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HICKS, WILLIAM HENRY, educator; baptized 12 Feb. 1817 in Portsmouth, England, son of William Hicks and Ann – ; m. 1843 Isabella Barrow, and they had 15 children, of whom 11 survived infancy; d. 7 Aug. 1899 in Montreal.

William Henry Hicks was educated in the London training school of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, from which he graduated about 1839. He then taught at Bowyer School, Clapham (London), before joining the evangelical Colonial Church and School Society, formed in 1851 in part to maintain Anglican parochial schools in British North America. The society found itself unable to overcome a grave shortage of competent teachers and, at the invitation of its agent in Montreal, the Reverend William Bennett Bond*, and of Bishop Francis Fulford*, president of the society’s recently formed Montreal committee, it sent Hicks to that city in 1853 to establish a normal school.

Hicks opened his school in St George’s Church but soon moved to a building on Rue Bonaventure. In 14 months the number of students rose from 11 to 250; he reached a maximum of 360 in 1854 and then averaged 320 a year in 1855 and 1856. He disapproved of the use of monitors, and he advocated mixed schools, but he organized his model, or training, school into three divisions: boys, girls, and infants.

In January 1856 Hicks, who was familiar with the beneficial effects in England of teachers’ organizations such as the Church Schoolmasters’ Association, gathered together at his school some 30 of his graduates “to relate their experiences in teaching and to converse on educational subjects.” In June a gathering of 12 graduates decided to formalize such exchanges of experiences “in their arduous yet delightful employment.” The following month the Lower Canada Teachers’ Association was founded with “the welfare of the teacher and the advancement of education” as its objects; by October the association counted 22 members, including several trainees. This was probably the second such association for English-speaking teachers; another seems to have been in existence at Quebec for some years. Associations for French-speaking teachers had been founded at Quebec and in Montreal in 1845 [see Félix-Emmanuel Juneau*].

The success of Hicks’s school earned him an invitation to make it the nucleus of the recently established McGill Normal School. He accepted, and the new school opened its doors on 3 March 1857. The principal of McGill College, John William Dawson, became principal of the normal school, and Hicks was given the chair of English literature at a salary of £300. Hicks spoke at the inauguration ceremony, championing the teachers’ association, which became the Teachers’ Association in Connection with the McGill Normal School. He hoped it would soon hold annual conventions and, as did English associations, manage “a Depository of School Apparatus . . . [and] a permanent library of reference” as well as a pension fund. His wishes were endorsed the following day by the superintendent of the Board of Education of Lower Canada, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau*, and were largely realized during Chauveau’s administration. In addition to teaching at McGill Normal School, Hicks lectured on education throughout the province, was inspector of model schools under the Colonial Church and School Society, and contributed to the Journal of Education for Lower Canada (Montreal) from 1857 to 1879. In June 1864 he was elected a vice-president of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers, which had just been formed as a federation of local associations.

In 1870 Dawson transferred to Hicks the principalship of McGill Normal School, in Dawson’s view “the most influential educational position in the province.” From the beginning observers had been astonished by the number of female candidates the school admitted. In Hicks’s last year as principal, 1882–83, of its 136 students 124 were female. As always, Hicks faithfully followed the careers of his graduates; thus he reported in 1883 that of the 88 who had received diplomas the previous year 47 had become teachers, 30 had returned to the school to seek a higher diploma, and 11 had failed to respond to his inquiries. Hicks retired in 1883, and at his last appearance at the annual awarding of diplomas Dawson paid tribute to him as “a father to all the students of this school . . . ever . . . taking a very lively individual interest in their welfare.”

With “an adequate . . . allowance,” Hicks retired in comfort. A chess champion of Montreal, he no doubt continued to play, and he probably occupied himself with the affairs of St George’s Church, of which he had been a warden. His bliss was marred, however, by the illness and death of his eldest son, Francis, to whom he had been very close; Francis, in addition to living at home with his parents, had been professor of English history and literature under his father at McGill Normal School. Hicks spent his last years on a country property at Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon. He died in early August 1899 and was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal.

J. Keith Jobling

Intercontinental Church Soc. (London), Colonial and Continental Church Soc., minute-books, 2–3 (mfm. at NA). McGill Univ. Arch., RG 30. NA, RG 1, E1, 80: 118, 186; RG4, C1, 400, no.2505. Portsmouth City Record Office (Portsmouth, Eng.), St Thomas (Portsmouth), reg. of baptisms, 12 Feb. 1817. Colonial and Continental Church Soc., Annual report (London), 1851–56. Journal of Education for Lower Canada (Montreal), 1 (1857)–23 (1879). Gazette (Montreal), 29 June 1883. Canadian biog. dict., 2: 275–76. G. W. Parmelee, “English education,” Canada and its provinces; a history of the Canadian people and their institutions . . . , ed. Adam Shortt and A. G. Doughty (23v., Toronto, 1913–17), 16: 445–501. W. P. Percival, Across the years: a century of education in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1946), 100–6. J. I. Cooper, “Some early teachers’ associations in Quebec,” Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec (Quebec), 80 (1964): 81–87.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. Keith Jobling, “HICKS, WILLIAM HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hicks_william_henry_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hicks_william_henry_12E.html
Author of Article: J. Keith Jobling
Title of Article: HICKS, WILLIAM HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: July 29, 2014