GRAHAM, JOHN HAMILTON, educator, writer, and businessman; b. 5 Nov. 1826 in Overtown (Strathclyde), Scotland; d. 12 Aug. 1899 in Hartford, Conn., and was buried 15 August in Richmond, Que.
John Hamilton Graham came from a Presbyterian family of Highland background. He attended a parish school and Johnstone Academy, and was preparing to enter the University of Glasgow when, probably in the early 1840s, his parents emigrated to Vermont. They settled in Orleans County, near the Lower Canadian border, where Graham continued his education in several academies before completing it at Brown University in Providence, R.I. After teaching for a time Graham became principal of Barton Academy and later of Northfield Institution, both in Vermont. He took an active part in the movement to establish state normal schools in Vermont, drafted a bill on education in the state that was enacted in 1856, and served at different times as president of three teachers’ associations.
In 1858, having established an excellent reputation, Graham accepted the mastership of a boys’ grammar school in Richmond, Lower Canada, and became professor of mathematics at St Francis College there. He took the chair of classics and English literature at the college in 1860; later that year he was made principal. Under his direction the institution became noted for its thorough instruction and strict discipline and attracted students from other colonies and the United States.
Graham had continued to be interested in teachers’ associations, and at the first annual meeting of the District of St Francis Teachers’ Association, in 1858, he proposed the establishment of a provincial body. In 1863–64 he and Jasper Hume Nicolls*, president of the association, participated in the formation of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers; Graham became its president in 1870. He was also, at one point, president of the St Francis district association.
In 1865–66 as talks proceeded on the formation of a federation of the British colonies in North America, Graham vigorously lobbied Alexander Tilloch Galt to ensure the development of Protestant education in Quebec under the proposed arrangement. An admirer of the system of education established in Upper Canada by Egerton Ryerson*, Graham castigated that of Lower Canada in a series of letters to the Montreal Herald, reprinted in pamphlet form. He denounced the appointment to the Council of Public Instruction [see Louis Giard*] of politicians – singling out Galt and Timothy Lee Terrill* – who did not have time to attend meetings of the council’s Protestant committee and defend Protestant rights. Rather, he demanded, the administration of education should be given to the teachers, who would run the council and the boards of examination and licensing as did doctors, lawyers, and other professional people, and he sought “a formal recognition of the professional status of the teacher.” He accused the superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, of attempting to install “educational separation” in Lower Canada by his supposed opposition to both a general provincial teachers’ association and the membership of French-language teachers in the District of St Francis Teachers’ Association. Graham also denounced what he claimed was under-financing of Protestant institutions. He condemned the importation at high prices of school-books from New York, London, and Paris, urging cultivation of “home talent and enterprise” and of “a much needed spirit of patriotic Nationality” in the production of textbooks. However, he criticized Chauveau’s endorsement of one of the few Canadian books recommended to schools, François-Xavier Garneau*’s History of Canada from the time of its discovery till the union year (1840–1) (Montreal, 1860), which he found “surcharged with disloyal and even treasonable sentiments.”
Graham also protested a perceived Roman Catholic domination of the system of education. He condemned Chauveau’s choice of prize volumes and the council’s recommendation of specific religious books to schools as tending to make the education system an agent of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda. He asserted that the Catholic Church dominated religious instruction in mixed schools and that this was “one of the numerous ways in which the Conquered are now dictating terms . . . to the Conquerors.” In fact, he believed that “Protestants and Catholics alike should abandon the idea of attempting to have their ‘faith’ taught in schools supported in whole or even in part by public money.” The use of public funds to support Catholic schools, he argued, constituted a “quasi state recognition for that church.” His views, Graham claimed, were not anti-Catholic, but representative of those held by “a large number of liberal Protestants and Catholics.”
Graham hoped that confederation would be the occasion of radical reforms in the provincial system of education, and he sought notably a less arbitrary distribution of public funds in support of schools, the creation of a Protestant superintendent and council of public instruction, the establishment of a permanent endowment for institutions of higher learning in order to free them from dependence on government grants, the recognition of college and university degrees on a national, and not merely provincial, scale, and the election of members of parliament by teachers and undergraduates to attend specifically to the interests of education. In 1872 he resigned as principal of St Francis College to contest, unsuccessfully, the federal constituency of Richmond and Wolfe for the Liberals. Friends jokingly called him a “Scotch Radical,” an “English Liberal,” a “United States Republican,” and a “Canadian Conservative-Liberal.”
After his defeat Graham engaged in commerce, but he devoted much of his time to private teaching, to writing, and to work in freemasonry. In 1855 he had been initiated into the De Witt Clinton Lodge of freemasons in Northfield, Vt. Four years later, after settling in Lower Canada, he joined St Francis Lodge, of which he served as master from 1863 to 1866. In 1863 he was also grand registrar of the Grand Lodge of Canada. This being a time of bitter antagonism between the Catholic Church and the masons, there is little doubt that Graham’s rise in freemasonry was a consequence of his prominence in the controversy over education. He was district deputy grand master of the Eastern Townships District of the Grand Lodge of Canada from 1866 to 1868, and,with the coming of confederation, he took the lead in a movement to create a grand lodge in the new province of Quebec. Having succeeded, he became in 1869 the first grand master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec. He held this office until 1873, again in 1875, and from 1879 to 1881.
The founding of the Grand Lodge of Quebec aroused a storm within Canadian freemasonry because the new institution was created out of, and in competition with, the Grand Lodge of Canada. For Graham the founders of Quebec’s grand lodge were exercising an “inherent right to local Masonic self-government” because the new province of Quebec, he asserted, had considerable legislative autonomy within confederation; indeed, he exaggerated the constitutional powers of the province in order to justify the new grand lodge before the international community of freemasons. At the same time, perhaps influenced by his experience with American freemasonry, Graham took the view that each grand lodge had exclusive sovereign jurisdiction over its territory, a principle not recognized in the British masonic tradition. As a result he engaged in disputes with several lodges in Quebec that continued to act under warrants from the grand lodges of Canada, Scotland, and England.
In 1874 Graham obtained from the Prince of Wales authorization to establish in Canada a Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Masonry. Two years later he secured permission to establish the Sovereign Great Priory of Knights Templars. That December he was among the founders of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Quebec and became one of the three principal officers on its first Grand Council. His vast experience in freemasonry enabled him in 1892 to publish Outlines of the history of freemasonry in the province of Quebec, still an authoritative work.
Graham received honorary ma degrees from the University of Vermont and McGill College and an honorary lld from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. He had married, but nothing is known of his wife, who predeceased him. They had two sons and two daughters, all of whom lived in the United States. In August 1899 Graham was visiting in New England when he died suddenly in Hartford, Conn; he was buried in Richmond with full masonic rites. Ten years later the Grand Lodge of Quebec unveiled a monument to him in St Anne’s Cemetery, Richmond. Graham’s career had followed a pattern established by many Scots Presbyterians in Canada in the 19th century: hard work and a taste for controversy had produced modest success.
John Hamilton Graham is the author of Letters to the superintendent of education for Lower Canada (Montreal, 1865); Letters on public education in Lower Canada (Montreal, 1866); Arithmetic (Montreal, 1866); and Outlines of the history of freemasonry in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1892); a portrait of Graham appears in the last, facing p.232.
AC, Saint-François (Sherbrooke), État civil, Presbytériens (Richmond), 15 août 1899. NA, MG 24, L15; MG 29, D61, 9: 3430–61. Grand Masonic Lodge of Quebec, Proc. (Montreal), 1891: 24; 1895: 122–23; 1899: 82; 1900: 3, 19, 56, 111; 1905: 91. Gazette (Montreal), 14 Aug. 1899. Montreal Daily Herald, 15 Aug. 1899. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Morgan, Bibliotheca canadensis. A. J. B. Milborne, Freemasonry in the province of Quebec, 1759–1959 ([Quebec], 1960). A. D. Talbot, P.A.P.T.: the first century (n.p., ). J. I. Cooper, “Some early teachers’ associations in Quebec,” Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec (Quebec), 80 (1964): 81–87. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Leblanc de Marconnay,” BRH, 26 (1920): 177–79. “La première édition du Devoir du chrétien,” BRH, 46 (1940): 323–24. Eugène Rouillard, “La franc-maçonnerie canadienne,” BRH, 4 (1898): 214–15.
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Cite This Article
Hereward Senior, “GRAHAM, JOHN HAMILTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/graham_john_hamilton_12E.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:
|Author of Article:||Hereward Senior|
|Title of Article:||GRAHAM, JOHN HAMILTON|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|