HART, THOMAS, educator and Presbyterian minister; b. 6 Sept. 1835 in Paisley, Scotland, son of John Hart, a stationer and bookseller, and Jean Mason Semple; m. 16 Aug. 1872 Isabella Margaret Malloch of Perth, Ont., and they had two daughters and a son; d. 17 Aug. 1912 in Winnipeg.
In 1842 Thomas Hart accompanied his family to Perth, Upper Canada. He received his early education at the public school there and he later enrolled at Queen’s College, Kingston, from which he would obtain a ba (1860), an ma (1868), and a bd (1880), as well as an honorary dd in 1902.
During the 1860s Hart was headmaster of the grammar school in Wardsville and then principal of the Perth High School. Following study at the University of Edinburgh in 1870, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow in 1871, received an appointment from the Colonial Committee of the Church of Scotland, and was ordained for missionary service in Manitoba on 30 June 1872. He held no regular charge but supplied in Winnipeg’s pulpits and travelled weekly to outlying districts to provide religious services to the many immigrants from Ontario, the Maritime provinces, and the United Kingdom.
The forthcoming union of Presbyterian churches in Canada had made it possible for the Colonial Committee to appoint Hart also as professor of French, ancient classics, and Hebrew at Manitoba College, recently established by the Canada Presbyterian Church. News of his appointment was well received by the church. Hart was popular with his students. A founder of the University of Manitoba in 1877, he made valuable contributions to that institution and to Manitoba College. He was one of the college’s first representatives on the university council and he served again from 1908 to 1911. In addition, he was a member of the board of management of the college from 1874 to 1912 as well as secretary to its senate from the 1880s to 1912, serving for three years beyond his retirement as professor. Hart’s training and experience as a teacher also served him well in his role as a member of the Protestant section of the Board of Education of Manitoba, to which he was appointed during the 1870s. Later he became known as a strong supporter of the system of nondenominational public schools established in 1890 by the government of Thomas Greenway*.
As a leading member of his church in Manitoba, Hart served on various committees and as clerk of presbytery in 1883. He was best known as the convenor from 1886 to 1911 of the synod’s Foreign Missions Committee, which was responsible for missions to the native population. In the 1890s he shared the post with the Reverend Andrew Browning Baird. Hart’s 25 years on this committee ensured that he had a broad and intimate understanding of the church’s religious and educational work among native people. His correspondence contains many letters from prospective missionaries, officials of the Department of Indian Affairs, and native and non-native workers in the field.
Hart’s view of the aboriginal population was shaped by his experience in travelling to many reserves and by his personal contacts. He shared many of the paternalistic assumptions of colleagues in the church and government. Although some individual natives obtained his respect, Hart believed that most, even if no longer primitive and pagan, were incapable of becoming full members of Canadian society. It was his opinion, and one held by many of his contemporaries, that only after a period of careful supervision by Christian missionaries could Canada’s native peoples be educated and gradually assimilated into the broad stream of Canadian society. For these reasons, he supported vigorously the extension of Presbyterian and other Christian missions among the natives, the provision of education in day-schools and in boarding- and industrial schools, and the establishment of model settlements such as the colony at File Hills (Sask.) [see Ahchuchwahauhhatohapit].
Together with colleagues from the denominational colleges in Winnipeg, Hart was a founding member of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba in 1878 and he served as its president in 1887. He died in Winnipeg after a long illness.
UCC, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference Arch. (Winnipeg), A. B. Baird papers; PCC, Synod of Manitoba and North-West Territories, minutes, 1884–1913. Univ. of Winnipeg Arch., Manitoba College, board of management, minutes, 1882–1913; senate, minutes, 1897–1913; Manitoba Theological Soc., minutes, 1907–10. Manitoba Free Press, 19 Aug. 1912. A. G. Bedford, The University of Winnipeg: a history of the founding colleges (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976). Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 3: 318. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898 and 1912). Handbook of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, 1883, ed. A. F. Kemp et al. (Ottawa, 1883). Hugh McKellar, Presbyterian pioneer missionaries in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia (Toronto, 1924). Manitoba, pictorial and biographical (2v., Winnipeg, 1913). PCC, General Assembly, Acts and proc. (Toronto), 1884–1913. D. A. Stewart, “The first half century: a sketch of the early years of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba,” Manitoba Pageant (Winnipeg), 24 (1978–79), no.3: 1–6.