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WHITE, THOMAS (1830-88) – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 21 April 1888 at Ottawa, Ont.


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

MILES, HENRY HOPPER, professor, office holder, and author; b. 18 Oct. 1818 in London, England, son of L. Richard Miles, navy officer, and Mary Hopper; m. 1847 Elizabeth Wilson, and they had four children; d. 4 Aug. 1895 in Montreal.

Henry Hopper Miles attended grammar school in Exeter, England, before completing scientific and medical studies at King’s College, University of Edinburgh, and at the University of Aberdeen, where he received an ma. He never practised medicine, however. In 1845 he immigrated to Lennoxville, Lower Canada, where he became rector of the boys’ school and in 1846 took up the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Bishop’s College under Principal Jasper Hume Nicolls*. A devout Anglican, but irascible, Miles soon censured the lecturer in Hebrew at Bishop’s, Isaac Hellmuth*, for his conversion from Judaism to Anglicanism; long and bitter, the ensuing quarrel ended only in 1853 with Hellmuth’s resignation. Possibly as a result of his education in science and medicine, Miles worked for systematic public health programs, of which he was one of the earliest exponents, and in 1858 he published On the ventilation of dwelling-houses & schools, an address he had given to the Montreal Mechanics’ Institute. In 1862, as the representative of the Eastern Townships, he accompanied Sir William Edmond Logan*, director of the Geological Survey of Canada, to the International Exhibition in London where, that year, he published Canada East at the International Exposition and The Eastern Townships of Canada. He received in 1863 an honorary lld from the University of Aberdeen and three years later the same degree from McGill College and an honorary dcl from Bishop’s.

Miles left Bishop’s soon after to become, in 1867, acting secretary of the Council of Public Instruction of the new province of Quebec. In 1869 he was appointed secretary of the Protestant committee of the council, created that year along with a Catholic committee. He was the spokesman for the minority Protestant interest but remained subordinate to Louis Giard*, secretary of the Catholic committee. Although his duties expanded as the influence of the Protestant committee increased, he never carved out an adequately independent role for himself within the council. In fact, many of Miles’s educational activities were conducted through non-governmental organizations. A vociferous exponent of Protestant rights, he was president of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers in 1878–79, when he pressed for better renumeration for teachers and advocated professional unity based on universal training within a normal-school system. This ideal Miles translated into support for a teachers’ pension fund, which, established by provincial legislation in 1880, favoured full-time career professionals. However, teachers resented the six per cent levy on their wages and protested government intervention in their professional life. Female teachers, who formed a pool of ill-paid, temporary labour, were the most severe opponents of both Miles and the fund.

Treating his official position largely as a sinecure, Miles had abundant time for other activities. Possibly as a result of his trip to the International Exhibition with Logan, he had developed an interest in maps and in natural and manufactured specimens. In 1871 he donated a vast collection of Canadian and exotic natural fibres and woods, said to rival that of Université Laval, to the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in order to encourage the ideal of conservation among Quebec’s lumber barons. Two years later, combining an interest in chorography and topography with a desire to “popularize and extend” knowledge of geographical science in Canada, Miles urged upon an audience at the society the benefits of making all the maps held by the Crown Lands Department accessible to the public. He was among the founders in 1877 of the Geographical Society of Quebec and as vice-president and then president from 1879 to 1881, he, like many late-19th-century writers, attempted to demonstrate the usefulness of Canada’s geography to the political and social development of the country.

Of even greater interest to Miles was Canadian history and the development of a public taste for it. He contributed historical artefacts to the personal collection of his lawyer, David Ross McCord. In 1870, as a member of the Literary and Historical Society, he proposed a repository for Canadian public records. Establishment of an archives was, he argued, particularly pressing in a new nation like Canada, where for so long oral traditions – which he equated with hearsay evidence – had been signposts of barbarism. Only written records, according to Miles, were manifestations of “advanced stages of society,” yet Canada’s were, with the exception of those of the French régime, largely inaccessible to historians because they were unorganized, badly preserved, widely scattered, and uninventoried. Miles lobbied Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, Sir George-Étienne Cartier*, Hector-Louis Langevin*, and Richard John Cartwright*, and on 24 March 1871 he presented a petition to the House of Commons which resulted in establishment of a preliminary records commission. The following year Douglas Brymner* was appointed dominion archivist.

An overweening concern for “historical truth” led Miles in 1872 to accuse a fellow member of the Literary and Historical Society, James Anderson, of misrepresenting historical fact, and a debate soon raged between the two in Quebec’s daily newspapers. That year, perceiving among anglophones “a growing demand [since confederation] for more accurate and more abundant knowledge” of French Canadian history, Miles published The history of Canada under French régime, 1535–1763, aimed at students of history, lawyers, and statesmen seeking “accuracy, completeness, and impartiality in the statement of facts.” Referring to English-speaking historians in the past, Miles claimed in the preface that “their record of the French regime has been too brief . . . while national and other sources of prejudiced views have imparted to the stream of history, in its passage through their hands, a tone and colouring adverse to the claims of strict historical impartiality.” The results, he argued, had been more injurious in Canada than they would have been in a more homogeneous country. His objectives led Miles to produce a lively, if conventional, narrative written in a largely conciliatory tone. It was based mainly on the work of François-Xavier Garneau*, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland*, and the American Catholic historian John Dawson Gilmary Shea, as well as on the increasingly numerous scholarly editions of original documents, such as those published by the Literary and Historical Society. A popular success, Miles’s History supplemented his meagre salary of $200 per annum from the Ministry of Public Instruction. Commenting on the work in 1885, James MacPherson Le Moine* speculated that “no doubt, if the learned Protestant historian had found himself in another milieu, he would have had a free hand, and his assessments of several incidents of the past would have had a more trenchant character.” A sequel, “Canada under British rule,” was announced but never appeared.

Subsequently, Miles’s historical production was aimed specifically at the school market. The child’s history of Canada, which was translated for French language schools, was another popular success, while A school history of Canada went though at least seven editions between 1870 and 1888. Sanctioned for use in Catholic as well as Protestant schools, it devoted 189 pages out of 320 (in the 1888 edition) to the French régime. Miles concluded his treatment of this period by writing that on the Plains of Abraham could still be found relics of the bloody battle of Sainte-Foy (1760), fought “between the ancestors of the two foremost people on the globe, now happily united by the bonds of peace, friendship and mutual interest.” Regarding the rebellions of 1837–38, he conceded that “there were really grievances and abuses as all persons now admit,” but asserted that they did not justify the rebels in “taking up arms against their sovereign and the lawfully constituted authorities.” Although largely political and military in nature, Miles’s histories did not entirely neglect cultural, social, and economic developments.

Miles’s efforts to be conciliatory in his historical writing contrasted sharply with a continued penchant for controversy in public statements. After many years of apparent inattention to his official duties, he erupted in March 1881. Writing to the Montreal Gazette in his official capacity, he alluded to Roman Catholic dominance over the Department of Public Instruction. Despite a public disclaimer ten days later, his outburst was interpreted by the superintendent of education, Gédéon Ouimet*, as disloyal and insubordinate behaviour. Forced to retire, Miles withdrew from public life and, 14 years later, he died in near-obscurity.

Nancy Christie

Henry Hopper Miles is the author of Canada East at the International Exposition (London, 1862); The child’s history of Canada; for the use of the elementary schools and of the young reader (Montreal, 1870; 2nd ed., 1876), the first edition of which was translated by J. Devisme as Histoire du Canada, pour les enfants: à l’usage des écoles élémentaires (Montreal, 1872); The Eastern Townships of Canada (London, 1862); The history of Canada under French régime, 1535–1763 . . . (Montreal, 1872); “Nelson at Quebec: an episode in the life of the great British admiral,” Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly and National Rev. (Toronto), 2 (January–June 1879): 257–75; “On Canadian archives,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., new ser., 8 (1870–71): 53–71; On the ventilation of dwelling-houses & schools . . . (Montreal, 1858); “Recent Arctic explorations and projects,” Soc. de géographie de Québec, Bull. (Québec), 1 (1881), no.2: 82–90; A school history of Canada; prepared for use in the elementary and model schools (Montreal, 1870; 7th ed., 1888); and “Some observations on Canadian chorography and topography, and on the meritorious services of the late Jean-Baptiste Duberger, Senr.,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., new ser., 10 (1872–73): 95.

Portraits of Miles were published in the Montreal Daily Star, 7 Aug. 1895, and W. P. Percival, Across the years: a century of education in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1946).

ANQ-M, CE1-84, 7 août 1895. McCord Museum, H. H. Miles papers; M21411. NA, MG 29, D62. Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec (Montreal), 1 (1881): 9, 29. Provincial Assoc. of Protestant Teachers of Quebec, Annual convention (Montreal), 5 (1881): 4, 29. Gazette (Montreal), 9, 15 March 1881. Montreal Daily Star, 5 Aug. 1895. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. L.-P. Audet, Histoire du conseil de l’Instruction publique de la province de Québec, 1856–1964 (Montreal, 1964). G. E. Flower, “A study of the contributions of Dr. E. I. Rexford to education in the province of Quebec” (ma thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1949), 35. K. D. Hunte, “The Ministry of Public Instruction in Quebec, 1867–1875: a historical study” (phd thesis, McGill Univ., 1964), 48, 214, 347. D. C. Masters, Bishop’s University, the first hundred years (Toronto, 1950), 6, 39–40. Christian Morissonneau, La Société de géographie de Québec, 1877–1970 (Québec, 1971). M. B. Taylor, “The writing of English-Canadian history in the nineteenth century” (phd thesis, 2v., Univ. of Toronto, 1984). I. E. Wilson, “‘A noble dream’: the origins of the Public Archives of Canada,” Archivaria (Ottawa), no.15 (winter 1982–83): 16–35.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Nancy Christie, “MILES, HENRY HOPPER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/miles_henry_hopper_12E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/miles_henry_hopper_12E.html
Author of Article:   Nancy Christie
Title of Article:   MILES, HENRY HOPPER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   April 21, 2024