Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: In the Image of Ontario: Public Schools in Brandon 1881-1890

by Tom Mitchell
Brandon University

Manitoba History, Number 12, Autumn 1986

Brandon’s first school. The rear portion was built in 1881. The front part was added in 1883.
Source: Martin Kavanagh

A recurring theme in recent studies of the Canadian West during the years following Confederation is the effort made by immigrants from Ontario to recreate the west in the image of their home province. [1] As Douglas Owram asserts in his study of the Canadian expansionist movement

It was not an ideal of the Canadian west to throw all types and classes of men into close contact through the destruction of social institutions and thereby forge a new and more equalitarian society ... Both the institutions and the social structures were to parallel as much as possible those of the east. [2]

An examination of the development of the public school system of Brandon during the 1880s illustrates the efforts made by Ontario immigrants to establish the social order of their home province on the agricultural frontier.

By 1871 Ontario had evolved a comprehensive system of graded public schools in which decisions concerning the course of study, school texts, school regulations, and the training and qualifications of teachers were made and enforced by a centralized administration composed of a Superintendent of Schools, a provincial Board of Education, and a professional staff of school inspectors. The goals of the system were varied. The intellectual faculties of students would be developed through exercise and training; the strict enforcement of school regulations and insistence on disciplined behavior would foster the development of habits and values vital to the integration of students into the work force; through the cultivation of morality and the development of “character,” schools would promote social peace, economic progress, and political stability. [3] In short, public schooling had become an integral component of the effort to maintain Ontario’s social system and

the common school ... [had become] a public institution in the modern sense of the term, an institution not only paid for out of public funds, but with publicly defined goals. [4]

While separate schools existed to accommodate the distinctive needs of the province’s Roman Catholic population, the development of Ontario’s system of free non-sectarian, public schools reflected an emerging consensus among the province’s English-speaking, Protestant population that only secular public schools could insure the progress and stability of the province. Ontario’s public schools were not unique, for similar institutions had evolved in countries as disparate as Australia, France, and the United States. Significantly, however, it was the Ontario system which served as a model for the development of public schools in the Canadian west. [5] This was particularly the case in Manitoba where Ontario immigrants arrived in force after 1870. They were intent on recreating the institutions and social structures of their home province.

In Manitoba a dual school system based on the Quebec model has been given legislative form following the creation of the province in 1870. With the influx of large numbers of Ontario-born, Protestant settlers during the 1870s and 1880s, support for Manitoba’s dual system was increasingly undermined. In Brandon during the early 1880s the principle of religious duality provided the framework for the creation of the earliest schools. However, it was clearly the Ontario model which guided the thinking of the city’s Protestant community leaders in the development of the city’s Protestant school, and which provided the example for the public school system created at the end of the decade.

Brandon’s original population was drawn predominantly from Ontario. When the first census was taken in 1885-86, fifty-one percent of the city’s population had been born in that province. Further, it is probable that many of the twenty-three percent of Brandon’s residents who had been born in Great Britain had resided in Ontario prior to coming west. The Protestant character of the city was assured by the fact that Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Anglicans collectively comprised ninety-one percent of the citizenry. With only five percent of the residents Roman Catholic, of Irish and French Canadian descent, Brandon in the 1880s was clearly an outpost of Protestant Ontario linked to the east by rail, telegraph line and sentiment.

Publicly-supported schools were introduced early in the life of Brandon, for only months after the March 1881 extension of Manitoba’s provincial boundaries to include the western districts in which Brandon was located, the Protestant section of the Manitoba Board of Education was petitioned to establish the Protestant School District of Brandon. [7] When the School District was created in September of that year, elections for the County Council of Brandon were still months away, and it was not until May 18, 1882, that Brandon was incorporated as a city. While no records exist which show who called the original school meeting, or precisely when it was held, it is clear that the ward-based School Board of the Brandon Protestant School District must have been established in the fall of 1881, for a school was opened under the auspices of the Board late in February, 1882. [8]

While the school was created on a denominational basis in keeping with Manitoba law, the responsibility of the Protestant School Board to provide formal schooling for a variety of Protestant denominations gave the school a non-denominational, albeit Protestant, character consistent with the non-sectarian public schools of Ontario. Indeed both Catholics and Protestants in the city referred, in the manner of Ontarians, to the Protestant school as the city’s “public school.” [9]

The initiative taken by educational leaders in Brandon reflected the Ontario tradition of strong local responsibility for public schooling. As in Ontario the local School Board controlled major aspects of public schooling including the construction and maintenance of the school, the hiring of teachers, and general supervision. The importance placed on strong local control of the Brandon Protestant school was evident in the composition of the first Protestant School Board which was composed of individuals drawn from the community’s “better classes.” [10] Dr. Alex Fleming, the Chairman of the Board, was a medical doctor. J. E. Woodworth was one of the city’s most prosperous merchants and land developers. W. J. White, the editor of the Brandon Sun, served on the Board throughout the 1880s; Charles Pilling, a hotel operator, served on both School Board and City Council during the decade. William Winter, a grocer, was both Mayor of Brandon and Chairman of the School Board in 1883. Reverend John Ferries, the city’s Presbyterian minister, also served as inspector of schools for the Board early in the decade. Thomas Lockhart was the Brandon agent of the Manitoba and Northwest Loan Company. L. Buchan was the community’s justice of the peace. J. A. Deacon was a merchant and realtor. Finally, Ed Head was an architect. [11]

The initiative taken by leading members of Brandon’s Protestant community in creating the “public school” reflected more than the depth of their sense of civic responsibility, for many were also family men with children to educate. When the Protestant school opened in February 1882, the original enrollment of fifteen was composed largely of children of Brandon’s original “better” families including the Shillinglaws, the Winters, the Johnstons, and the Mathesons. [12] The fact that much of Brandon’s original population was composed of transplanted families ensured that the social prerequisites for school development were present. As in Ontario communities, the public school was considered essential for preparing the city’s school age population for a rapidly changing society.

Nineteenth century Ontario schoolmen believed that a central aspect of the proper training of youth involved the development of “character.” That the Brandon Protestant Board also placed priority on this is reflected in its selection of teachers for the school. It took obvious care to hire only those individuals who were fit to shape the moral and intellectual character of Brandon’s school age population. The first teacher and Principal of the Brandon Protestant School was T. J. Lamont, a native of Bruce County, Ontario, who in the year prior to coming to Brandon had attended the Collegiate Institute in Hamilton, Ontario. [13] Clearly, it was assumed that the training and experience Lamont had gained in Ontario public schools would be manifest in his administration of Brandon’s Protestant school. With the rapid increase in enrolment by May 1882, Mary Wrightman, who had been born at West Hall, Bedford, Northumberland, England and educated at St. George’s Ladies’ College, Edinburgh, and Ilkley Ladies’ College, Yorkshire, was hired to assume responsibility for the lower section of the school. [14] In October 1882, the Board acquired another teacher in Charles N. F. Jeffery, who eventually became the Archdeacon of St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg. [15]

The rapid growth of the school enrolment from fifteen when the school opened to near two hundred by September, 1882 also demanded the expansion of the original building, which already had been divided into two rooms to accommodate different sections of the school population. [16] On 23 October 1882 Reverend Ferries and W. J. White, of the Protestant Board, appeared before City Council to request that funds be made available for additional school construction. This request was acceded to, and in February 1883, the new school building, “... a brick structure of two stories, containing four rooms and forming a ‘T’ with the original buildings,” was occupied by the students and teachers of the Brandon Protestant School District. [17] Unlike the city’s Catholic school, Brandon’s first Protestant school was constructed with funds secured when City Council issued $20,000 in debentures on behalf of the Protestant School Board. The close relationship between the Protestant Board and City Council was a clear acknowledgment that, as in urban centres of Ontario, Brandon had a public school which was an integral aspect of its general municipal system, and the subject of broad community interest.

Further evidence of the determination of Brandon’s school promoters to emulate the educational institution of settled communities in the east is evident in the Board’s creation of a collegiate division in the Brandon school. Acting on a recommendation made by Reverend Boydell in his capacity of school inspector, the Board passed a motion in June of 1883, directing that steps be taken immediately to create a collegiate division in the public school. [18] Boydell had come to Brandon in January, 1883 from his native Ontario to become the first Anglican priest in the city. [19] In fact, it had been only in October 1881 that Reverend W. C. Pinkham, the Superintendent of Protestant schools of Manitoba, had travelled to Ontario, the province in which he had been ordained an Anglican priest, to examine that province’s system of normal and high schools with a view to recommending the creation of a similar system in Manitoba. [20]

Ontario not only provided the model for the collegiate division in Brandon’s Protestant school, but its first teacher as well. In July 1883, the Board hired E. J. Popham as principal of public schools and teacher for the collegiate department. Popham had been born in Ottawa, and after attending public school there, entered the Ottawa Collegiate Institute preparatory to his matriculation in the Victoria University at Coburg, Ontario, from which he received the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1883. [21] As in the case of T. J. Lamont, Popham’s administration of Brandon’s Protestant School was necessarily shaped by his experience and training in Ontario public schools.

In summary, the rapid development of the Protestant school in Brandon reflected the fact that the city’s predominantly Ontario-born population viewed the school as an integral component of the social structure of the new opportunity. A school district had been created, a school opened, and with increasing enrolment the professional staff of the District had been augmented and students organized into sections including various scholastic levels. As well, the original building had been extended and a collegiate division added to the public school. While the school was denominationally based in keeping with Manitoba school law, its central features reflected Ontario origins. Brandon’s “better classes” had taken the first opportunity to create within the city a school which in many respects conformed to the model of public schooling in Ontario.

As in Ontario, the Brandon school was free, funded by local taxation and provincial grants. Indeed, in 1887 the Protestant Board directed that no money subscriptions of any kind be asked of pupils. [22] The Board exercised considerable autonomy in the administration of the school. As such, the Board directed that no texts other than those authorized by the Board be used, that teachers be properly qualified, that attendance records of students be kept, and that all provisions of school law and regulations be obeyed. As early as 1883, the Board secured the services of Reverend James Boydell, the Anglican minister of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, to act as school inspector, and to insure that the Brandon school was operating with efficiency, organization, and discipline. Little wonder that when Reverend Pinkham arrived in Brandon to address the newly established Western Manitoba Teachers’ Association, an organization which undertook in-service education through annual teachers’ institutes similar to those long established in Ontario, [23] the rapid progress of Brandon’s schools provided Pinkham with ample evidence that Brandonites did not need to be “... educated to the fact that schools are necessary.” [24]

The desire to emulate the educational achievements of Ontario was evident not only in the formal structure and staff of the Brandon Protestant school, but also in its curriculum and goals. Here, the influence of Ontario was assured through the use of textbooks “recognized as standard in Ontario.” [25] As in the eastern province, children attending Brandon’s Protestant school were exposed to a curriculum composed of reading, writing, and arithmetic supplemented at various levels with geography, British and Canadian history, hygiene, drawing, music, and bookkeeping. Significantly, the absence of supplementary materials ensured that the authorized text was the central focus of both teacher and student in the schooling process.

The central role of the curriculum of the Protestant school was to strengthen the faculties of the mind through the development of mental discipline. In describing the importance of the idea of mental discipline in Ontario public schooling during the 1870s and 1880s Robert Stamp provides the following quotation from a speech by Sir William Peterson, principal of McGill University, to a meeting of the Ontario Education Association:

All education should be a training of faculty ... to develop and train the natural powers of the mind; to make it quick, apprehensive, accurate, logical; able to search out facts for itself, to draw from them the proper conclusions; to reason, and to understand reasoning; in one word, to think. [26]

In Brandon’s Protestant school, composition consisted of “repeating” stories related by the teacher. Part of the reading program, based on the Ontario Primer in the lower levels of the school, included the reciting of poetry learned by rote. Spelling involved the oral and written recall of words from the reading lessons. Arithmetic incorporated drill in a variety of procedures, including “mental” addition, subtraction, and multiplication, all of which served as a means of training the power of attention. Geography included the memorization of a variety of definitions and facts, and evidently aided “high intellectual training.” [27] In the collegiate division a narrow classical curriculum of Latin and English, Grammar, French, Geometry, Arithmetic, and Literature was available for the limited number of Brandon’s youth who planned to attend university or pursue a career in teaching.

The development of intellectual faculties could only be accomplished through discipline and training. [28] As in Ontario, Brandon’s Protestant school teachers encouraged students to submit to the discipline of the school through the publication of “honor lists” and examination results in the city’s newspapers, and the granting of awards for regular attendance and good conduct. [29] Citizens of the community also provided awards. Beginning in 1884, Wm. Barr, the County of Brandon Court clerk, presented two prizes for proficiency in English. The firm of Russell and Cooper provided a silver medal for proficiency in mathematics. [30]

In promoting discipline the school required the collaboration of parents. As one of the speakers addressing the Western Manitoba Teachers’ Convention in 1884 concluded

Years of spoiling on the part of the parent could not be cured in a week by the teacher. Not only do some parents spoil their children, but the character of their company helped toward the same end. It was the duty of the parents to attend to this ... [31]

The available evidence suggests that disobedience was kept within satisfactory limits only by the threat of stern punishment. In the fall of 1887 the disobedience of students in the school moved the Board to request its Chairman, Mr. Christie, to visit the school and indicate to students in the various levels that the Board expected them to obey their teacher, and would punish any student who disregarded a teacher’s command. [32]

Shortly after the visit to the school of Chairman Christie, an Ontario native, the Board provided the principal of the school, Mr. Elliott, with funds to meet legal costs incurred by him as a defendant in a legal action arising from the punishment of a student. [33] The Board, seemingly to avoid legal expenses incurred in the defense of teachers, then directed that teachers ... make all personal punishment as light as commensurate with the offence ...,” while those students who were “... so incorrigible as to require severe punishment,” were to be suspended and their cases “adjudicated” by the Board. [34]

Aside from the importance of discipline to the pedagogical and administrative imperatives of the school, the preoccupation with regular attendance, punctuality, obedience, and the willingness of students to work for extrinsic rewards was important in socializing students to the rigours of the work place. As in urban communities in Ontario, the focus of economic life in Brandon made it probable that the majority of students attending Brandon’s Protestant school would find employment in small commercial establishments or manufacturing shops. [35] By 1886 there were 149 businesses in the city. These were not all commercial establishments, for milling, planing, carriage, harness and pump manufacturing, and brewing were important sources of employment and income. By 1890, thirty-nine manufacturing and processing establishments, involving a capital investment of $378,505, employed a work force of 267 and paid $136,400 per annum in wages, while producing goods valued at $733,000. [36] Instruction in habits and values which were functional in the work place was a central, albeit a largely unwritten feature of the school’s curriculum.

The subordination of children in the Brandon Protestant school had another purpose as well, for the Brandon school reflected the Ontario tradition that the ... development of the moral nature [of students] was a primary requisite of any system of education.” [37] Subsumed under the concept of “morality” was the development of a number of attributes of character including cleanliness, neatness, temperance, proper speech, and equanimity in the face of adversity or hardship. The belief that the development of morality and “character” were central responsibilities of the Brandon Protestant public school was articulated in not discouraged by Protestant community leaders. The curriculum outlines, in Reports of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools, and during teaching conferences held in the city.

Exemplifying this preoccupation with the teacher’s responsibility for the moral and personal development of students was the intensive scrutiny of the moral character of students attending the Provincial Normal School, which had been established in Winnipeg in 1882 under the supervision of Ontario-trained educator David Goggin. [38] Individuals studying to become teachers were “... required during the session, to place themselves under the care of one of the clergy-men having pastoral charge in the city; [and] to board only at such places as shall be approved by the Superintendent.” [39] The vital role of the teacher in shaping the moral character of students was the subject of Reverend J. Welwood’s address to the Western Manitoba Teachers’ Convention of 1884, during which he drew attention to the “... great influence exercised for good or evil by the teacher. Courtesy on his part would engender politeness and good manners on the part of the pupils. [40] While the school could not have a direct effect on the moral character of parents, another conference speaker observed that at least “children ... [could] be early instructed in all the principles of good breeding” through the mediation of the school and the school teacher. [41]

The main address at the Western Manitoba Teachers’ Convention of 1886 was entitled, “Manners and How to Teach Them,” the complete text of which was reprinted on the front page of the Brandon Sun. [42] In the address, teachers were directed to urge students to avoid vulgarity and sloth and to cultivate the habits of neatness, politeness, cleanliness, and regularity. Lessons in good breeding, teachers were assured, would enable students to accept their eventual station in life with equanimity. One of the most important lessons for the young to learn was that

He who lost all, but retains his courage, cheerfulness, hope, virtue, and self-respect is a true gentleman. His hands may be soiled, and his face heated through manly toil, but he does not feel himself above his business, even if it be that of a ... bootblack. [43]

The point of these strictures concerned not simply the need to elevate the moral character of individual students. Individual social advancement was clearly one of the objectives of the Brandon Protestant school, as it was in the schools of Ontario, had the concern with moral character also addressed a broader issue—the development of the community. For Ryerson’s notion that “the power of each individual, or each class of individuals in the community, [was] in proportion to their intellectual and moral development,” [44] also informed the Brandon schools’ preoccupation with the moral character of students. Indeed, the Superintendent of Protestant Schools for Manitoba, Reverend W. C. Pinkham, had brought this message to Brandon in 1883, when, during an address to teachers, he declared that the main concern of teachers must be the “social and moral condition of the people.” [45]

The concern with shaping a “moral” populace was also based on a long standing assumption of Ontario schoolmen that “... the political community was safe to the degree its supporters were moral ...” [46] This notion was articulated by J. B. Somerset, an Ontario educator and Pinkham’s successor as Superintendent, to an audience of Brandon teachers and educational leaders when he observed that

... free institutions and liberal government can only be given an educated people. The existence of socialism and other political evils can be accounted for in the neglect of the proper education of the lower classes. [47]

By the mid-1880s, the essential character of the Brandon Protestant school had taken shape, and it would remain stable until the latter years of the decade when the growth of the city’s school age population made the expansion of school facilities imperative. While it had been created on a denominational basis, Brandon’s Protestant School contained students of different Protestant denominations, and in its curriculum and goals it conformed to the Ontario model of public schooling.

In addition to informing the development of Brandon’s Protestant school, the Ontario Protestant model of non-sectarian public schools shaped the attitude and actions of Brandon’s Protestant community towards the city’s Catholic school. During the early years of the decade the city’s tax-supported Catholic school was acknowledged as a valuable institution, but beginning in 1886 Protestant community leaders determined to discredit the Catholic school. Once this was achieved they sought to remove any obstacle to the efficient operation and development of public schools. The basis for such a system had already been created in the city’s Protestant school. The controversy over the Jesuit Estates question, which erupted in the spring of 1889, simply provided an opportunity for Protestant community leaders to press their case against Brandon’s tax-supported Catholic school and the province’s dual school system which they viewed by then as fiscally wasteful, socially divisive, and inappropriate to the broader national agenda of the Canadian community.

Though the number of Roman Catholics in Brandon was small—the census of 1886 indicated the presence of only 171 of them—the education of Catholic children was taken in hand very early in the development of the city. [48] During the winter of 1882 a Catholic School Board was created, and under its direction St. Joseph’s Convent was built on land donated by Archbishop Taché of St. Boniface to house a school and attract an order of sisters to provide instruction. [49] Funds for the construction of the Convent were acquired through bank loans and money borrowed by the Catholic School Board from Taché. [50] As well, $2,400 was raised at a bazaar sponsored by the congregation of St. Augustine’s Church. [51] It may be inferred that members of Brandon’s Protestant community must have contributed to the success of the bazaar, for only twenty families and eleven single Catholic parishioners were affiliated with St. Augustine’s Church in 1884. [52] The last prerequisite for Catholic education in the city was met when, during the summer of 1883, Taché secured three members of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, an order of nuns found in Armien, France in 1820, to provide instruction in the Convent school. [53]

St. Joseph’s Convent, Brandon
Source: P. S. O’Sullivan

The convent was a three storey building located to the south of Brandon’s commercial district on the corner of Third Street and Lorne Avenue. The two classrooms on the second floor of the Convent could accommodate one hundred pupils. “No place is healthier,” reported the Brandon Sun (a newspaper that would lead the province in a call for the abolition of denominational schools six years later), “and the situation of the Convent is amongst the best in the city.” [54] The curriculum at the Convent school, in which the language of instruction was English, paralleled that of the Protestant School. [55] However, in addition to the standard subjects, students attending the Convent could receive instruction in French and Music. There was also religious instruction for Catholic students, from which the increasingly numerous Protestant pupils were excused.

The convent school began with fifteen students, two of whom were the daughters of S. Clement, the Protestant Sheriff of the County of Brandon and a future member of the Protestant School Board. [56] As the school year progressed the enrollment grew to fifty, and when the school opened for classes in August 1884, sixty-three students were in attendance. [57] Necessarily, the growth in attendance was attributable primarily to Protestant children whose parents, reported the sisters, “... wished to confide their children to the sisters, finding the education given them far preferable to that of the public school.” [58]

While crowding in the Protestant school was a problem and did contribute to the attendance of Protestant children at the Convent school, the explanation sisters offered for the attendance of Protestants there was also valid. Support for their view was provided by Mr. Russell of the Protestant School Board who noted during a Board discussion in August, 1886 that

a number of children attend ... [the Convent school] because their parents wish to give them accomplishments not taught at the public school, ... [59]

Specifically, Russell was referring to the instruction available in French and Music at the Convent, but not available in the Protestant school.

Early in the decade, the practice of Protestant parents sending their children to the Convent school was


Brandon Sun, praised the Convent school in an article in January 1884. St. Joseph’s was

an institution of which Brandon has good reason to be proud; not only because it adds a large measure to the general appearance of the city, but also for the intellectual training that is afforded there. [60]

In the same article, the Sun described the teaching staff of the Convent in glowing terms, outlined its extensive program of studies, and noted uncritically that Protestant children attending the Convent were more numerous than Catholics.

The evidence presented above indicates that initially the attitude of Brandon’s Ontario-bred Protestant population toward Manitoba’s dual confessional school system was not antagonistic. Two developments changed this and laid the basis for an attack on the principle of duality. The first of these arose because of the increasingly difficult financial situation that the Protestant School Board experienced as the decade progressed. A financial crisis in 1885 led, by 1886, to demands that the basis of financing public education in the province be re-examined. The second cause of the change in attitude toward the City’s Convent school was the determination of militant Protestants that the attendance of Protestants at the Convent school must end. This determination led to a series of assaults on the Convent school in the summer of 1887. Both developments had the effect of undermining the model of denominational schools and encouraging a reassessment of the province’s education system.

As mentioned earlier, the public schools of Manitoba were funded by local taxes, levied by local boards of trustees, and by provincial grants to the Board of Education for allocation to school districts. For the Brandon Protestant Board, the problem of finance existed at two levels. The continuous financial difficulties of provincial governments during the 1880s made it impossible for the province to provide significant financial support to local school districts. Meanwhile at the municipal level the economic malaise which followed the collapse of the boom of 1882 made it increasingly difficult to secure funds locally.

The problem of financing the Protestant school reached a crisis point in 1885, and in June of that year the Board was forced to slash teachers’ salaries. Shortly thereafter, the City Council indicated to the Board that ... owing to the depressed state of the City’s finance it ... [was] impossible to grant schools the $1,600 asked for by the Board.” [61] The Board responded by indicating that unless the $1,600 were paid it would be necessary to close the Protestant school. To confirm this intention the Board directed that no teacher be re-engaged until such time as salaries and arrears could be paid. Ultimately the immediate crisis was resolved when Council forwarded the funds and teachers accepted a reduction in pay. Nevertheless, at the end of the fiscal year in January, 1886, the Protestant Board still owed teachers $437.50 in back pay and had out-standing debts of $300.00 in addition to the debt of $20,000 acquired with the construction of the Central school in 1883. [62] Local education taxes due and unpaid amounted to $8,685.63. [63]

The financial problems of the Protestant Board prevented improvements in the school or the expansion of school facilities, both of which were needed. In 1886, the Superintendent of Protestant schools observed:

We would like to draw attention to the very inconvenient and unsatisfactory arrangement of the [Protestant] school building in Brandon. The ventilation is poor, the stairs are narrow, and altogether the whole building is unfit, in our opinion, for the carrying on of an efficient school. [64]

As well, the Board’s inability to increase his salary resulted in the resignation of E. J. Popham, who had served as principal of the school and teacher for the collegiate division.

Suggestions also were made that the collegiate division be abolished. [65] In June of 1885 City Council indicated to the Protestant School Board that it was the view of Council that the collegiate division should be closed for “... the City ... [could not] afford to educate teachers for the country districts unless we secure some revenue therefrom.” [66] The Brandon Mail also wondered why the taxpayers of Brandon should burden themselves with the maintenance of the collegiate division. To the Mail, edited by university graduate Charles Cliffe, the limited value of what the upper division had to offer was made evident by “... the young Englishmen who came to the country since opened for settlement by the railway, and who after proving themselves failures returned in disgust are [now] graduates of some English college. [67] The Mail was a Tory newspaper, sensitive to criticism of the provincial Conservative government. Its condemnation of the collegiate division may be partially explained by readiness to attack the provincial government on whose doorstep the problems of financing the Protestant school and maintaining the Collegiate division would be laid. While the Convent school was also financed by provincial grants and local taxes levied on Catholic ratepayers, it had fewer costs and extra sources of income. Protestants attending the Catholic school paid one dollar a month, as provincial law forbade the taxation of Protestants to support Catholic schools. [68] While funds were obviously required to sup-port the sisters, the Catholic school was not required to pay teachers’ salaries at a level comparable to the Protestant school. As well the maintenance of the school was part and parcel of that of the parish. That the financial situation of the Catholic school was significantly better than that of the Protestant is evident in the construction of a new classroom addition to the Convent school in the spring of 1886. [69]

The future of the Convent school seemed secure when in June, 1887 the enrollment rose to one hundred and ten students including seventy-five from Protestant families. [70] However, during late June and early July, 1887 the Convent suffered a series of vigorous attacks initiated by leading members of the Methodist Church of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, as well as Protestant community leaders within the city.

In the late nineteenth century the Methodist church lacked its earlier evangelical enthusiasm. In Western Canada it was, nevertheless, an aggressive institution intent on defending and expanding its congregational influence. In fact one historian notes that its activities “seldom rose above the level of self-perpetuating institutionalism.” [71] The social focus of the Methodist church was limited to a preoccupation with Sabbatarianism, Temperance, and anti-Catholicism. [72]

In late June, 1887, Methodist ministers and lay representatives from Manitoba and the Northwest assembled in Brandon for a convention. Within the city twenty-seven percent of the population, or six hundred and twenty-three individuals, were identified as Methodists in the 1886 census. Upon learning that a number of children of Methodist families were enrolled at the Convent school, church leaders rose in anger at the practice. Clearly the attendance of children from Methodist families at the Convent school presented Methodist leaders with the opportunity to challenge the role of the Convent school as a centre for the education of non-Roman Catholic children. While press reports of their actions are seemingly non-existent, the Annals of the Faithful Companions of Jesus for 1887 report that

These zealous personages were very scandalized at seeing our day school frequented by so many children of this sect, and they lost no opportunity of protesting against such an indignity; in public and in private, they assured the parents that sooner or later, they would bitterly regret having confided their children to the nuns, telling them, among other things, that faith and morals were very quickly lost at the Convent. [73]

The strictures of the Methodists critical of Protestant parents whose children were attending the Con-vent gained almost immediate credence when, at the end of June, Stephen Clement’s daughter Emma announced her determination to convert to Catholicism and become a nun. The reaction of Clement was immediate and forceful. Arriving at the Convent shortly after having learned of his daughter’s proposal, Clement told the sisters that “he bitterly regretted the confidence he had had in ... [them], for ... [they] had ... abused it.” [74] As a result he intended “to withdraw his five children from our externat, formally forbidding them ever again to put their foot into the Convent.” [75]

A week after the withdrawal of the Clement children from the Convent school, Reverend C. Chiniguy of the American Protestant Missionary Society arrived in Brandon. [76] Chiniguy, formally a Roman Catholic priest, had been excommunicated in 1858. He became a Presbyterian, and under the auspices of the Missionary Society travelled widely denouncing Roman Catholicism. While it is not clear whether Chiniguy’s visit was prompted by the reaction of Protestant community leaders to the attendance of Protestant children at the Convent or the controversy created by Emma Clement’s proposal, Chiniguy’s activities in Brandon were obviously designed to discredit the Convent school and discourage the attendance of Protestants there.

While in Brandon, Chiniguy drew what the Mail described as the largest public gathering in the city “outside of a political demonstration” [77] to three public addresses at the city’s Presbyterian Church. While press reports did not outline the substance of Chiniguy’s speeches the Annals of the F.C.J. report that he

... sent forth the most revolting calumnies against the Catholic Church, and particularly against priests and nuns, describing the convent as a dean of all that is bad and corrupted. [78]

The objective of this assault on the Convent school, initiated and orchestrated by militant Protestant community leaders, was achieved. When the Convent school opened in August, 1887, only fifty-two students appeared where there had been one-hundred and ten when school closed in June. The Convent had lost students, but more damaging was the fact that Brandon’s Protestants had come to perceive it and the Catholic school located there as an institution devoid of value. [79] The assault on the Convent school did not begin out of widespread anti-Catholicism in Brandon as much as from institutional and metropolitan imperatives of the Methodist church in western Canada, and the fact that Brandon’s Ontario-bred population was responsive to the preoccupations of Protestant Ontario. A number of developments sustained this initial burst of anti-Catholicism. In February, 1888, a convention of the Orange Lodge which drew representatives from all parts of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories was held in Brandon. It was, the Brandon Mail observed, “one of the most important gatherings of the kind ever held in the province.” [80] The growing influence of the militantly anti-Catholic Orange Lodge coincided with the arrival of Jesuit priests in the city. Late in the spring of 1888 Father Robillard, who had served the city’s Catholic population since 1881, and who had developed cordial relations with many Protestants, was replaced by no fewer than three Jesuit priests: Father McDonald arrived in March, 1888, and Fathers S. J. Paquin and Ed Proux in August. [81] When, in the spring of 1889, the national controversy over the Jesuit Estates question in Quebec erupted, it took little effort on the part of Brandon’s press and the city’s Orange Lodge to transform the debate on the Jesuit Estates issue into an attack on Manitoba’s tax-supported Catholic schools.

The Brandon Mail set the broad framework for the debate when it observed on 11 April 1889 in reference to the Jesuit Estate legislation that “We had thought the day of church and state was past, as indeed it should be for the peoples’ good.” [82] By 2 May 1889, the Sun transformed the Jesuit Estates legislation into “a manifestation of the aggressiveness of the Roman Catholic Church that menaces the existence of Protestantism in Canada.” [83] Then on 16 May 1889, the Sun made the link between the national debate on the Jesuit Estate Bill and the Manitoba schools. Arguing that “nothing in the state can exceed the importance and value of an educational system and institutions,” the Sun asserted that “... if the educational policy of this country is confined to limits regulated by sectarian narrowness and petty jealousies we cannot hope for the best results and distinct loss must be the consequence.” [84] It followed that the denominational schools should be abolished, for maintaining a system of “separate” school was “... a great injustice and a great wrong.” [85]

Significantly, the Brandon Sun was the first provincial newspaper to call for the abolition of denominational schools and, in doing so, assert the importance of the Ontario Protestant tradition of non-sectarian public schools. On May 30, 1889, Sun editor W. J. White reported that his “course in opening the attack on the separate school system of the province ... [had met] with almost universal approval.” [86] In addition to the Sun the Orange Lodge played an important role in shaping public opinion in Brandon on the question of educational reform. The membership of Brandon’s Orange Lodge had grown rapidly during the spring of 1889 in reaction to the Jesuit Estate’s controversy. The growth of the local Lodge, observed the Brandon Mail, simply demonstrated that there was “plenty of the right mettle in and around Brandon and it is likely to assert itself much in advance of the progress of Jesuitism.” [87]

The attitude of leading members of the city’s Lodge to Brandon’s Convent school was reflected in a speech made by Reverend Best of Brandon’s Baptist Church to a meeting of the Lodge on 11 July 1889. Best asserted unconvincingly that while no Orangemen wished to interfere with the rights of Roman Catholics, he could see no justification for the continued existence of the Convent school in the city.

The Brandon Sun was a Liberal newspaper and its call for the abolition of denominational schools had, per-force, caused the Tory Mail to be cautious in taking a firm position on the question. However, on 11 July 1889, the support for abolition evident among Brandon’s Protestant community led the Mail, edited by Orangeman Charles Cliffe, to go on record against denominational schools. “Separate schools,” observed Cliffe, were unacceptable for they caused “... a duplicate of expenditure for the gratification of a sentiment utterly devoid of public gain.” [89]

The agitation for abolition of denominational schools which erupted in Brandon spread rapidly to the English-speaking Protestant areas of the province and on August 1, during a picnic at Souris, Brandon’s M.L.A., the Hon. James Smart, announced that the provincial government had decided to reform the province’s system of denominational public schools. [90] In the spring of 1890 legislation modelled on the contemporary School Act of Ontario, with the provisions for separate schools omitted, was introduced in the provincial legislature. By October 1890, the Brandon Protestant School District had become simply Brandon School District 129. [91]

The city now had a comprehensive system of graded, formally non-sectarian public schools based on the Ontario model. This model had guided the thinking of the city’s Protestant community leaders in the development of the Protestant school in the 1880s. The arguments used in 1889 to urge the abolition of Manitoba’s dual school system also derived from the Ontario Protestant legacy of secular public schooling.


1. See A. A. Roscoe, The Manitoba Act in Transition, 1870-1896: The Transformation of Manitoba’s Political, Cultural Institutions (unpublished MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1968); J. R. Miller, “D’Alton McCarthy, Equal Rights, and the Origins of the Manitoba Schools Question,” Canadian Historical Review, 54 (1973); Douglas Owram, Promise of Eden: The Canadian Expansionist Movement and the Idea of the West 1856-1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980).

2. Owram, Promise of Eden, p. 142.

3. For a discussion of the development of Ontario schools see Michael Katz and Paul Mattingly, (eds.) Education and Social Change: Themes from Ontario’s Past (New York: New York University Press, 1975); Alison Prentice, The School Promoters: Education and Social Class in Mid-Nineteenth Century Upper Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977); Robert Stamp, The Schools of Ontario 1876-1976 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982); N. McDonald and Alf Charton (eds.), Egerton Ryerson and His Times (Toronto: Macmillan, 1978); R. D. Gidney and Doug Lawr, “Egerton Ryerson and the Origins of the Ontario Secondary Schools,” Canadian Historical Review, 60 (1979).

4. Prentice, The School Promoters, p. 17.

5. Alan Child, “The Ryerson Tradition in Western Canada, 1871-1906,” in McDonald and Charton, Egerton Ryerson and His Times (Toronto: Macmillan, 1978).

6. Census of Manitoba 1885-86, pp. 10-11, 16-17.

7. Martin Kavanagh, The Assiniboine Basin (Surrey, England: The Gresham Press, 1966), p. 206. The provincial Board of Education in Manitoba, through its officials, encouraged the creation of school districts in the new territory. Groups of people who could “agree on the size of a school district and the location of a school site might form a school, if there were fifteen children of school age within the neighbourhood.” See Lovell Clark (ed.), The Manitoba School Question: Majority Rule or Minority Rights? (Toronto: Copp Clark Co., 1968), p. 15, quoting S. E. Lang. Brandon’s first school district included the six sections of land south of the railway yards. See Kavanagh, p. 206.

8. Kavanagh, Assiniboine Basin, p. 135.

9. The Protestant school was consistently referred to as Brandon’s “Public School” by both the Brandon Mail and the Brandon Sun. See Brandon Mail, 4 April 1883; 12 December 1883; Brandon Sun, 2 February 1884; 8 May 1884. As well the Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus consistently refer to the Protestant school as the “public school.”

10. Like those of other nineteenth century commercial centres in Canada, Brandon’s “better classes” were composed of craftsmen, merchants, professionals, public employees, and successful farmers. See discussion of class in nineteenth century communities in Neil Sutherland, Children in English Canadian Society: Framing the Twentieth Century Consensus (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1976), pp. 14-15.

11. See Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba (Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Co., 1925); Manitoba Library Association, Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba (Winnipeg Peguis Publishers, 1971); The Story of Manitoba Vols. II-III (Winnipeg: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1913).

12. Kavanagh, Assiniboine Basin, p. 208.

13. The Story of Manitoba Vol. III, pp. 347-49.

14. Kavanagh, Assiniboine Basin, p. 208.

15. Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, p. 212.

16. Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba, 1882-83.

17. Kavanagh, Assiniboine Basin, p. 209.

18. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 1 March 1883.

19. Rolf Pedersen (ed.), St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Brandon, Manitoba 1882, p. 5.

20. Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba, 1881, p. 2.

21. The Story of Manitoba Vol. II, pp. 189-90.

22. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 1 March 1887.

23. See F. Henry Johnson, “The Ryersonian Influence on the Public School System of British Columbia,” in D. C. Jones et. al. (eds.), Shaping the Schools of the Canadian West (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises Limited, 1979), p. 35.

24. Brandon Mail, 3 February 1883.

25. See the comments made by Mr. Prendergast during a speech on the Greenway government’s school legislation in Clark, The Manitoba School Question, p. 59.

26. Stamp, The Schools of Ontario, p. 9.

27. See “Programme of Study of the Public School,” Brandon Sun, 15 April 1886: Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba, 1886, p. 28; Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba, 1887, pp. 42-43.

28. Prentice, The School Promoters, p. 34.

29. Ibid., p. 35.

30. Brandon Sun, 9 October 1884.

31. Ibid., 15 May 1884.

32. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, October 4, 1887. Discipline problems were not an uncommon feature of Board business. See Minute Book, 6 April 1886; 6 July 1886; 3 February 1887. Related to the issue of discipline was a charge made in August, 1886, that Trustees and teachers of the Protestant school were attempting to “hush-up” immoral conduct on the part of some students. See Brandon Sun, 12 August 1886. Mr. Shillinglaw, the author of these charges, was unable to substantiate them. See Minute Book, 13 August 1886.

33. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 7 December 1887.

34. Ibid.

35. See “Occupations in Transition: The Danger of Downward Mobility,” pp. 88-118, and “The Integration and Invigoration of the Labouring Classes and the Poor,” pp. 119-137 in Prentice, The School Promoters.

36. W. Leland Clark, Brandon’s Politics and Politicians (Brandon: The Brandon Sun, 1981), p. 4.

37. Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba 1886, p. 17.

38. For a discussion of Goggin’s career see Neil G. McDonald, “David J. Goggin: Promoter of National Schools” pp. 14-29, in Jones (et. al.), Shaping The Schools of the Canadian West.

39. Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba 1886, p. 26.

40. Brandon Sun, 15 May 1884.

41. Ibid., 30 September 1886.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Prentice, The School Promoters, p. 115.

45. Brandon Mail, 3 February 1883.

46. Neil G. McDonald, “Political Socialization Research, The School and the Educational Historian,” in David C. Jones et. al., (eds.) Monographs in Education V: Approaches to Educational History (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1981), p. 75.

47. Brandon Sun, 15 May 1884.

48. Census of Manitoba 1885-86, pp. 10-11.

49. P. J. O’Sullivan, By Steps, Not Leaps: St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish, 1881-1891 (Brandon: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1981), p. 5.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus 1883. (In the possession of the author.) The Order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus was “founded in France by a French lady, born Marie Madeleine Victoire de Bengy, widow of Anatola Joseph de Bonnault and known in religious life as Madame de Houet. The first convent was opened in Amiens, France in 1820. The first convent of the Faithful Companions of Jesus outside France was in London in 1830, the year of the Catholic Emancipation Act in England, ...” From a letter to P. J. O’Sullivan from Sister Teresa, F.C.J., September 19, 1979 in possession of the author.

54. Brandon Sun, 18 January 1884.

55. Ibid.

56. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1883.

57. Ibid., 1884.

58. Ibid.

59. Brandon Sun, 12 August 1886.

60. Brandon Sun, 18 January 1884.

61. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 23 June 1885.

62. Report of the Superintendent of Protestant Schools of Manitoba, 1886, p. 15.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid., p. 62.

65. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 24 October 1855.

66. Ibid., 23 June 1885.

67. Brandon Mail, 2 July 1885.

68. Brandon Sun, 18 January 1884.

69. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1886.

70. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1887.

71. W. H. Brooks, “Methodism in the Canadian West in the 19th Century” (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Manitoba, 1971), p. 6.

72. Ibid., p. 307.

73. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1887.

74. Ibid.

75. Ibid.

76. Brandon Sun, 7 July 1887. See Mason Wade, The French Canadians, 1760-1967 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1968), p. 390 for a detailed discussion of Chiniguy’s career.

77. Brandon Mail, 7 June 1887.

78. Annals of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, 1887.

79. In a letter to Mr. P. J. O’Sullivan dated 1 June 1977, a member of the Faithful Companions of Jesus observed, on the basis of conversation with a sister who had served in Brandon, that in addition to the withdrawal of students this episode also resulted in”... harassment and insulting words [being] hurled at the sisters when they were on their way to school or out shopping.” (Letter in possession of the author.)

80. Brandon Mail, 1 March 1888.

81. Letter to P. J. O’Sullivan, p. 7.

82. Brandon Mail, 11 April 1889.

83. Brandon Sun, 2 May 1889.

84. Ibid., 16 May 1889.

85. Ibid.

86. Ibid., 30 May 1889.

87. Brandon Mail, 4 July 1889.

88. Brandon Sun, 11 July 1889.

89. Brandon Mail, 11 July 1889. The Brandon Sun was supportive of the Manitoba Liberal Party during the decade. Provincial Liberals including J. W. Sifton and his son Clifford Sifton were Directors of the paper. The Mail was a Conservative paper. Charles Cliffe, its editor, was the President of the Manitoba Liberal Conservative Association in 1889.

90. Brandon Mail, 15 August 1889. See discussion concerning how the provincial press interpreted Smart’s speech in Miller, “D’Alton McCarthy, Equal Rights, and the Origins of the Manitoba School Question,” p. 388.

91. Brandon Protestant School Board Minute Book, 7 October 1890.

Page revised: 23 December 2012

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