CHISHOLM, ARTHUR M., music teacher; b. 1856 in Great Village, N.S., eldest son of John William Chisholm, a farmer, and Rebecca Cassilda —; m. 31 May 1890 Jessie A. Lawson in Halifax, and they had a son and a daughter; d. there 21 Jan. 1902.
Arthur M. Chisholm suffered an accident in childhood which seriously damaged his eyes. The legend surrounding the incident is that, when he was having his eyes tested, “the Doctor being intoxicated, injected the wrong medication.” Despite his parents’ efforts to restore his vision, Chisholm subsequently became totally blind. At the age of 16 he entered the Halifax Asylum for the Blind. The only school in the Maritimes which provided education and training for near-blind and blind youths, the asylum had opened in 1871, thanks to a legacy from the merchant William Murdoch*. It taught pupils reading, writing, grammar, history, and other subjects and gave instruction in music and handicrafts. In the summer of 1879 Chisholm joined other pupils in a concert tour of Newfoundland and eastern Nova Scotia. The tour, one of several organized by the superintendent of the asylum, Charles Frederick Fraser*, to promote its work, was well received. A Truro newspaper commented that Chisholm’s performance on the piano was “a decided success, the pupils appearing to enjoy it as much as the audience.”
After his graduation the same year with a first-class diploma as an instructor of piano and organ, Chisholm taught in Halifax in order to pay for studies at a Berlin conservatory of music. In 1884 he travelled to Germany with his sister Emma, also a gifted musician, and Frank McLean, another graduate of the asylum. His playing “elicited the hearty e[n] iums” of his teachers “and was emphatically pronounced to be good.”
In 1886 Chisholm returned to Halifax and became a member of the music department of the School for the Blind, the former asylum. Fraser was anxious to maintain the reputation of the school “in the very front rank” of music education for the blind and to meet the competition from sighted music teachers, and Chisholm was an ideal choice as an instructor. He became head of the department in 1888 after Fraser withdrew from teaching, and he worked closely with Fraser and other teachers to develop the program, which featured instruction in piano- and organ-playing, notation, choral singing, and piano-tuning. In any year about 20 boys and girls were receiving lessons from Chisholm, who introduced new techniques in order to keep up with the times. Fraser praised him as “a most conscientious instructor,” and he built the department into a strong component of the school. He also apparently was organist for a brief period with First Baptist Church, which he and his wife attended. Chisholm remained at the school until he succumbed to heart disease in 1902. The school’s minutes described his enthusiasm as “an inspiration to his pupils” and lamented the loss of “a devoted and painstaking teacher.”
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.5577. PANS, RG 14, ser.S, 162. Halifax Herald, 22 Jan. 1902: 4. Novascotian, 24 Jan. 1902: 7. D. W. Fogarty, “Education of the blind in the Atlantic provinces” (ma thesis, St Mary’s Univ., Halifax, 1960). Great Village history; commemorating the 40th anniversary of Great Village Women’s Institute, 1920–1960 ([Great Village, N.S.?, 1960]).