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BRUCE, JOHN, primary school-teacher and inspector of schools; b. probably in 1801 in the county of Perth, Scotland; d. 19 Jan. 1866 at Lachute, Canada East.

Little is known of the first 50 years of John Bruce’s life beyond the fact that he was living in Montreal before 1830 and taught there successfully for a number of years. On 2 March 1852 Bruce was appointed inspector of Protestant schools in Montreal, in Huntingdon County, and in part of Châteauguay and Argenteuil counties, under the 1851 school act which created the post of inspector and set their number at 23. The district under his jurisdiction contained 198 schools in 15 municipalities and his annual salary was $800.

From the beginning of his appointment, John Bruce took a remarkably keen interest in the advancement of teaching. In March 1853 he sent an important memorandum to the schoolteachers of his district, with two parts: general directives to the trustees, teachers, and pupils themselves on the functioning of the schools, and instructions or pedagogical advice to the masters who wished to improve their teaching methods. In his statement Bruce deplored the incompetence of many teachers, attributing it to the poor salaries and scant social esteem they commanded, which in turn led to an unstable teaching body. In 1853, in his reply to the commission under Louis-Victor Sicotte*, which was investigating the state of education in Lower Canada, Bruce again stressed the incompetence of teachers: “as a body, they are, with few exceptions, much below what I would call good Common School teachers.”

From 1853 to 1866 Bruce inspected the schools in his district many times. His official correspondence and inspector’s reports are full of discerning remarks concerning the condition of the teachers, and of realistic assessments of the state of the schools in his district. Bruce supplemented his action on the pedagogical front by lectures on education, which included discussions of the importance of language, physical education, and a teachers’ association; he also published an impressive series of articles in the Journal of Education for Lower Canada, founded in 1857 for educators. Several of these articles appeared in French in the Journal de l’Instruction publique.

John Bruce’s conscientious efforts had their reward, according to his own report of the schools for which he was responsible. An extract in the Journal of Education begins: “Mr Bruce gives as favorable an account of the progress of the schools in this district of inspection during the year 1859 to 1860 as in his previous report, a progress which, he observes, was more than usually apparent in over one half the schools. The pupils of at least five eighths of the schools inspected showed much aptitude and were very intelligent; and an unmistakable sign of progress was the fact that many of the children appeared to understand the value of instruction, and the advantages to be derived therefrom, much better than formerly. It was also satisfactory to observe that in some municipalities the ratepayers entertained sounder views on this subject than formerly, and were not ignorant of the value of a good system of teaching. The Inspector also notices with evident pleasure the improvements introduced in the methods of instruction followed in the schools. More pains were now taken to cultivate the intellectual faculties of the children. . . .”

Bruce died while he was addressing the students of Lachute College in January 1866. He had devoted a good many years of his life to the task of teaching, and as a school inspector had rendered outstanding service to education; he had also contributed to the founding of such institutions as Lachute College (1855) and Huntingdon Academy.

Louis-Philippe Audet

[John Bruce’s correspondence and the reports he wrote as inspector of schools to the superintendent of education, are held in ANQ-Q, QBC 27. He wrote several articles on education for the Journal of Education for Lower Canada (Montreal), 1859–66.  l.-p.a.]

ANQ-Q, QBC 27, nos.195–209, 214–19, 234. Can., prov. du, Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1852–53, III, app.X; IV, app.J.J. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 53. Lionel Allard et Gérard Filteau, “Un siècle au service de l’éducation, 1851–1951; l’inspection des écoles dans la province de Québec” (2v. polycopiés, [Québec, 1951]), I, II (copy at ANQ-Q). André Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques au Canada français, 1836–1900 (Québec, 1965), 153, 171–74, 180.

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Cite This Article

Louis-Philippe Audet, “BRUCE, JOHN (d. 1866),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 13, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruce_john_1866_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bruce_john_1866_9E.html
Author of Article:   Louis-Philippe Audet
Title of Article:   BRUCE, JOHN (d. 1866)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   June 13, 2024