McCONVILLE, JOHN, schoolteacher; b. c. 1793 in Newry (Northern Ireland), son of Meredith McConville and Mary McCardle; m. 7 Jan. 1832 Mary Magdalen Mackie in Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Lower Canada, and they had three daughters and three sons, two of whom, Joseph Norbet Alfred and Arthur, became lawyers; d. 10 Sept. 1849 in Industrie (Joliette), Lower Canada.
Nothing is known of John McConville’s life before he came to Lower Canada. At the time he left his native land early in the second decade of the 19th century, he firmly intended to take up a teaching career in the colony. His progress in the profession is rather difficult to follow, but he is known to have been a schoolmaster first in Montreal, then at Vaudreuil, and finally at Berthier-en-Haut, where he settled.
McConville was involved in teaching during the period when the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning [see Joseph Langley Mills*] was drawing scathing criticism from the Catholic clergy, particularly because of its enforcement of regulations about the hiring of teachers – an enforcement that varied according to the differing interpretations placed on these rules by politicians and churchmen. The Royal Institution in principle appointed teachers able to teach in French to places where the majority of the population was French Canadian, and English-speaking teachers to predominantly English-speaking areas. However, some school inspectors, known as visitors, did not hesitate to turn away candidates on religious grounds.
McConville was one of those rejected. Having learned that Augustus Wolff was giving up teaching, on 22 Sept. 1823 he applied from Vaudreuil, where he was living, for a post as schoolmaster at Berthier-en-Haut. Legislative councillor James Cuthbert, a visitor for the Royal Institution, supported his request. McConville had actually taught Cuthbert’s children for seven years. Nevertheless John Campbell Driscoll, the Anglican minister, who replied to McConville, turned him down, citing the regulations, which he seemed to take pleasure in muddling. In his letter of 10 Oct. 1823 he explained that “the Royal Institution requires Protestant Masters, able to teach and speak the French Language for the Government Schools of which Berthier is one.” McConville, who was Catholic and was able to teach in French, did in fact meet the hiring requirements. But he did not get a teaching position at Berthier-en-Haut until 1833. He ended his career at the Académie de Berthier [see Louis-Marie-Raphaël Barbier*].
In 1836 there were serious discussions in educational circles about establishing normal schools, to train teachers for their profession. When the plan finally took shape, Abbé John Holmes*, from the Petit Séminaire de Québec, was appointed to find people qualified to teach in these schools. On 27 April McConville, who was eager to obtain one of the posts, wrote to Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan*, a trustee of the Montreal normal school. In his letter he mentioned the various teaching positions he had held during his 20-year career and stressed his professional abilities, which included an aptitude for teaching, in both customary languages, history, arithmetic, writing, geography, “the use of the globes,” book-keeping, geometry, trigonometry, algebra, surveying, and navigation. Holmes chose to look abroad and sought to engage experienced teachers from the United States, France, and England by contract. McConville was not hired for the normal schools.
Despite his qualifications McConville was not able to achieve fully his professional ambitions. Nevertheless in his long career he demonstrated competence as a schoolmaster.
AAQ, 60 CN, A: 36, 42. ANQ-M, CE5-1, 7 janv. 1832; CE5-40, 12 sept. 1849. ASQ, Fonds Viger–Verreau, boîte 15, liasse 1, no.13; Polygraphie, XLII: 18. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1831–32, app.II; 1835–36, app.OO. L.-P. Audet, Le système scolaire, vols.4, 6.