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Memorable Manitobans: William James Sisler (1869-1956)

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William James Sisler
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Born in Ontario on 2 November 1869, he graduated from the University of Chicago. His teaching career began in 1901, as a Manual Training teacher at Machray School until 1904, then a year in the same job at Norquay School. From 1905 to 1921 he was Principal of Strathcona School, then he became Principal of Isaac Newton School, from which he retired in 1938. Sisler developed the “direct method” of teaching English to immigrant students, which was widely copied in Manitoba and elsewhere. He opened at Strathcona the city’s first night school and encouraged sports for his students. In 1919-1920 he was President of the North Winnipeg Canadian Club. After retirement, Sisler wrote a memoir of his teaching experiences entitled Peaceful Invasion (1944). He also wrote Pioneers of Rockwood and Woodlands (1949).

On 17 August 1921, he married fellow teacher Agnes Ellen Martin (1899-1981) at Winnipeg. They had six children: William Wallace Sisler, George Cooper Sisler, James Martin Sisler (1927-2015), Barbara Elizabeth Sisler (wife of Maurice Wilfred Smith), Roderick Myles Sisler, and Sandra Sisler (wife of Nicholas Schjerning). He was a charter member of the Mentors Club, established in 1938.

He died at his Winnipeg home, 39 Silvia Street, on 8 August 1956 and was buried in the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery. He is commemorated by Sisler High School in Winnipeg. His papers are at the Archives of Manitoba.

See also:

W. J. Sisler - A Great Canadian by Harry Shave
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 11, Number 2, Winter 1966

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Sisler High School (1360 Redwood Avenue, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Strathcona School (McGregor Street, Winnipeg)

W. J. Sisler’s impressions of the Chicago Columbian Exposition 1893” by John C. Lehr and Meaghan Sawka, Prairie Perspectives, volume 15, page 8-13, 2012.

William James Sisler, A Most Unconventional, Conventional Man. Part One: The Educator as a Young Man by Jim Mochoruk
Manitoba History, Number 78, Summer 2015

William James Sisler, A Most Unconventional, Conventional Man. Part Two: The Educator as Assimilationist, Defender and Public Intellectual by Jim Mochoruk
Manitoba History, Number 79, Fall 2015


1901 and 1911 Canada censes [Wm J Sister], Automated Genealogy.

Marriage registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Winnipeg School Days, 1871-1950 by W. G. Pearce, Winnipeg School Division, Education Resource Centre.

“W. J. Sisler, educationalist, dies at 86,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 August 1956, page 6.

Obituary [Agnes Ellen Sisler], Winnipeg Free Press, 4 August 1981, page 71.

Obituary [James Martin Sisler], Winnipeg Free Press, 7 March 2015.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 16 May 2018

Memorable Manitobans

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