DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


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

PILOT, WILLIAM, Church of England clergyman, educator, and writer; b. 30 Dec. 1841 in Bristol, England, son of Thomas Pilot and Ann Flook; m. 4 Oct. 1870 Agnes Elizabeth Whiteway Wakeham, niece of William Vallance Whiteway*, in St John’s, and they had two sons and two daughters; grandfather of the artist Robert Wakeham Pilot; d. 25 Sept. 1913 in St John’s.

William Pilot’s father was a blacksmith and his mother illiterate. A bright boy from a poor family, he attended Warminister Mission House and St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, which trained Church of England missionaries for the British colonies. At the request of Bishop Edward Feild* of Newfoundland, who was in England at the time, Pilot was admitted to the diaconate by Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford. Shortly after, in April 1867, he landed at St John’s to take up the post of vice-principal of Queen’s College, founded by Feild 17 years earlier for the training of the clergy. He was ordained priest by Feild a year later in St John’s cathedral.

In June 1874 Pilot was appointed inspector of Church of England schools under the provisions of the education act passed that year, which divided the educational system between three denominations, Church of England, Roman Catholic, and Methodist [see George Seaton Milligan*]. Two years later the inspectors were upgraded to superintendents, with wide powers to disburse government grants, report on schools and teachers, conduct examinations, and generally enforce regulations. Pilot’s duties as superintendent, a position he was to occupy for the next 32 years, required him to visit fishing outports on the eastern and southern coasts of the island, often involving journeys of up to 3,000 miles a year, mostly by sea. Initially, he found many communities without schools and others with unsuitable buildings, in which undereducated teachers taught only the three Rs. Reared in the tradition of self-help and public service, he devoted his considerable mental and physical energies to improving the conditions of teachers and pupils. In his reports he continually advocated higher salaries for teachers and supported their examination and grading. He pioneered a pension scheme for them, which was adopted by the government in 1892, and he was active in founding the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association, though the union-type organization into which it evolved differed from the teachers’ institute Pilot had proposed.

The school life of the children of fishing families, who made up the great majority of Newfoundland’s population, was disrupted by the custom of putting children as young as six years to work in the fishery. The low and broken attendance that resulted distressed Pilot, who ascribed it to the apathy of parents, without fully realizing the economic necessity which motivated them. He persistently, but unsuccessfully, urged upon government the need for free and compulsory education. He was more successful in advocating standard readers and the provision of maps, globes, blackboards, and other school facilities.

Pilot’s views on educational organization were ahead of his time. Although he believed in the denominational principle, between 1890 and 1905 he advocated non-denominational schools for small communities, elected school boards, a normal school, an education department, and the establishment of a university; none of these suggestions would be implemented until the 1920s or later. His political and social views were, however, very much those of late-19th-century orthodoxy. He was an active mason and an ardent imperialist, supporting the celebration of Empire Day in the schools [see Clementina Trenholme]. He held conventional opinions about the role of women, believing that female teachers should be paid a lower salary than males and that “special subjects” such as home economics should be part of the curriculum for girls. His attitude toward the Inuit of Labrador, whom he visited in 1899, followed the paternalistic missionary view that although native peoples were “simple and child-like,” they were benighted heathen awaiting conversion. In later life Pilot became active in the affairs of the Colonial and Continental Church Society, an evangelical quasi-missionary organization with headquarters in England, probably attracted by the efficiency of the 20 or so schools it maintained in the colony. But he remained an orthodox Anglican and a leading member of the Diocesan Synod of Newfoundland, serving on its executive and education committees. He advocated many reforms to the education system generally and through deputations to the government in 1889 and 1892, secured ad hoc financial assistance to teachers, whose salaries had been declining. Such activities added to Pilot’s reputation, and in 1893 he was elected president of the newly formed Council of Higher Education, an interdenominational body charged with inaugurating island-wide examinations and raising the standard of education.

Despite his multifarious responsibilities, Pilot found time to write extensively on many topics. He was the author of two textbooks, Geography of Newfoundland for the use of schools, which went through six editions between 1883 and 1906, and Outlines of the history of Newfoundland (London, 1908). His account of the Church of England formed part of the supplement to the history of the colony written by his friend Daniel Woodley Prowse, and with fellow superintendent Milligan he compiled the Newfoundland section of Educational systems of the chief colonies of the British empire . . . (London, 1901). The first chairman of the Newfoundland Historical Society, he wrote numerous articles on local history, folklore, and linguistics for Newfoundland magazines and journals.

In later life Pilot received a number of honours, both lay and ecclesiastical. In 1891 he was awarded a dd by the archbishop of Canterbury and made a fellow of St Augustine’s College. The same year he became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and five years later he was one of the first canons of St John’s cathedral. In 1896 he received an honorary dcl from King’s College in Windsor, N.S. He was twice thanked by the British government for services to the empire and was made a companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1904.

William Pilot retired from the post of superintendent in 1908 following a stroke. On his death five years later, many tributes were paid to his conviviality, humour, and powers as a conversationalist. “He was very hospitable, broad minded and liberal,” wrote Prowse, “earnest in spirit and diligent in business, devoted to his clerical, public and educational duties, and a tremendous worker.”

William Phillip McCann

In addition to the works mentioned in his biography, William Pilot’s publications include A visit to Labrador, a pamphlet issued by the Colonial and Continental Church Soc. No details concerning the first edition are available, but a photocopy of the second edition (London, [1899]) can be found at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s. His account of “The system of education in Newfoundland” appears on pp.542–53 of the report issued under the same title in G.B., Ministry of Education, Special reports on educational subjects . . . (28v. in 27, London, 1897–1914), vol.4 (Educational systems of the chief colonies of the British empire . . . , London, 1901), 541–73; the volume was also published as G.B., Parl., Command paper, 1900, 21, [C.416].

Daily News (St John’s), 1913. Evening Herald (St John’s), 1913. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 1913. Church of England, Diocesan Synod of Newfoundland, Proc. of the session (St John’s), 1889–1900, continued as Journal of the proc. of the biennial session, 1903–14. Colonial and Continental Church Soc., Annual report (London), 1880–1914. Diocesan Magazine (St John’s), 1894–1913. Nfld, Superintendent, Church of England schools, Report of the public schools of Newfoundland under Church of England boards . . . , 1885–1914 (the reports for 1877–84 appear in the appendices to the Journal of the colony’s Legislative Council).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William Phillip McCann, “PILOT, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 6, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pilot_william_14E.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/pilot_william_14E.html
Author of Article:   William Phillip McCann
Title of Article:   PILOT, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   June 6, 2023