The Three Wise Men of Guelph
A composite sketch af three patriarchs of pedagogy who have nurtured three generations in the way of knowledge
RECENTLY some 500 ex-students gathered in the City of Guelph, Ontario, to do honor to three venerable educationists whose record is believed to be unique in the annals of Canadian pedagogy. One hundred and seventy-two years is a long time, but such is the figure that registers the time spent by these three wise men of the schoolroom in educational activity, 150 of them in the public and high schools of one city, Guelph. William Tytler, LL.D., latterly public school inspector, and James Davison, BA., principal emeritus of Guelph Collegiate, have been in retirement since 1929. The third, David Young. supervising principal of the public schools, closed his scholastic career at the end of July last. Dr. Tytler has an aggregate service of sixty-two
years, Mr. Davison fifty-eight, and Mr. Young fifty-two. Their types are diverse, but serenity, amiability and the mellowness of advised old age are common denominators. Dr. Tytler, white-bearded and in his ninetieth year, belongs to the mold of the patriarchs, and his erect, wiry frame stands more than six feet. Though well on his way to the eighty-fourth milestone, Mr. Davison for preference sits on a straight-backed chair. Clear blue eyes beam cordiality through rimless glasses, and the curve of his lips, v~ell defined under an evenly trimmed mustache, betrays invul nerable good humor. The junior of the three, not yet seventy, is fuller fleshed, of sturdier build, and perhaps is more austere, giving notice of untouched reserves of physical strength. Clear traces of youthful ruddiness show in his cheeks and his step has the sureness and vigor of a man o1~ forty.
Throughout their long association close friendship has prevailed among “The Three Chalketeers,” as facetious Guelphians delight to dub them; and before the last cord linking the two elder ones to the classroom was severed by the superannuation of Mr. Young they gathered one spring evening before a blazing log fire to review their joint labors, trade reminiscences, and to set on the stage of mutual retrospection the show window of their careers.
Behold a convention of the talents!
Represented in spectral relief are personalities of world-wide, national and provincial renown, leaders in every main category of human endeavor—theology, the bar, politics, finance, science and the fine arts. But the three old sages see not maturity of face and figure, the livery of eminence, or the commanding stature of physique and will. Through and beyond external evidences of place achieved they envisage mere slips of boys, everyday red-blooded boys, eager, mischievous, boisterous, inquisitive; others wilful, cheeky, rebellious, to be caned into submission and respect; some quiet, sedate,
studious; one or two with clothes in shreds after a schoolyard brawl. Boys Who Marched to Eminence E DWARD JOHNSTON, famed tenor of the Metropolitan Opera House, gorgeous in the raiment of romantic character, thrills thousands with his golden voice; they see him as a chunky lad of sixteen directing the school chorus, a leader in athletics and social activity, diligent in his work but his halo never so secure that it might not go flying into the ditch of boyish indecorum. Canada's Minister of Justice, Hon. Hugh Guthrie, holding the scales of human equity, sways Parliament with powerful, reasoned oratory; but to three contemplative pedagogues the echoes of thunderous political phrases melt into a piping. blurted
rendition of “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck.” Mr. Davison recalled Guthrie’s first public appearance, when, at seventeen, he spoke from a Liberal party platform.
“There was nothing to show then,” he observed, “that in the militant liberalism of the youth there smoldered the Tory flame of today . . . But I vote for Hughie, just the same, on general principles.”
In the forefront of this selected alumni, typifying the spirit of business and high finance, stands Arthur Cutten, millionaire Chicago grain operator. Bulls and bears, futures and crop figures didn't mean a thing :to young Art Cutten in the days when he rolled a hoop along Paisley Street, Guelph, and rubbed its muddy rim all over his clean, white shirt. He was good at arithmetic, Mr. Davison said, and one may well believe it. Literature and journalism are represented on this stage of rein iniscence by Lieut.-Color~el George A. Drew, whose con tributions to MacLean's on the
achievements of warriors and on the problems of peace have won him international recognition. Beside him stands the visionary figure of the late lamented Colonel John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields," whose signature heads an illuminated testimonial presented to Mr. Young in 1887.
Mr. Justice Jeffrey, of the high court of Ontario, learned his first lessons in ethics, logic and history under Dr. Tytler and his two colleagues; and their influence in the world of science is expressed through such personalities as Dr. Belfry Kelly, famed medical missionary in China; Dr. W. H. P. Andèrson, who devoted his life and talents to the leper mission in India; and Dr. Smirlie Lawson, of Toronto, who reflects the spirited interest of Mr. Young in all forms of competitive sport. Agriculture won its place on the unusual roster when Reginald Arkell, former Dominion commissioner of livestock, laid the basis of his specialized education under Mr. Davison.
He Taught Before Confederation DR. TYTLER, born near Elora, Ontario, in 1842, enjoys the personal distinction of being the oldest living alumnus of the University of Toronto, having graduated in 1862 in a class of nineteen, and he had a pointer in his hand before a blackboard when Confederation was still only a remote possibility. Prior to his engagement at Guelph in 1875 he taught at Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and St. Marys, and at the last place he had the privilege of imparting the mysteries of the three “R’s” to no less illustrious leaders of today than Most Rev. Charles Worrell, archbishop of Nova Scotia, acting primate of the Church of England in Canada, and Ralph Connor (Rev. Dr. W. C. Gordon). Thus was he able to stage for the evening’s symposium a little private exhibition of his own.
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“Ralph Connor’s books, if nothing else,” Dr. Tytler remarked, “supply the need of people who wish to reconcile religious scruples with the reading of novels on Sunday,” but he claimed no credit for the development of the famous author’s literary gifts. Indeed, he has definite ideas on the subject of teaching composition in the schools.
“It is a sheer waste of time for pupils and an aggravation to masters,” he declared. "Writing is an inherent gift like music. You can’t cram it down a youngster’s throat. If the flair isn't there, you cannot create it; and if it is he’ll write compositions whether you like them or not. Of course, one must teach the fundamentals of expression and the rules of grammar, but certainly I see no purpose or value in putting a whole class indiscriminately at work on essays. I used to do it and I took the trouble to devise an original system of marking. But one evening, on looking over a big batch of them, I became so thoroughly disgusted I dumped the lot into a wastebasket. I decided I was through with it.”
Dr. Tytler wouldn’t stop at banishing composition. The entire school curriculum as it is today, he thinks, is topheavy and keeps the sun from the minds of children. He favors a careful lopping of branches.
“Far too much knowledge flying about,” he said. “Juvenile eyes can’t see the forest for trees. Also there is too much attention to sport and society. The real purpose of the school is clouded.”
Fifty-one Years in the Schoolroom
TN FIFTY-ONE consecutive years of teaching, James Davison missed only seven and a half days from classes, and he deems it just one of life’s ironic jolts that the subsequent and final seven years of his career should be marred by seventeen days of enforced durance to recover from a sudden seizure. Nevertheless he may justly regard a maximum of 24 H days absence in a total of fifty-eight years service as one of his pet personal claims to distinction.
A farm in Durham County provided Mr. Davison’s natal scenery, and Whitby,
Ontario, the $400-a-year lure for his first adventure with a class of children. He taught there for seven years, before his star of destiny led him to Guelph. In the meantime he had, by the extra mural process, gained his degree from Victoria College, then located at Cobourg. Mathematics is Mr. Davison’s specialty. He insists indeed, with an inimitable chuckle, that the Calculus is his favorite bedtime story. He succeeded Dr. Tytler as principal of the Guelph Collegiate in 1892, and twenty-one years later, in the light of advancing age, he resigned, but continued teaching his favorite subject until retirement two years ago.
Many hours of Mr. Davison’s declining years are spent in correspondence with former pupils, and never a birthday passes but he is surprised by a letter or token from someone of whom he has lost track, perhaps for decades. His list of addresses rivals a telephone directory, and his photograph albums form a library of their own.
A Hamiltonian would have his old schoolmaster know that “the seed you commenced to sow way back there in the ’ eighties has made many thousands thankful that you lived,” and from New York comes this lament: “What am I to do when next I visit Guelph and go up to the G. C. I.; when I find no ‘Davey’ to feed my wife candy out of that inexhaustible mine, your desk?”
Largesse in the form of chocolates, “allday suckers,” and sometimes shining new dimes and quarters, staked by him as classroom prizes, gave Mr. Davison huge delight. He would pit one boy against another, and on occasion tell his pupils they were wrong just to make them prove they were right.
David Young is linked with his more elderly colleagues in creating an educational record through the circumstance that he gained a third-class certificate at sixteen, a year below the legal minimum. His first school was at Uxbridge, Ontario, near where he was bom in 1860. A husky youth for his age, he was fairly useful when war broke out in the classroom, but he credits the human instincts of an Irish inspector for the privilege of beating the regulations. “He knew I needed the money,” said Mr. Young. In 1886 a vacancy in the Guelph Collegiate staff attracted him, and on the recommendation of the late Dr. John Sneath, then inspector of high schools, he was engaged by Dr. Tytler as fifth master.
“Dr. Tytler took me by the arm,” Mr. Young recalled wrily, “and with that long stride of his walked me down through the town and around blocks of streets at a terrific pace. Finally, dripping with perspiration and out of breath, he landed me back at the collegiate, still groping at the motive for the walking Marathon. Eventually he told me my predecessor had the ‘heaves’ and the ‘wheezes’ and he wanted to make sure my lungs were all right.”
Two years later Mr. Young was appointed principal of the public schools, and in later years responsibility for the provincial model school established in Guelph was added to his duties. His success in that undertaking brought him an offer of the principalship of the bilingual model school at Ottawa, but he was induced to decline it. In 1904 Mr. Young was elected president of the Ontario Educational Association, the same honor being accorded to Mr. Davison in 1921.
TIFE has undergone radical changes and stirring events have occurred to alter the trend of human outlook during the fifty years that the partnership of Tytler, Davison and Young has been holding the torch of knowledge before the eyes of Canadian youth. Manners, customs and methods have been in the crucible of rapid evolution; their own contribution to progress has been in the application of rich experience to the steady improvement of educational process. But through it all they find that human nature, especially the nature of boys and girls, has remained unchanged. “Boys will be boys,” has just as much force as an axiom today as it had a half century ago.
“For the boy of 1870 life was harder and , sterner, and he was hedged with many more
restrictions than is the youth of today,” said Dr. Tytler. “He had little opportunity for self-expression. The sometimes aggressive and assertive attitude of the lad of 1931 is accepted as nothing more than mental growing pains, whereas fifty or sixty years ago it would be regarded as intolerable precocity. Nevertheless there is little to choose between the two; their traits and tendencies, likes and dislikes, yearnings and ambitions are just the same. And this is equally true of girls. The average boy of today, of course, has an advantage in point of opportunity and facility; the panorama that is opened before his eyes is wider, more inspiring, and he is given a freer hand to explore its paths and byways. He is guided but not driven; advised but not coerced.”
Dr. Tytler, who has witnessed six decades of youthful development at close hand, sees no menace to standards of citizenship or the future moral fibre of the nation from the easing of the bonds of restraint on the inclinations and tendencies of modern children. He pooh-poohs the alarmists who see the juvenile world going haywire. On the contrary, he believes the masses of Canadian children have a far greater concept I of life and its realities and of their future responsibilities than their grandparents had at the same age; and this condition, he holds, makes it easier for their teachers to draw morals and indicate the force of danger signals.
His colleagues are in full agreement.
“The relations now between pupil and teacher are exactly the reverse of what they were when I first began teaching in the early seventies,” said Mr. Davison. "To many children he was an object of fear and distrust; to some a natural enemy, a black ogre. The ringing of the school bell in the morning often signified a declaration of war. Today the pupil and teacher are in full, | blissful communion; they stand to one another as confidantes and friends. Many teachers, indeed, are closer to their pupils’ hearts and minds than their own parents. This happy condition has been brought about by new methods of approach and close study of juvenile psychology. Teachers have found they must win the confidence and respect of their charges by kindness, patience and justice, and the greatest of these, perhaps, is justice.”
But none of the three believe that Utopia is near enough in the schools to warrant the abolition of corporal punishment. The perfect boy has not yet arrived.
“Force, in the last analysis, still dominates and is the background of school authority,” said. Mr. Young. “Boys respect it, and the knowledge that a strap lies tucked away in the principal’s desk is a healthy influence. But it is used far more sparingly than in the old days. There are lots of boys who lack proper disciplining at home; sons of widows, for instance, who haven’t the strength or the will to substitute for a father. Stern methods sometimes are necessary to bring these lads to a realization of their position and duty.”
Dr. Tytler, Mr. Davison and Mr. Young are among the few surviving links with the educational generation which began with Confederation. Their careers, individually and collectively, have run parallel with the progress and development of the Dominion, and the measure of their own success, in virtue of their vocation, is the measure of the national greatness. Nothing more eulogistic may be said of any man or group of men.
Each has devoted more than a half-
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century to training the minds, molding the characters and shaping the future of everincreasing battalions of Canadian youth. From coast to coast there are Guelphian émigrés, men and women of all ages from the early twenties to nearly the allotted span, scores in the United States, and many who have found spheres of action in other continents, whose interest will be quickened and recollections stirred at the mention of their names. There is no way of gauging how many lie under the battlefields of France and Flanders, Together
they have taught the fundamentals of practical and aesthetic knowledge to three generations of Guelphian families, preparing each, in turn, to take its place in the home, in society, and in the arena of business and public affairs. They remember when the grandfathers of some of their last pupils came to them in short trousers and Eton collars—some they probably birched—days when education lacked the fanfare and trappings of its modern estate, when the little red schoolhouse over the hill lay on the route to glory.