 years before I was born), W. J. Robinson says, "Common Schools were granted 6,000 to help in paying teachers and buying books." That may be when the English Readers were introduced, and it may have been done partly with a view to encouraging loyalty, being so soon after the war of 1812. But the spelling book used in my early days I am pretty sure, was Webster's.

Another edition of the Public School History states that "Provision was first made in 1816 for education and the founding of the Common School System of the province," but does not state what the system was, nor what change was made from bad to better.

All the improvement I can find is the grant of the 6,000 to help pay teachers and buy books.

If you have anything definite on this please let me know. I think the money must have been exhausted before my eyes saw the sun, as I have not the faintest recollection of teachers getting any government money to buy books during my boyhood.

Respectfully and truly yours,
Jas. W. Osborne

P.S. -- It has been said that "one of the essentials of the art of writing consists of knowing how much to leave in the ink-pot." No doubt you'll think it a fact by the time you have read this letter.

My reason for writing so much is the hope that you may find something that will be some little service to you. If so, I will be recompensed for my pains, if it is only an item or two. If not, you may be a little amused yourself. Even in that case I shall not regret my trouble.

Those old gentlemen, Messrs. Shearer and DeCou have the advantage of me in two respects. They are both my seniors, and were both not only longer in the County of Norfolk, but were long time residents before I ever saw it.

I have left out the names of a number of teachers, thinking that I have given you more than you will make any use of.

You may possibly think from what I have told you of my experience in the management of large boys that I was too ready with the rod of correction. But when affections become perverted and boys begin to imagine they are men physically and cherish an ambition to prove it by bossing their teacher, kindness, moral suasion and everything else frequently fails. In such cases physical force often succeeds, but not always. There are few teachers I believe that were any more gratified to have the good will of all their pupils than I was.


Copyright 2016 John Cardiff