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Manitoba History No. 89
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No. 89

War Memorials in Manitoba
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Manitoba History: William James Sisler, A Most Unconventional, Conventional Man. Part Two: The Educator as Assimilationist, Defender and Public Intellectual

by Jim Mochoruk
Department of History, University of North Dakota

Number 79, Fall 2015

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Notes

1. Archives of Manitoba (hereafter AM), MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers” Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 207. (Roblin did not become Premier of Manitoba until October 1900.)

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., p. 125.

4. Ibid., p. 207.

5. One assumes that Sisler is referring to the famous series of articles and editorials on the bilingual schools that were published in the Manitoba Free Press (hereafter MFP) – with some similar pieces also appearing in the Winnipeg Tribune – in 1913 and 1914.

6. See for example, AM, C51, “Sisler Photo Album” pictures #95, 99 and 100, Malanton, circa 1916; #104, Frazerwood (sic), circa 1912; and #105 Ladywood, circa 1912.

7. Murray Donnelly. Dafoe of the Free Press, Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1968, p. 58.

8. See James Blanchard, “Rodmond P. Roblin, 1900-1915,” in Barry Ferguson and Robert Wardhaugh (eds.) Manitoba Premiers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2010, pp. 128-130, 133-134.

9. There are many examples of such positive reports scattered throughout the Annual Reports of the Department of Education. See for example, Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education for the year ending 31 December 1905, p. 53; ibid., … for the year ending 31 December 1906, pp. 62-63; ibid., for the year ending 31 December 1907, p. 47; ibid., for the year ending 30 June 1913, pp. 13-14, 105-128; and ibid., for the year ending 30 June 1915, p. 71. The most fascinating set of positive comments – given his later attack upon the system – were those made by Deputy Minister of Education Fletcher in his report for 1913-1914. Concerning the bilingual schools and their teachers he noted: “The outlook … has never been so hopeful as it is at the present time. Our own secondary schools are beginning to furnish French, German and Ruthenian students who are not only able to give instruction in two languages, but to inculcate the true spirit of Canadian patriotism. See ibid., for the year ending 30 June 1914, p. 19.

10. Blanchard, “Rodmond P. Roblin, 1900-1915,” p. 134.

11. This was, of course, the heyday of Progressivism, of the Protestant Social Gospel, of the Woman’s Suffrage and Temperance movements, the Single Tax and a whole slew of related social and political reform movements. See Lionel Orlikow, “A Survey of the Reform Movement in Manitoba, 1910-1920,” Winnipeg: unpublished University of Manitoba MA Thesis, 1955, Chapter One.

12. Blanchard, “Rodmond P. Roblin, 1900-1915,” p. 134.

13. See, “Special Report on Bilingual Schools in Manitoba, Department of Education, 1 February 1916. Charles K. Newcombe, Superintendent of Education to Hon. R. S. Thornton, Minister of Education, Winnipeg, 14 January 1916.” Mr. Sisler is indeed cited in this report (p. 26) in regards to his work at Strathcona, and as might have been suspected, one of his concerns was that “There is a good deal of moving back and forward to neighbouring parochial schools. Jewish and other church holidays as well as economic conditions amongst these pupils affect attendance.”

14. Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education for the year ending 30 June 1914, p. 62.

15. Sisler’s notes indicate that it was published by the Macmillan Company of Toronto in 1915 and that in two editions it sold nearly 10,000 copies. This may have been uncharacteristically modest on Sisler’s part, for according to worldcat.org the first edition was released in 1915 and seems to have been reprinted in 1917 and 1920 while the 2nd edition was dated 1927 (this version was a few pages shorter) with at least one more reprinting in 1930. See AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers” Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 126.

16. Ibid., Box 6, #65, “rough draft, letter Sisler to Provincial Minister of Education, 29 October 1915; and ibid., R. S. Thornton to W. J. Sisler, Winnipeg, 29 October 1915. (This second letter, although located in the same larger file, was found tucked away in a sub-file entitled “Education Papers – Racial Statistics.”)

17. Sisler was clearly becoming an acknowledged “expert” in regards to citizenship training for students. At the 11th Annual Winnipeg Public Schools Convention, held at Kelvin High School, Sisler presented a “model class in civics” to the assembled teachers, based upon his own work at Strathcona. See, MFP, 18 December 1915, p. 27.

18. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers” Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 201.

19. There are several of these: in chronological order they are located in ibid., Box 3, File n/a “Little Beige Book”(this deals exclusively with his school visits of 1916); ibid., Box 3, File n/a “Little Black Book” (this is his often “disordered” diary for 1916-1921); ibid., Box 10, “Minute Book” (actually his diary for the years 1921-1948); and ibid., Box 10, Diary #3 “Cash Box”, 1948-1956. Unfortunately in the “Little Black Book” there are occasions when dates are missing and when inserted pages – which are dated - seem to be out of proper chronological order. Still, despite some drawbacks this diary is a treasure trove of information on Sisler’s activities during this period.

20. Ibid., Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 211.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., Box 3, File n/a “Little Black Book,” 16 September 1916.

23. Ibid., 6 May and 17 May 1917.

24. Ibid., 29 March 1916.

25. Ibid., 16/17 September 1917.

26. Ibid., 9 October 1916.

27. Ibid., n.d. [probably 23 September 1917].

28. Sybil Shack, “The Education of Immigrant Children During the First Two Decades of this Century.” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 3, Number 30, 1973-74 Season (Online version - http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/immigranteducation.shtml [10/24/2013 4:59:03 PM]), p. 6.

29. See for example, AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 5, File 48, Correspondence, 1876-1956, “Letter for John Pinkanz (sp.?), to Mr. Sisler, Principal Strathcona School, 11 March 1918 from Provincial Goal.”

30. Henderson’s Directories, 1916, p. 1398; ibid., 1918, p. 1235; ibid., 1919, p. 1124; ibid., 1920, p. 1269; and ibid., 1921, p. 1239.

31. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a “Little Black Book,” 20 January 1918.

32. Ibid., Sunday, 20 April 1919.

33. See for example, ibid., 28 July 1916; n.d. [probably 16/17 September 1917]; n.d. [probably Sunday, 30 September 1917]; 5 July 1918; Sunday, 15 December 1918; and 1 April 1919.

34. Ibid., Box 10, “Minute Book” (actually his diary for the years 1921-1948) tucked into the rear of this (p. 177) was his University of Chicago, College of Education “Membership/Registration Card” dated 20 June 1913 – with his address listed as McGregor and Burrows. Sisler would complete this degree in the summer of 1925.

35. Ibid., Box 3, File n/a “Little Beige Book,” 7 October 1916.

36. He was fascinated by the possibilities of bee-keeping and would later have some hives of his own up at his summer cottage at Matlock.

37. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a “Little Beige Book,” 21, 22, 23 June, 11 July and 7 October 1916. (His trip to Whitemouth is a good example of an instance in which he made proposals for farm-related programs.)

38. Ibid., Box 3, File n/a “Little Black Book,” 7 October 1916.

39. Ibid., Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 123.

40. W. J. Sisler, Peaceful Invasion. Winnipeg: the author, Ketchen Printing, 1944, pp. 32-33. The number of teachers who took Sisler’s summer course was probably even greater than his estimate, for while the first year saw 45 to 50 teachers enrolled, subsequent sessions (according to the Department of Education) typically held 60 students, which may explain why in 1920 the summer institute was moved out to the grounds of the Manitoba Agricultural College. In any event, with a summer institute held every summer for five years – not the four Sisler mentions in Peaceful Invasion, the total number of “graduates” would probably have been somewhere between 250 and 300. For an example of reports of the number of teacher trainees served see, Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education for the year ending 30 June 1919, p. 9.

41. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a, “Little Black Book,” 26 December 1919.

42. Ibid., 25-30 August 1920.

43. Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education for the year ending 30 June 1918, pp. 100-101.

44. MFP, 13 July 1917, p. 9.

45. See AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers” Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 126.

46. Ibid., “Minute Book – diary 1921-1948”, pp. 15-16.

47. Sisler, Peaceful Invasion, pp. 76-78.

48. Ibid., “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 226. (underlining in the original).

49. Ibid.

50. Sisler, Peaceful Invasion, p. 40. Sybil Shack made a similar observation on this matter – and perhaps an even more telling one on Mr. Sisler’s incomprehension of the impact of running cadet corps among the children of people who had themselves fled from militarism and enforced service in Imperial Armies. See Sybil Shack, “The Education of Immigrant Children During the First Two Decades of this Century,” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 3, Number 30, 1973-74 Season, Online version - http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/immigranteducation.shtml [24 October 2013 4:59:03 PM]), p. 11.

51. In this regard see Morris Mott, “The Foreign Peril: Nativism in Winnipeg, 1916-1923,” Winnipeg: unpublished University of Manitoba MA thesis, 1970, Chapter One.

52. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a, “Little Black Book,” various entries, 8 December 1918 - 25 January 1919. In particular see 8 December 1918.

53. Ibid., 3 October 1917.

54. See for example, ibid., 14 September [1917?].

55. Ibid., 8 May 1917.

56. Ibid., 10 June 1917.

57. Ibid., 7 May and 17 May 1917 [?].

58. See for example, ibid., 29 March 1916.

59. Ibid., n.d. [probably Sunday, 30 September 1917].

60. Ibid., 4 November 1918.

61. See MFP, “Socialist Meetings Broken Up and Property Damaged Throughout City,” 27 January 1919, p. 1.

62. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a, “Little Black Book,” Sunday, 26 January [1919]. (It is of some interest that many of the smaller events he describes occurred on Boyd – only one street over from his residence on College Avenue. Thus these events truly hit close to home for Sisler.)

63. The riot had started in Old Market Square where returned soldiers had gone to break up a planned mass meeting that was to be addressed by various socialist speakers. It was widely assumed that the core support for the most radical political movements came from the German, Ukrainian, Russian and Jewish communities. See MFP “Socialist Meetings Broken Up and Property Damaged Throughout City,” 27 January 1919, p. 1.
This action had then degenerated into roving mobs of returned soldiers and their supporters moving from various labour and socialist meeting rooms, attacking any perceived foreigners they encountered en route to Elmwood and the north end where some of the incidents described by Sisler were perpetrated. The following day the mob began turning its attention more directly to firms that employed foreigners in Elmwood and throughout the industrial districts of the city. See MFP, “Veterans on Search for Alien Workers,” 28 January 1919, p. 1.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid.

67. Ibid., p. 2.

68. See Morris Mott, “The Foreign Peril: Nativism in Winnipeg, 1916-1923,” Winnipeg: unpublished University of Manitoba MA thesis, 1970, pp. 23-24.

69. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, File n/a, “Little Black Book,” Sunday, 20 April 1919.

70. Ibid., 21 November 1919.

71. Ibid., Box 7, File 70, Notebooks and Scrapbook. (This file contains his reading list and some book notes. In particular, see p, 61.)

72. MFP, “Expects Uprising in Springfield in May,” 1 May 1919, pp. 1, 12.

73. This was done under the terms of the War Time Election Act of 1917.

74. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 5, File 48, Correspondence, 1876-1956, Copy, WJ Sisler, 437 College Ave., Wpg, to Mr. RL Richardson, MP, Ottawa, 1 May 1919.

75. Sisler’s formal comments were made in response to a lengthier address by Dr. J. T. M. Anderson on “The School and the Newer Citizens of Canada.” Both are reprinted in Report of the Proceedings of The National Conference on Character Education in Relation to Canadian Citizenship, held 20-22 October 1919 in Winnipeg, pp. 101-103.

76. Ibid., p. 103

77. Ibid.

78. See notes 80 and 86 below.

79. Comments upon this are found throughout his various journals and feature prominently in his 1944 work, Peaceful Invasion. See particularly pp. 62-65.

80. There was one major exception to this – he became a serious critic of all ethnically based organizations that had ties to the Communist Party. One of his most overt public attacks upon the activities of Communists among the youth of the North End may be found in his paper “New Canadian in North Winnipeg” presented to the Educational Committee of the United Church at Stella Mission, 15 February 1937. Located in AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 6, #64, “New Canadian in North Winnipeg, pp. 2-6. See also AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], pp. 67-70 and ibid., Box 10, Ledger Book, pp. 218-225.

81. MFP, 8 April 1927, “Quota Club”, p. 8. (Sisler was speaking to this local club at its dinner meeting at the Royal Alexandria Hotel. Among other things he commented upon the many contributions the foreign-born and their children had made to Canada and spoke specifically about “their willingness and ability to learn, their genuine regard for religion and their musical gifts.” Just as importantly he noted that the increase in criminality among the younger generation was a result of their being emancipated from the standards and values of their parents – and spending too much time in “pool-rooms, dance halls and picture shows.”)

82. Sisler, Peaceful Invasion, pp. 84-85.

83. Winnipeg Free Press (hereafter WFP), 20 April 1955, “VC’s Backers Get Trustees to Reconsider,” pp. 1-2.

84. Ibid., p. 2.

85. Tweedsmuir quotations from the 1930s show up on a regular basis throughout Sisler’s personal diaries and notes, particularly during the 1940s when he was most heavily involved with the Native Sons of Canada.

86. Sisler’s journals and some of his speeches become markedly anti-communist from the mid-1930s onwards. While Principal of Isaac Newton his school had been subject to some student actions which had clearly been organized by young Communists and supported by leading Communist politicians from the North End – including young Joe Zuken! See AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,”Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], pp. 67-70 and ibid., Box 10, Ledger Book, pp. 218-225.

87. Winnipeg was the first city in Canada to create such schools and had opened the first such institution only in 1919. Isaac Newton had been in the planning stages since that time but post-war construction costs had delayed actual building. The school commenced classes in Aberdeen, Strathcona and King Edward Schools in September 1921 but the physical school was not ready for occupancy until 2 January 1922. See AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], pp. 1-2.

88. See for example, “Sisler Address to Manitoba University Committee, May 1936, ‘Immigrants and Education’ in AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 6, #64 ; see also, “New Canadian in North Winnipeg”, presented to the Educational Committee of the United Church at Stella Mission, 15 February 1937. Located in ibid.

89. Ibid., Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], “Friday, 13 May 1938”, p. 91.

90. The Winnipeg Free Press used the publication of Peaceful Invasion as the launching pad for a multi-part series on Sisler’s work and on the development of the North End. See WFP, 5 March 1945, p. 11; ibid., 6 March 1945, p. 9; and ibid., 7 March 1945, p. 13.

91. See for example, AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 3, “Settlement of the Interlake Region, Summary for Historical Society – September 1, 1948.”

92. According to her obituary Agnes Ellen Martin was born in Scotland in 1899. This would have made her 30 years younger than her husband. One other source in Sisler’s papers indicates that she might have been born a few years earlier, cutting the age gap to 25 or 26 years. See WFP, Obituaries – “Agnes Ellen Sisler”, 4 August 1981, p. 48.

93. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], p. 121.

94. In 1921 he and Ellen purchased a house at 238 Inkster only to sell it the following April, as it was too large for “the two of us”. They then moved to the Machray Block – 242 Machray between Main and Aikins – where they occupied two different apartments between 1922 and the fall of 1924 when they moved into a home at 11 Sylvia St. in Elmwood. This house was expanded in 1926 when they were expecting their third child. Then, in 1931 Sisler bought a lot up at Matlock for $100, near where his in-laws had relocated, and he and the “boys” spent the summer building a cottage on the lot (only $200 was spent on materials). The following year the Sislers had a brand-new, even larger home built on a neighbouring lot on Sylvia St. at a cost of slightly over $6,000. See ibid., pp. 1-39.

95. His diaries indicate that he regularly took the children on various outings, including tobogganing and skating during the winter months and swimming in the summer, had his three little boys (aged 9, 7 and 4) help him build the family cottage in 1931, took the older children on extensive road/camping trips – including one to Chicago and Ontario in 1933 and another to Banff in 1936 – and had them all out with him for nature tramps in and around Matlock during the summer, and taught all of them how to garden – one of his great passions – both at home on Sylvia Street and out at Matlock. Ibid., various entries, pp. 2-154.

96. Ibid., pp. 2-3.

97. Ibid., Box 5, File 48, Correspondence 1876-1956, “Letter, J. D. Perrin, Sec-Treasurer, Manitoba Finance Corporation to WJ Sisler C/O YMCA, Selkirk Avenue, August 27, 1920”. Perrin was one of the premier mine developers in Manitoba during this period – at least among smaller mining concerns.

98. Ibid., Box 9, File 89A, Will and Probate – “Letter, Thomson, Thomson and Thomson, 310 Paris Building to The Executors of Estate of William James Sisler, deceased, October, 1956.”

99. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers” Box 10, “Ledger – Personal Recollections,” p. 485.

100. Ibid., Box 9, File 89A, Will and Probate– “Letter, Thomson, Thomson and Thomson, 310 Paris Building to The Executors of Estate of William James Sisler, deceased, October, 1956.”

101. See AM, Box 5, File 49, Business Papers, 1920-1939, “Letter, Royal Bank of Canada, Stonewall, Mb, to W. J. Sisler, 11 Sylvia Street, September 27, 1924” This letter is about a potential sale of the two adjoining quarter-sections of land he owned in the Balmoral district and the 10 head of cattle Sisler had on an adjoining farm.

102. In this connection see ibid., a series of communications clipped together from the Sec-Treasurer of the RM of St. James, 1925, 1926 and 1927 re Lot 38, Block 4, Plan 994.

103. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], 28 September 1934, p. 52.

104. See for example, ibid., 14 August 1934, 1 October 1934, 7 July 1935, 18 April 1938, 9 October 1939, 23 May 1941 (at this point his sale of 10 acres of lot 288 fell through and the land was returned to him, forcing Sisler to seed the land with oats and alfalfa in hopes of making enough to cover the land taxes), and 20 July 1941.

105. Re St. Boniface, see ibid. Concerning the lands at Balmoral see ibid., 31 January 1937. In this instance Sisler was being offered $200 cash and agreement to pay off two years’ worth of back taxes on a quarter-section of land that he had purchased for $1600 in 1921 and which had earned Sisler “only enough to pay taxes since that time”, pp. 79-80.

106. Ibid., Box 5, File 49, Business Papers, 1920-1939, note in Sisler’s hand indicating he had a $1000 mortgage note – at 7% – on Mr. Martin’s Matlock property, ca. April 1929.

107. Ibid., Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], pp. 34-49.

108. This is not all that surprising given all of his years of bachelorhood, a steady professional income during that period plus all of the additional income derived from his night school and summer work.

109. When appointed as Principal of Isaac Newton his base salary in 1921 was increased to $3600 per year and this rose by the mid-1920s to $4000, where it remained for the next decade. This does not include any earnings for evening school, summer institutes or work for the Department of Education or the Agricultural Extension Department. Because of the impact of deflation on overall prices the purchasing power of Sisler’s salary actually increased from the pre-depression years throughout 1930-1932. When his salary was cut by 21% in 1933 his purchasing power was reduced to approximately its 1928 level.

110. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], 14 February 1934, p. 51; and 15 September 1937.

111. Ibid., 15 June 1933, p. 41.

112. Ibid., 26 July 1933, p. 48. (He kept careful records of this trip and noted that the total cost, including rides for the boys at the Exhibition grounds in Chicago, was $125.00.)

113. Ibid., 15 November 1933, p. 50.

114. Ibid., 30 June 1938.

115. Ibid., 16 July 1938, p. 95.

116. Ibid., various entries, 12 September 1938 - 31 August 1941, pp. 96-121.

117. Ibid., 24 September 1939.

118. See for example, ibid., Box 10, Diary #3 “Cash Book” 1948-1956, 12 April 1953 (this is the final reference of many to invigilating examinations for Queen’s University at the Winnipeg School Board Office – Mr. Sisler was 83 years old!)

119. Ibid., Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], 13 December 1941, p. 124.

120. Ibid., 31 May 1943, p. 136. (He had been teaching at the “Air School” for 3½ months – half days – at this point.)

121. There is considerable correspondence related to his attempts to get a new edition published during the war years. Mr. Sisler never gave up and in 1947 he was still trying to peddle this to Macmillan and Co. – and was now also looking to have the same publisher handle his newest work on “The Pioneers of the Prairies.” See ibid., 18 February 1947, p. 160.

122. Ibid., 28 October 1944, p. 144.

123. WFP, 5 March 1945, p. 11; ibid., 6 March 1945, p. 9; and ibid., 7 March 1945, p. 13.

124. AM, MG 10, F2 Box 4, “Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba – Fellowship – Sisler.” According to this file Sisler received a total of $419.56 from the society between 1947 and 1953 to help underwrite his research trips.

125. AM, MG 14, C28, “Sisler Papers,” Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], 18 February 1947, p. 160; and ibid., Box 10, Diary #3 “Cash Book” 1948-1956, 20 November 1948, 9 February 1950 and 15 October 1950.

126. Ibid., Box 10, Minute Book [actually his diary for 1921 to 1948], 25 October 1942, p. 131.

127. Ibid., Box 10, Diary #3 “Cash Book” 1948-1956, 30 June 1950, p. 34.

Page revised: 28 November 2015

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