DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

BEACH, THOMAS BILLIS – Volume XII (1891-1900)

b. 26 Sept. 1841 in Colchester, England


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

HUNTER, JOHN HOWARD, educator, civil servant, and author; b. 22 Dec. 1839 near Bandon (Republic of Ireland), son of William Hunter and Charlotte Howard; m. 1862 Annie Gordon, daughter of John Gordon of Inverness, Scotland, and they had four sons and three daughters; d. 6 Oct. 1910 in Toronto.

J. Howard Hunter received his early education in Ireland, training first in mathematics and sciences before entering two years of study at Queen’s College in Cork. In 1859 he immigrated to Canada to further his studies at the University of Toronto: in 1861 he received a ba and the following year an ma. In 1862, soon after his marriage, he was appointed first principal of the Beamsville Grammar School. He subsequently became headmaster of the united grammar and common schools of Dundas (1865), principal of the St Catharines Grammar School (1871), and, finally, principal of the Ontario Institution for the Education and Instruction of the Blind in Brantford (1874). He remained head of this institution until, under a cloud of controversy, he was removed in 1881.

Hunter possessed an uncanny ability to outrage Ontario’s educational and government élites, a characteristic which won this quiet but remarkable man the uncertain distinction of being, as one early biographer put it, the “best abused man in the province” by the late 19th century. In 1868 he had called a public meeting of the Ontario Grammar School Masters’ Association, which he had organized the year before, to protest against the entrenched privileges of Upper Canada College in Toronto. The same year he published treatises that charged it with plundering educational trusts, improperly spending endowments, and bribing grammar-school students with scholarships. Public reaction to these treatises was overwhelming and sympathetic. A move was made in the provincial assembly for the disendowment of the college, but the uproar died down.

Though Hunter would be credited with persuading the government, by 1871, to award more moneys to grammar schools, the UCC flare-up was not the end of his attacks on Ontario’s educational system. By 1869 he was bristling over the encroachment of chief superintendent of education Egerton Ryerson* on local authorities. He published two analyses of the school bills of 1868–69, pleading with Ryerson to oppose their illiberal measures, such as the imprisonment of parents who failed to send their children to school. Soon after his appointment to St Catharines in 1871, he began agitating against the unrepresentative nature of both the province’s Council of Public Instruction and the senate of the University of Toronto. The reform of the council was attributed in part to articles written by Hunter in the Ontario Teacher and the Canadian Monthly and National Review (Toronto) in 1873. In the former publication, that same year, he berated the university for the closed sessions of its senate.

Hunter’s tenure at the Brantford school for the blind was marred by his continued ruffling of bureaucratic feathers. His appointment had, however, been welcomed by some educational observers and his contributions to the educational development of the blind were certainly commendable. He is credited with introducing the students to telegraphy and to the raised-dot system of printing known as New York point (a system used in the school for the next 50 years), with inventing a flexible rubber writing tablet, and with implementing the system for teaching music devised by American authority William Bell Wait. As well, he involved the students in a challenging academic program and published several academic texts for the blind. His annual reports were widely sought by similar institutions in Europe and the United States.

An international status did not prevent Hunter from attacking bureaucrats within the Department of Education over the operation of his school. A dramatic rise in enrolment, which he encouraged, led to overwhelming physical needs. He often asked for additional supplies and new buildings, but the department was not prepared to grant more funding to the experimental school. In 1879 Hunter charged its bursar, Walter Nicholl Hossie, with obstruction and with providing it with substandard products. Despite evidence that a good many of Hunter’s allegations were true, the provincial inspector of prisons, asylums, and public charities, John Woodburn Langmuir*, warned the recalcitrant principal to change “his bearing towards and manner of dealing with the Bursar and other officials of the Institution.” Within a few years the bursar would have his revenge. After a student complained of mistreatment, public outcry prompted a government investigation in 1881. During the hearing students claimed that Hunter was an aloof taskmaster who showed little interest in the day-to-day functioning of the school. The teachers charged that he attempted to cause them to mistrust educational officials and was contemptuous of staff. Hossie topped off the list of complaints with the observation that he spent too much time fiddling with his inventions and not enough in the classroom. Langmuir, while conceding that Hunter possessed ability as an educationist, concluded that he lacked sufficient administrative expertise. He therefore recommended that the principal be relieved of his duties and shifted to some other government post. Consequently, in April 1881, Hunter was replaced by Alfred Hutchinson Dymond.

Within a short time of Hunter’s resignation, he was appointed Ontario’s first inspector of insurance. In this position his no-nonsense attitude would be an asset. His task was formidable: to pull together the disparate legislation dealing with insurance and loan companies and to control an industry which was still largely unregulated even in Europe and the United States. In the 1870s, in Ontario, the government of Oliver Mowat had produced early legislation relating to the functioning and regulation of insurance companies. (Jurisdiction did not extend to federally chartered firms, which were subject to dominion regulation from 1875 [see John Bradford Cherriman].) Hunter’s far-reaching achievements in insurance reform built on this initiative.

To start, he prepared a detailed compilation of statutes, which was followed by comprehensive legislation in 1881–82. Under the Insurance Corporations Act of 1892, he had the Ontario Insurance Act of 1876 amended to give his department control over all corporations and societies (including benevolent, provident, mutual, and friendly societies) undertaking insurance in the province. In the same act he attempted to control the influx of fraudulent American societies by having the benevolent societies act of 1874 amended to prohibit any foreign society not already in operation in Ontario. Under the act of 1892 Hunter became the province’s first registrar of friendly societies, as well as inspector. From his annual reports it is clear that the insurance business within Hunter’s jurisdiction became tightly regulated.

To protect themselves against this new era of government regulation, several of the large fraternal orders in Ontario that specialized in insurance organized the Canadian Fraternal Association in 1892 [see Oronhyatekha]. It soon discovered that Hunter’s innovative research in the field of actuarial science could actually help to legitimize the operations of the orders. Hunter was a frequent guest lecturer at the association’s annual meetings and over the years he worked closely with the CFC in sorting out premiums, actuarial liabilities, solvency quotas, reserve funds, and the financial capabilities of aged members. In January 1897 he published an actuarial table based on the experience of the Canada Life Assurance Company from 1847 to 1893 [see Hugh Cossart Baker*]. This table, the first of its kind to be based upon Western social classes, was hailed by American and Canadian fraternalists as a significant step in ensuring the solvency of life-insurance operations. In 1899 it would be adopted by the National Fraternal Congress in the United States.

Hunter assumed additional responsibilities in 1897 as the first registrar of loan corporations, a position created to oversee funds secured by real-estate speculation. Each of his annual reports as inspector of insurance is filled with a multitude of improvements to the body of insurance law which would provide the framework for legislation throughout the 20th century. By the end of his life Hunter was considered one of the foremost North American authorities on insurance law and actuarial science. Qualified to appear in the Canadian law list (Toronto) by 1890, he was created a kc in 1902. At the CFA meeting of April 1910 he was introduced as the “father of fraternalism in Ontario” for his work in the area of solvency quotas. His distaste for bureaucratic structures was evidently still in place, for he replied that he was happy the meeting had taken him away “from the wilderness and waste of official routine.”

Hunter’s accomplishments in education and insurance have tended to overshadow his literary achievements. Originally trained as an English teacher, he wrote for Rose-Belfords Canadian Monthly and National Review, often with grand poetic flourish; among his articles was an appreciation of poet Louis Fréchette. In several articles published in 1882–83 in Picturesque Canada [see George Monro Grant], he attempted, one biographer wrote, to restore “much romantic history, which had been altogether lost or forgotten.” In 1882 the Ontario government selected him to compile and edit a set of Royal readers for use in normal schools and government institutions.

In the fall of 1910, while working at his desk at Queen’s Park, Hunter felt unwell and left for his home on nearby St Mary Street. Within a week he was dead from pneumonia. His grieving widow, Annie, died within three months. J. Howard Hunter’s will reveals that he had invested substantially in municipal debentures and in land-development companies, but evidently he had not felt the need to invest in a life-insurance policy.

Gayle M. Comeau-Vasilopoulos

J. Howard Hunter’s publications on insurance include Public general acts of the Ontario Legislature relating to insurance; with notes of amendments and an analytical index; also a list of special acts of incorporation (Toronto, 1881) and The Ontario Insurance Act, 1887, (50 V[ic.] c.53): being an act for consolidating and amending the acts respecting insurance companies, to which are prefixed notes on the new provisions (Toronto, 1887). He also prepared introductory chapters for works on insurance and on land-title legislation by his son William Howard Hunter (detailed below).

In addition to the various reports mentioned in the text, Hunter published a broadside and two pamphlets on The Upper Canada College question . . . , all issued in 1868 at Dundas, Ont.: . . . MrHunters reply to a recent article in the TorontoTelegraph”; . . . an examination, in what is believed to be intelligible language, of three not very intelligible points . . . compiled by order of the Ontario Grammar School MastersAssociation; and . . . opinions of the press with strictures on articles that have recently appeared in certain Toronto newspapers. He also wrote on “School administration in Ontario,” in the Canadian Monthly and National Rev. (Toronto), 4 (July–December 1873): 517–27, and on “The education of the blind,” in Rose-Belfords Canadian Monthly and National Rev. (Toronto), 5 (July–December 1880): 171–82. His contributions to Picturesque Canada: the country as it was and is, ed. G. M. Grant (2v., Toronto, 1882-[84]) are the articles “From Ontario westward,” “Central Ontario,” and “South-eastern Quebec,” 441–542, 621–54, and 675–96.

AO, RG 22, ser.305, nos.23213, 23641; RG 63, A-11, box 850, file 50; box 851, file 1; C-2, boxes 365–67. Mount Pleasant Cemetery (Toronto), Tombstone inscription, plot 7, lot 8. Daily Expositor (Brantford, Ont.), 4, 8, 13 May, 20 June 1874; 23 March, 23 Dec. 1876. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 7 Oct. 1910. Hamilton Spectator, 2 Sept. 1868.

Appletonscyclopædia of American biography, ed. J. G. Wilson et al. (10v., New York, 1887–1924), 3: 322. Canadian Fraternal Assoc., Minutes of the preliminary convention, of the constituting meeting, and of the first annual session . . . (Toronto, 1892; copy at AO); Journal of proc. (Guelph, Ont.), 1910. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. E. J. Dunn, The builders of fraternalism in America (Chicago, 1924; copy at the Independent Order of Foresters Museum, Toronto). W. H. Hunter, The Insurance Corporations Act, 1892, with practical notes and appendices . . . (Toronto, 1892); another edition, . . . to which is now added as appendix D, 56 Vic., chap. 32 (an act respecting the insurance law), was issued in 1893. Ont., Inspector of Insurance and Registrar of Friendly Societies, Detailed report (Toronto), 1879–1910 (also in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers); Inspector of Prisons and Public Charities, Annual report (Toronto), reports of the Ontario Institution for the Education and Instruction of the Blind, Brantford, 1874–81, and of Howard as its principal, 1874–80 (also in the Sessional papers); Legislative Assembly, General index to the journals and sessional papers . . . from the session of 1867/8 to the session of 1882/3 . . . , comp. A. H. Sydere (Toronto, 1888), 522; Registrar of Loan Corporations, Loan corporations statements . . . (Toronto), 1897–1910 (also in the Sessional papers); The revised statutes of Ontario . . . (2v., Toronto, 1877), c.172; Statutes, 1876, c.23; 1879, c.25; 1892, c.39; 1897, cc.36, 38. Ontario Teacher (Strathroy, Ont.), 1 (1873): 111–14, 296–303. Margaret Ross Chandler, A century of challenge: the history of the Ontario School for the Blind (Belleville, Ont., 1980), esp. 74–90. Toronto the prosperous: special number of theMail and Empire” . . . showing the commercial, manufacturing, financial and professional interests ([Toronto, 1906]; copy at MTRL), 29. Torrens title cases: being a collection of important cases decided by the courts of England, Australasia and Canada . . . to which is prefixed a summary of Torrens title legislation, with introduction, comp. W. H. Hunter (Toronto, 1895; repr. in microfiche ed., 7 fiches, Honolulu, [1981]). Whos who (London), 1910.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gayle M. Comeau-Vasilopoulos, “HUNTER, JOHN HOWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hunter_john_howard_13E.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/hunter_john_howard_13E.html
Author of Article:   Gayle M. Comeau-Vasilopoulos
Title of Article:   HUNTER, JOHN HOWARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   September 26, 2023