McCURDY, JAMES MacGREGOR, bookseller and schoolmaster; b. in 1830 in Truro, N.S., eldest son of Isaac McCurdy; d. 12 Oct. 1886 at Newcastle, N.B.
Little is known of the early life of James MacGregor McCurdy, but it is thought that he was educated at Pictou Academy in Pictou, N.S., and then obtained a teaching licence. McCurdy taught school in his native province for a time, but by 1854 had moved to the Bend of Petitcodiac (Moncton), N.B., where he successfully operated McCurdy’s Book and Stationery Store. There he sold books and musical supplies and instruments, and operated a reading-room and circulating library. The settlement at the Bend, whose petition for incorporation McCurdy signed on 30 Jan. 1855, was experiencing a period of economic growth due mainly to the active shipyards operated by Joseph Salter. But the town showed little appreciation for cultural pursuits, and it was in this area, especially in education, that McCurdy struggled to make a contribution.
In his report for 1854 on the schools of the Bend, Inspector John S. Sayre suggested that cattle were better cared for than school children and that greater economic prosperity seemed to be accompanied by a declining concern for the quality of education. In the face of public apathy and without a system of compulsory tax assessment for the support of public education, New Brunswick schools suffered from insufficient and inadequate textbooks, ugly and uncomfortable school buildings, irregular operation, and incompetent teachers whose poor training was coupled with salaries lower than those paid in almost any other occupation. The Grammar Schools Act of 1846 and the Parish Schools Act of 1847 had established a provincial training school for teachers and a system of school inspection under a provincial board of education, but financing of the educational system was left to voluntary local initiative with limited allowances provided by the provincial government. As a well-educated man with a 1st class teaching certificate, James McCurdy was a valuable asset to the people of Moncton, and by 1857 he had closed his bookstore and resumed teaching. In 1858 the Westmorland County Grammar School with its meagre provincial funding was moved from Moncton to Shediac, so McCurdy opened in Moncton a “Superior School” offering students a high school curriculum which included algebra, geometry, navigation, English, French, classics, and mathematics. In that year he instructed 50 male and 8 female students and was paid £71. McCurdy’s high reputation as a teacher increased the attendance at his school despite the distressed state of affairs in Moncton after 1861, and by 1868 he had a teaching staff of four.
In 1871 the government of George Luther Hatheway* passed the Common Schools Act which revolutionized education in the province by creating a free, non-sectarian school system supported by direct assessment and administered by elected trustees in well-defined school districts. When the act became effective on 1 Jan. 1872 McCurdy joined the new public system and continued as a respected member of the teaching profession until his death in 1886. He pursued his innovative work by establishing a night-school for adults in 1879.
McCurdy had also been active in other worthy activities in the town. He taught in the Sunday school and served as an elder of St John’s Presbyterian Church, was a charter member in 1870 of the Moncton YMCA, and was active in the temperance movement. At the time of his sudden death from typhoid fever, McCurdy was hailed in obituaries as “the father of education” in Moncton, but his accomplishments had been achieved despite the indifference of the population toward the education of their own children.
N.B., Board of Education, Annual report on the parish schools of New Brunswick (Fredericton), 1855; 1859; House of Assembly, Journal, 1855; Legislative Council, Journal, 1861, app.21; 1870, app.18. Moncton Times, 14, 17 Oct. 1886; 15 June 1927. Westmorland Times (Moncton, N.B.), 27 Sept. 1855. A. M. Anderson, “Education in the city of Moncton”