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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XII

The Educational Question.—Prospect of the early Establishment of a University.—Second Visit to England.

THE war that had just been kindled, on the right to, and the disposal of, the Clergy Reserves, and all the anxieties and labour it entailed, did not by any means exclude from the thoughts and energies of Dr. Strachan, the great question which had led to his emigration to Canada, and which had ever since unremittingly engaged his interest and attention. This was the question of Education,—to supply the means of diffusing sound and useful knowledge through all classes of the community; to impart it to the humblest, as well as to the highest, of the population; to adapt it to the various grades and conditions of the people; to classify the institutions of learning so as to meet the wants and aspirations of all.

The establishment of a University, in which a completeness and finish could be given to education, was always in the foreground of these plans and contemplations. But the antecedent steps to this culminating point it would have been unwise to have neglected. There must be the elementary and preparatory knowledge supplied in its fitting grades, before the benefits of the highest seat of learning could be available or practicable. And these preliminary necessities were never overlooked. The first movement in this direction had been made by General Simcoe, in 1792, when he expressed to Mr. Dundas, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the expediency of immediately adopting practical measures for the establishment of a University in Upper Canada. The same thing was urged in a letter to the Bishop of Quebec in 1795, in which he states that the people who have the means of governing themselves, “must become sufficiently capable and enlightened to understand their relative situation, and manage their own power to the public interest. To this end a liberal education is indispensably necessary.”

General Simcoe was recalled from the Government of this Province in 1797; but its Legislature did not lose sight of the object he had so much at heart. Not long after his departure, they addressed the King with a petition that a portion of the waste lands of the Province should be appropriated to the support of Grammar Schools and a University; and very soon, authority was given to appropriate 500,000 acres for this purpose,—one-half for Grammar Schools, and the residue for the endowment of a University.

It was impossible, at that time, to obtain a price for these lands which would have sufficed for the endowment of even two Grammar Schools; but in 1807, mainly through the exertions of Dr. Strachan, an Act was passed for the establishment of a Grammar School in each District of the Province; and very soon, three superior Schools,—at Cornwall, Kingston and Niagara,—were in successful operation. In process of time, similar Schools were established in the capital towns of the other Districts of Upper Canada.

The means for the education of those who were not in a condition to avail themselves of the instruction afforded in the Grammar Schools, were at the time very meagre and unsatisfactory. This class of the youth of the country had to get, as they could, a very simple and indifferent education. In our towns and villages, and here and there in the country, there were schools of a very humble order,— the teachers sometimes men of respectability, but oftentimes the reverse both as to acquirements and habits of life. The scholars were of both sexes, from lisping children to grown-up young men and women; and the majority of these attended only in the winter months. The remuneration to the masters was small and fluctuating, and derived entirely from the pupils; no government aid whatever was contributed to this class of schools.

The duty of ameliorating this condition of things forced itself early upon Dr. Strachan; and, very much through his influence and exertions, a Law was passed in January, 1824, making a certain grant to each District for Common School education, and appointing a Board in each District to examine and admit teachers, and to make an equitable distribution within their bounds, of the funds allotted thereto. A somewhat better class of school-masters was by this means obtained, and a larger number of schools were opened; but there was this defect in the organization of the system, that no adequate provision was made for the superintendence of these schools,-^no arrangement for a periodical visit to them, so as to ensure the proper attention of their conductors, and to examine into and remedy complaints where they were preferred. The organization was then much too bare, if it has since become, as many think, too complex and expensive.

The existing arrangements for a preparatory education were, however, on the whole working well; they were fairly paving the way for the establishment of the long contemplated University. No doubt this, when fully in operation, would have an important influence upon the inferior institutions of learning. The standard of education would be elevated; and both in the Common and in the Grammar Schools, there would be an effort to meet the more advanced acquirements which the University would exact.

A person conversant with the working and influence of the Universities in the mother country, would feel strongly, and work zealously, for the establishment of a similar institution here. There is no calculating the moral and social power which Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, have exerted. It is something to secure, by their means, a class of men competent from their acquirements to fill the several learned professions,—to bring the light and the refinements of science to the practical duties which the lawyer, the physician, and the clergyman has each in his vocation, to discharge; but a host of men are benefited outside those professions. The nobility and gentry, who enter into no profession, are educated there; they acquire there the knowledge and the disciplinary training that qualify them to be magistrates and legislators. The associations of those early days serve much to identify them with others, not of their own order, throughout the land, —with the members of the several professions, and with those of less social standing, but of equal literary acquirements. The Universities have thus produced a wonderful blending of classes; they have served in a large degree to break down those barriers which, keeping men distinct, would have excluded them from working in combination for their country’s good. With what an eager hope, with what an untiring energy, would one, alive to all these advantages and with the opportunity apparently at command, strive to have them imparted and perpetuated in this new country!

About the close of the year 1825, it was determined that steps should be adopted which would ensure the early accomplishment of this great boon to Upper Canada. The Lieutenant Governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland, was induced to address a Despatch to Earl Bathurst, soliciting the sanction of the Imperial Government to an exchange of the wild and remote lands allotted for the support of education, for such other lands in the possession of the Crown, as would command an earlier and more advantageous sale. It was stated that the lands thus set apart, "though they possess the advantage of being in large blocks, lie in tracts at present remote from settlements, and a considerable portion of them is not of the first quality. It was then suggested that if the Imperial Government "should see fit to allow that an equal quantity of the best of these lands should be exchanged for that portion of the Crown Reserves which remains to the Government as being under lease, the latter could almost immediately be disposed of, at an average price of not less than ten shillings per acre, and a sum thus be produced that would admit of the immediate establishment of a University on a scale that would render it effective”

As matters in regard to the establishment of a University had now come to so critical a point, it was thought advisable that no opportunity or means of ensuring its success should be lost. Despatches often remain long unanswered; and after all, however important the subjects may be to which they refer, they are often unsatisfactory. So it was determined to send home a special emissary to bring this great question to a favourable issue; and as none other so suitable could be found, Dr. Strachan was called upon to proceed to England, and have, if possible, every obstacle removed to the immediate accomplishment of this great Provincial undertaking.

He left York on this important errand about the middle of March (1826),—spending a night on the way in the parsonage at Grimsby, and leaving there his second son, George, in charge of the writer of this narrative, then the Incumbent of that parish. The winter roads were then breaking up; so it was a long and weary journey to New York. But the passages homewards were usually short; and he arrived in London about the 25th of April.

He entered without delay upon the duty he was commissioned to discharge, and he pursued it with accustomed vigour. On the 31st of March, 1827, the following Despatch from Earl Bathurst was transmitted to Sir Peregrine Maitland:—

“I have the honour to inform you that His Majesty has been pleased to grant a Royal Charter by Letters Patent, under the Great Seal, for establishing at or near the town of York, in the Province of Upper Canada, one College, with the style and privileges of a University, for the education and instruction of youth in Alia and Facilities, to continue for ever, to be called King’s College.

“I am further to acquaint you that His Majesty has been pleased to grant £I000 per annum as a fund for erecting the buildings necessary for the College, to be paid out of the moneys furnished by the Canada Company, and to continue during the term of that agreement.

“I have to authorize you, on the receipt of this Despatch, to exchange such Crown Reserves as have not been made over to the Canada Company, for an equal portion of the lands set apart for the purpose of education and foundation of a University, as suggested in your Despatch of December 19, 182o, and more fully detailed in Dr. Strachan’s Report of March 10, 1826, and you will proceed to endow King’s College with the said Crown Reserves with as little delay as possible.”

Complete success, then, bad crowned the efforts of Dr. Strachan; and the day-dream of his youth and of his mature manhood was at length realized. Upper Canada was to have a University: it was adequately endowed; and a Royal Charter was obtained for it. This Charter, it was affirmed at the time, was the most open and liberal that had ever been granted; inasmuch as it was provided that no religious test should be applied to any persons admitted as students or as graduates in the said College, excepting only to graduates in Divinity, who were to be subject to the conditions enjoined for degrees in that faculty at Oxford. Established and time-honoured principles could not be altogether abandoned; in any such Institution sanctioned by the Crown, its religious features must be maintained : that grand safeguard to its wholesome working could never be relinquished. And if this influence must be made to pervade it, it would be simply dutiful on the part of His Majesty’s Government, to concede the administration and control of the Institution to the established Church of the Empire. It was, therefore, provided that the seven Professors in the Arts and Faculties should be members of the Church of England, and should subscribe the Thirty-nine Articles; that the Bishop for the time being of the Diocese in which the University was situate, should be the Visitor; the Governor, or Lieutenant Governor for the time being to be Chancellor; the President to be a clergyman in holy orders of the United Church of England and Ireland y and that the Archdeacon of York in this Province, for the time being, should, by virtue of such his office, be at all times President of the said College.

There was, no doubt, an unwise and needless stringency in some of these provisions; and to the writer of these pages Dr. Strachan himself affirmed, on his return from England, that he had expressed to Lord Bathurst his objection to the provision last cited,—that the Archdeacon of York should, ex-officio, be President of the University; and he stated also his doubts whether it was judicious to require from the members of the College Council subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, These, however, were arrangements that could be modified, without doing violence to the religious influence by which it was intended that the University should be controlled; and without excluding the Church of England from that general government and supervision to which all felt that she was entitled.

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