Egerton Ryerson.

The story of my life : being reminiscences of sixty years' public service in Canada online

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(Being Reminiscences of Sixty Years' Public Service in Canada.)





"His life was gentle; and the elements
So mix't in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, This was a Man!"

- Shakespeare. _Julius Cæsar_, Act v., sc. 5.

Justum et tenacem propositi virum
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni
Mente quatit solida -

- Horace. _Odes_, iii. 3.





Entered, according to the Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year
one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three, by Mary Ryerson and Charles
Egerton Ryerson, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Ottawa.


Preface ix

Estimate of Rev. Dr. Ryerson's Character and Labours 17

CHAPTER I. - 1803-1825.

Sketch of Early Life 23

CHAPTER II. - 1824-1825.

Extracts from Dr. Ryerson's Diary of 1824 and 1825 32

CHAPTER III. - 1825-1826.

First Year of Ministry and First Controversy 47

CHAPTER IV. - 1826-1827.

Missionary to the River Credit Indians 58

CHAPTER V. - 1826-1827.

Diary of Labours among Indians 64

CHAPTER VI. - 1827-1828.

Labours and Trials. - Civil Rights Controversy 80

CHAPTER VII. - 1828-1829.

Ryanite Schism. - M. E. Church of Canada organized 87

CHAPTER VIII. - 1829-1832.

Establishment of the _Christian Guardian_. - Church
Claims resisted 93

CHAPTER IX. - 1831-1832.

Methodist Affairs in Upper Canada. - Proposed Union with the
British Conference 107

CHAPTER X. - 1833.

Union between the British and Canadian Conferences 114

CHAPTER XI. - 1833-1834.

"Impressions of England" and their effects 121

CHAPTER XII. - 1834.

Events following the Union. - Division and Strife 141

CHAPTER XIII. - 1834-1835.

Second Retirement from the _Guardian_ Editorship 144

CHAPTER XIV. - 1835-1836.

Second Mission to England. - Upper Canada Academy 152

CHAPTER XV. - 1835-1836.

The "Grievance" Report; Its Object and Failure 155

CHAPTER XVI. - 1836-1837.

Dr. Ryerson's Diary of his Second Mission to England 158


Publication of the Hume and Roebuck Letters 167

CHAPTER XVIII. - 1836-1837.

Important Events transpiring in England 170

CHAPTER XIX. - 1837-1839.

Return to Canada. - The Chapel Property Cases 172

CHAPTER XX. - 1837.

The Coming Crisis. - Rebellion of 1837 175

CHAPTER XXI. - 1837-1838.

Sir F. B. Head and the Upper Canada Academy 179


Victims of the Rebellion. - State of the Country 182

CHAPTER XXIII. - 1795-1861.

Sketch of Mr. William Lyon Mackenzie 185


Defence of the Hon. Marshall Spring Bidwell 188

CHAPTER XXV. - 1838.

Return to the Editorship of the _Guardian_ 199

CHAPTER XXVI. - 1838-1840.

Enemies and Friends Within and Without 205

CHAPTER XXVII. - 1778-1867.

The Honourable and Right Reverend Bishop Strachan 213

CHAPTER XXVIII. - 1791-1836.

The Clergy Reserves and Rectories Questions 218


The Clergy Reserve Controversy Renewed 225

CHAPTER XXX. - 1838-1839.

The Ruling Party and the Reserves. - "Divide et Impera" 236


Strategy in the Clergy Reserve Controversy 245


Sir G. Arthur's Partizanship. - State of the Province 250

CHAPTER XXXIII. - 1838-1840.

The New Era. - Lord Durham and Lord Sydenham 257


Proposal to leave Canada. - Dr. Ryerson's Visit to England 269

CHAPTER XXXV. - 1840-1841.

Last Pastoral Charge. - Lord Sydenham's Death 282


Dr. Ryerson's Attitude toward the Church of England 291

CHAPTER XXXVII. - 1841-1842.

Victoria College. - Hon. W. H. Draper. - Sir Charles Bagot 301


Episode in the case of Hon. Marshall S. Bidwell 308


Events preceding the Defence of Lord Metcalfe 312

CHAPTER XL. - 1844.

Preliminary Correspondence on the Metcalfe Crisis 319

CHAPTER XLI. - 1844.

Sir Charles Metcalfe Defended against his Councillors 328

CHAPTER XLII. - 1844-1845.

After the Contest. - Reaction and Reconstruction 337

CHAPTER XLIII. - 1841-1844.

Dr. Ryerson appointed Superintendent of Education 342

CHAPTER XLIV. - 1844-1846.

Dr. Ryerson's First Educational Tour in Europe 352

CHAPTER XLV. - 1844-1857.

Episode in Dr. Ryerson's European Travels. - Pope Pius IX 365

CHAPTER XLVI. - 1844-1876.

Ontario School System. - Retirement of Dr. Ryerson 368

CHAPTER XLVII. - 1845-1846.

Illness and Final Retirement of Lord Metcalfe 375

CHAPTER XLVIII. - 1843-1844.

Clergy Reserve Question Re-Opened. - Disappointments 378

CHAPTER XLIX. - 1846-1848.

Re-Union of the British and Canadian Conferences 383

CHAPTER L. - 1846-1853.

Miscellaneous Events and Incidents of 1846-1853 410

CHAPTER LI. - 1849.

The Bible in the Ontario Public Schools 423

CHAPTER LII. - 1850-1853.

The Clergy Reserve Question Transferred to Canada 433


Personal Episode in the Clergy Reserve Question 454

CHAPTER LIV. - 1854-1855.

Resignation on the Class-Meeting Question. - Discussion 470

CHAPTER LV. - 1855.

Dr. Ryerson resumes his Position in the Conference 491

CHAPTER LVI. - 1855-1856.

Personal Episode in the Class-Meeting Discussion 499

CHAPTER LVII. - 1855-1856.

Dr. Ryerson's Third Educational Tour in Europe 514

CHAPTER LVIII. - 1859-1862.

Denominational Colleges and the University Controversy 518

CHAPTER LIX. - 1861-1866.

Personal Incidents. - Dr. Ryerson's Visits to Norfolk County 534

CHAPTER LX. - 1867.

Last Educational Visit to Europe. - Rev. Dr. Punshon 539

CHAPTER LXI. - 1867.

Dr. Ryerson's Address on the New Dominion of Canada 547

CHAPTER LXII. - 1868-1869.

Correspondence with Hon. Geo. Brown - Dr. Punshon 554

CHAPTER LXIII. - 1870-1875.

Miscellaneous Closing Events and Correspondence 559

CHAPTER LXIV. - 1875-1876.

Correspondence with Rev. J. Ryerson, Dr. Punshon, etc. 573

CHAPTER LXV. - 1877-1882.

Closing Years of Dr. Ryerson's Life Labours 585


The Funeral Ceremonies 593

Tributes to Dr. Ryerson's Memory and Estimates of his
Character and Work 598


Portrait of Rev. Dr. Ryerson Frontispiece

Indian Village at River Credit, in 1837 59

John Jones' House at the Credit, where Dr. Ryerson Resided 65

Old Credit Mission, 1837 73

Old Adelaide Street Methodist Church 283

Victoria College, Cobourg 302

Ontario Educational Department and Normal School 421, 422

Educational Exhibit at Philadelphia 584, 585

Metropolitan Church 564

Dr. Ryerson's Residence in Toronto 587


Twelve months ago, I began to collect the necessary material for the
completion of "The Story of My Life," which my venerated and beloved
friend, Dr. Ryerson, had only left in partial outline. These materials,
in the shape of letters, papers, and documents, were fortunately most
abundant. The difficulty that I experienced was to select from such a
miscellaneous collection a sufficient quantity of suitable matter, which
I could afterwards arrange and group into appropriate chapters. This was
not easily done, so as to form a connected record of the life and
labours of a singularly gifted man, whose name was intimately connected
with every public question which was discussed, and every prominent
event which took place in Upper Canada from 1825 to 1875-78.

Public men of the present day looked upon Dr. Ryerson practically as one
of their own contemporaries - noted for his zeal and energy in the
successful management of a great Public Department, and as the founder
of a system of Popular Education which, in his hands, became the pride
and glory of Canadians, and was to those beyond the Dominion, an ideal
system - the leading features of which they would gladly see incorporated
in their own. In this estimate of Dr. Ryerson's labours they were quite
correct. And in their appreciation of the statesmanlike qualities of
mind, which devised and developed such a system in the midst of
difficulties which would have appalled less resolute hearts, they were
equally correct.

But, after all, how immeasurably does this partial view of his character
and labours fall short of a true estimate of that character and of those

As a matter of fact, Dr. Ryerson's great struggle for the civil and
religious freedom which we now enjoy, was almost over when he assumed
the position of Chief Director of our Educational System. No one can
read the record of his labours from 1825 to 1845, as detailed in the
following pages, without being impressed with the fact that, had he done
no more for his native country than that which is therein recorded, he
would have accomplished a great work, and have earned the gratitude of
his fellow-countrymen.

It was my good fortune to enjoy Dr. Ryerson's warm, personal friendship
since 1841. It has also been my distinguished privilege to be associated
with him in the accomplishment of his great educational work since 1844.
I have been able, therefore, to turn my own personal knowledge of most
of the events outlined in this volume to account in its preparation. In
regard to what transpired before 1841, I have frequently heard many
narratives in varied forms from Dr. Ryerson's lips.

My own intimate relations with Dr. Ryerson, and the character of our
close personal friendship are sufficiently indicated in his private
letters to me, published in various parts of the book, but especially in
Chapter liii. And yet they fail to convey the depth and sincerity of his
personal attachment, and the feeling of entire trust and confidence
which existed between us.

I am glad to say that I was not alone in this respect. Dr. Ryerson had
the faculty, so rare in official life, of attaching his assistants and
subordinates of every grade to himself personally. He always had a
pleasant word for them, and made them feel that their interests were
safe in his hands. They therefore respected and trusted him fully, and
he never failed to acknowledge their fidelity and devotion in the public

I had, for some time before he ceased to be the Head of the Education
Department, looked forward with pain and anxiety to that inevitable
event. Pain, that he and I were at length to be separated in the
carrying forward of the great work of our lives, in which it had been my
pride and pleasure to be his principal assistant. Anxiety at what, from
my knowledge of him, I feared would be the effect of release from the
work on fully accomplishing which he had so earnestly set his heart. Nor
were my fears groundless. To a man of his application and ardent
temperament, the feeling that his work was done sensibly affected him.
He lost a good deal of his elasticity, and during the last few years of
his life, very perceptibly failed.

The day on which he took official leave of the Department was indeed a
memorable one. As he bade farewell to each of his assistants in the
office, he and they were deeply moved. He could not, however, bring
himself to utter a word to me at our official parting, but as soon as he
reached home he wrote to me the following tender and loving note: -

171 Victoria Street, Toronto,

Monday Evening, February 21st, 1876.

My Dear Hodgins, - I felt too deeply to-day when parting with you in
the Office to be able to say a word. I was quite overcome with the
thought of severing our official connection, which has existed
between us for thirty-two years, during the whole of which time,
without interruption, we have laboured as one mind and heart in two
bodies, and I believe with a single eye to promote the best
interests of our country, irrespective of religious sect or
political party - to devise, develop, and mature a system of
instruction which embraces and provides for every child in the land
a good education; good teachers to teach; good inspectors to
oversee the Schools; good maps, globes, and text-books; good books
to read; and every provision whereby Municipal Councils and
Trustees can provide suitable accommodation, teachers, and
facilities for imparting education and knowledge to the rising
generation of the land.

While I devoted the year 1845 to visiting educating countries and
investigating their system of instruction, in order to devise one
for our country, you devoted the same time in Dublin in mastering,
under the special auspices of the Board of Education there, the
several different branches of their Education Office, in
administering the system of National Education in Ireland, so that
in the details of our Education Office here, as well as in our
general school system, we have been enabled to build up the most
extensive establishment in the country, leaving nothing, as far as
I know, to be devised in the completeness of its arrangements, and
in the good character and efficiency of its officers. Whatever
credit or satisfaction may attach to the accomplishment of this
work, I feel that you are entitled to share equally with myself.
Could I have believed that I might have been of any service to you,
or to others with whom I have laboured so cordially, or that I
could have advanced the school system, I would not have voluntarily
retired from office. But all circumstances considered, and entering
within a few days upon my 74th year, I have felt that this was the
time for me to commit to other hands the reins of the government of
the public school system, and labour during the last hours of my
day and life, in a more retired sphere.

But my heart is, and ever will be, with you in its sympathies and
prayers, and neither you nor yours will more truly rejoice in your
success and happiness, than

Your old life-long Friend

And Fellow-labourer,

E. Ryerson.

Dr. Ryerson was confessedly a man of great intellectual resources. Those
who read what he has written on the question - perilous to any writer in
the early days of the history of this Province - of equal civil and
religious rights for the people of Upper Canada, will be impressed with
the fact that he had thoroughly mastered the great principles of civil
and religious liberty, and expounded them not only with courage, but
with clearness and force. His papers on the clergy reserve question, and
the rights of the Canadian Parliament in the matter, were statesmanlike
and exhaustive.

His exposition of a proposed system of education for his native country
was both philosophical and eminently practical. As a Christian Minister,
he was possessed of rare gifts, both in the pulpit and on the platform;
while his warm sympathies and his deep religious experience, made him
not only a "son of consolation," but a beloved and welcome visitor in
the homes of the sorrowing and the afflicted. Among his brethren he
exercised great personal influence; and in the counsels of the
Conference he occupied a trusted and foremost place.

Thus we see that Dr. Ryerson's character was a many-sided one; while his
talents were remarkably versatile. He was an able writer on public
affairs; a noted Wesleyan Minister, and a successful and skilful leader
among his brethren. But his fame in the future will mainly rest upon the
fact that he was a distinguished Canadian Educationist, and the Founder
of a great system of Public Education for Upper Canada. What makes this
widely conceded excellence in his case the more marked, was the fact
that the soil on which he had to labour was unprepared, and the social
condition of the country was unpropitious. English ideas of schools for
the poor, supported by subscriptions and voluntary offerings, prevailed
in Upper Canada; free schools were unknown; the very principle on which
they rest - that is, that the rateable property of the country is
responsible for the education of the youth of the land - was denounced as
communistic, and an invasion of the rights of property; while
"compulsory education" - the proper and necessary complement of free
schools - was equally denounced as the essence of "Prussian despotism,"
and an impertinent and unjustifiable interference with "the rights of
British subjects."

It was a reasonable boast at the time that only systems of popular
education, based upon the principle of free schools, were possible in
the republican American States, where the wide diffusion of education
was regarded as a prime necessity for the stability and success of
republican institutions, and, therefore, was fostered with unceasing
care. It was the theme on which the popular orator loved to dilate to a
people on whose sympathies with the subject he could always confidently
reckon. The practical mind of Dr. Ryerson, however, at once saw that the
American idea of free schools was the true one. He moreover perceived
that by giving his countrymen facilities for freely discussing the
question among the ratepayers once a year, they would educate themselves
into the idea, without any interference from the State. These facilities
were provided in 1850; and for twenty-one years the question of
free-schools _versus_ rate-bill schools (lees, &c.) was discussed every
January in from 3,000 to 5,000 school sections, until free schools
became voluntarily the rule, and rate-bill schools the exception. In
1871, by common consent, the free school principle was incorporated into
our school system by the Legislature, and has ever since been the
universal practice. In the adoption of this principle, and in the
successful administration of the Education Department, Dr. Ryerson at
length demonstrated that a popular (or, as it had been held in the
United States, the democratic) system of public schools was admirably
adapted to our monarchical institutions. In point of fact, leading
American educationists have often pointed out that the Canadian system
of public education was more efficient in all of its details and more
practically successful in its results, than was the ordinary American
school system in any one of the States of the Union. Thus it is that the
fame of Dr. Ryerson as a successful founder of our educational system,
rests upon a solid basis. What has been done by him will not be undone;
and the ground gone over by him will not require to be traversed again.
In the "Story of My Life," not much has been said upon the subject with
which Dr. Ryerson's name has been most associated. It was distinctively
the period of his public life, and its record will be found in the
official literature of his Department. The personal reminiscences left
by him are scanty, and of themselves would present an utterly inadequate
picture of his educational work. Such a history may one day be written
as would do it justice, but I feel that in such a work as the present it
is better not to attempt a task, the proper performance of which would
make demands upon the space and time at my disposal that could not be
easily met.

There was one _rôle_ in which Dr. Ryerson pre-eminently excelled - that
of a controversialist. There was nothing spasmodic in his method of
controversy, although there might be in the times and occasions of his
indulging in it. He was a well-read man and an accurate thinker. His
habit, when he meditated a descent upon a foe, was to thoroughly master
the subject in dispute; to collect and arrange his materials, and then
calmly and deliberately study the whole subject - especially the weak
points in his adversary's case, and the strong points of his own. His
habits of study in early life contributed to his after success in this
matter. He was an indefatigable student; and so thoroughly did he in
early life ground himself in English subjects - grammar, logic,
rhetoric - and the classics, and that, too, under the most adverse
circumstances, that, in his subsequent active career as a writer and
controversialist, he evinced a power and readiness with his tongue and
pen, that often astonished those who were unacquainted with the
laborious thoroughness of his previous mental preparation.

It was marvellous with what wonderful effect he used the material at
hand. Like a skilful general defending a position - and his study was
always to act on the defensive - he masked his batteries, and was careful
not to exhaust his ammunition in the first encounter. He never offered
battle without having a sufficient force in reserve to overwhelm his
opponent. He never exposed a weak point, nor espoused a worthless cause.
He always fought for great principles, which to him were sacred, and he
defended them to the utmost of his ability, when they were attacked. In
such cases, Dr. Ryerson was careful not to rush into print until he had
fully mastered the subject in dispute. This statement may be questioned,
and apparent examples to the contrary adduced; but the writer knows
better, for he knows the facts. In most cases Dr. Ryerson scented the
battle from afar. Many a skirmish was improvised, and many a battle was
privately fought out before the Chief advanced to repel an attack, or to
fire the first shot in defence of his position.

A word as to the character of this work. It may be objected that I have
dealt largely with subjects of no practical interest now - with dead
issues, and with controversies for great principles, which, although
important, acrimonious, and spirited at the time, have long since lost
their interest. Let such critics reflect that the "Story" of such a
"Life" as that of Dr. Ryerson cannot be told without a statement of the
toils and difficulties which he encountered, and the triumphs which he
achieved? For this reason I have written as I have done, recounting them
as briefly as the subjects would permit.

* * * * *

In the preparation of this work I am indebted to the co-operation of my
co-trustees the Rev. Dr. Potts and Rev. Dr. Nelles, whose long and

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