T. Foley recalls Early Days
in Simcoe Schools
18 Jun 1931
Digging today in my
garden of Ancient History, I exhumed the enclosed communication
that was written by me more than 22 years ago.
No doubt some of the old
boys like me still on the surface of the earth within the reach of
The Reformer would be glad to read my testimony to the worth
of our dear old friend, Johnny Cowan, and if need be, to
It would give me the
greatest pleasure if some of them were prompted by my example to
tell the present generation something of his three grand brother
pedagogues who held high sway over us in the brave days of old.
With kindest memories.
W. T. Foley
William T. Foley
5 Feb 1909
manners gentle, of affections mild
In wit, a man; simplicity a child,
A safe companion and an easy friend,
Beloved in life, lamented in his end.
I have read
with much interest the letter of my old friend, Mr. McIntosh, on
the teachers in the Schools of Simcoe and the adjacent Townships
in earlier days.
I served my
apprenticeship in the Union School at Simcoe, and have no word
a good word to say of any of the teachers. My studies were begun
under Miss Hayes, and I passed on upstairs and through the hands
of Mr. Donly, Mr. Courtlandt, Dr. Kelly and Mr. Cowan, all good
men and true -- until the summit of glory was reached in the room on the north
east corner where I came face to face with one
who, in my notion, was the King of all the head masters that ever
ruled a school, Reverend John Gelstone Mulholland, M.A.,
It is true, as Mr.
McIntosh says, that [Rev. Mulholland] had a peppery temper, but who came in for a
taste of its quality? Not the dull plodder who found the way to
learning a hard road to travel; not the average boy who came
prepared. A cheery word and a pat on the back were their portions.
The boy who felt the sting of that caustic tongue was the clever
boy whose cleverness did not suffice, by dint of an
eleventh hour five minutes' glance through the handy glossaries at
the back of the Luchan and Sallust that we used in those days, to
deceive the sharp eyes or the sharper intellect of a Classical
Master from Trinity College, Dublin. But I must not let the flood
of old memories run away with my pen, for it is not of the
Reverend John Gelstone Mulholland, M.A., T.C.D., that I have sat
down to write.
I wish to sing the
praises of a lesser light in the scholastic firmament, but for all
that, none the less a man of parts. There are readers of the
Reformer who never had the pleasure of acquaintance with Mr. John
Cowan, and it is the fear that they may gather from my good
friend's letter a wrong impression of his life and character that
prompts me to take the liberty of writing these lines. For I think
that Mr. McIntosh (innocently enough, of course) has failed to do
exact justice to the memory of John Cowan.
A man's estimate of his
neighbor depends to a great extent on the relations they hear one
to another and the degree of intimacy that exists between them.
Mr. McIntosh knew Mr. Cowan probably only as a fellow teacher in a
large building where a dozen or more teachers and several hundred
pupils were assembled daily. Both were fully occupied in the
pursuit of an arduous profession. When they met they simply passed
the time of day and went each man his own way, and there were meager opportunities for the cultivation of closer friendship. At
least, that is the way I figure it out.
Now, in common with
scores of others, through a period of years (with the exception of
Saturdays and Sundays) I spent six hours of every day in Mr.
Cowan's company in the confidential relation of a pupil to his
master. And it gives me pleasure to say that a more pains-taking
teacher, a kindlier man or a better friend no boy need wish to
meet. As for his standing in the community, I know that he was
always welcome in my father's house, and, as far as I can
remember, in every home in town. He was a diffident man -- almost
bashful. But he was a man of wide information, with the ready
pawky wit of the well bred Scotchman; the best of good company;
and the boys held him in high esteem.
Ben Mulkins was my
crony, and we shared one seat. Often, even to this day, as I walk
the streets, "chewing the cud of sweet and bitter
thought," I can hear a firm but gentle voice speak up and
say, with a slight Scottish burr, "William and Benjamin out
on the floor." It is good and pleasant to remember the lack
of fear with which we obeyed the order and the whimsical, crooked
smile and twinkling eye with which the old taddle-buck would
survey us the while he tried to look stern.
So much for good,
old Johnny Cowan. It may be perchance, that he did not scatter the
bawbees with a lavish hand. I fear his stipend was not very fat.
But in his own proper person he was a good man, a kind man,
a man of considerable learning.
"A proper man
as one shall see in a summer's day."