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BOYLE, DAVID, blacksmith, teacher, author, bookseller, archaeologist, and museum curator; b. 1 May 1842 in Greenock, Scotland, eldest son of John Borland Boyle and Anne Anderson; m. 24 May 1867 Martha S. Frankland, and they had two daughters and three sons; d. 14 Feb. 1911 in Toronto.

David Boyle was a product of industrial Britain, born and raised in the dockside working-class district of Greenock. His father, John Boyle, worked as a blacksmith for Caird and Company, one of the great shipbuilding and engineering firms on the Clyde River. In 1853 the Boyles moved to Birkenhead, England, after John obtained employment at the Canada Works, the large engineering complex developed by the firm of Peto, Brassey, Jackson, and Betts after it had received the contract to build the Grand Trunk Railway across the Canadas.

John Boyle, like his blacksmith father before him, greatly valued education, and saw to it that young David attended Mason’s Hall School in Greenock and, later, St Andrew’s School in Birkenhead. Also important in shaping David’s attitudes to life and learning was the earnest and vibrant culture of artisan autodidacts of which his family was a part. John Boyle and many of his fellow blacksmiths extolled the ethic of self-improvement and adhered to the creed that knowledge is power and the key to respectability. These values became the fundamental determinants of David’s life. Under his father’s tutelage he also formed the basis of a liberal-radical political philosophy, which included strong support of universal suffrage and the ballot, free trade, and the value of associations of working people. In his parents’ home, a place free of intense religiosity, David grew up a nominal Presbyterian, independent in his thinking and willing to question conventional beliefs. Eventually he would abandon organized religion altogether.

In 1856 the Boyles emigrated to Upper Canada, where most of John Boyle’s family had already located. For a short period John worked in Salem, Wellington County, before finding employment with the Great Western Railway in London in 1857. David remained in Wellington to be apprenticed as a blacksmith to his uncle Andrew in Eden Mills. Before he completed his training, however, he knew that he was not suited for a life at the forge; he planned instead to pursue his formal education and become a teacher. Upon finishing his apprenticeship in 1860, he secured a blacksmith’s job in Elora in order to attend grammar school. He graduated in July 1864. The following January he obtained a teaching post in the one-room Middlebrook Public School, a few miles west of Elora.

By all accounts, Boyle was a truly gifted pedagogue. As early as 1859 he had discovered through self-study the liberal philosophical assumptions, practical instructional methods, and psychological principles espoused by the North American and British disciples of Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. He would apply this knowledge successfully in the classroom. After six years of rural teaching, he obtained the position of principal of the Elora Public School in 1871.

During the 1870s in Elora, Boyle’s self-improvement ethic and his child-centred educational philosophy fused with his enthusiasm for biology, geology, and archaeology. (His fascination with archaeology had been sparked before he immigrated by discoveries and excavations in the Near East that had generated great public curiosity.) In his pursuit of these interests he was instrumental in creating three noteworthy institutions, which stimulated something of an intellectual awakening in the village. In 1871 he helped resurrect the defunct Elora Mechanics’ Institute library and oversaw its growth until it was the largest of its kind in Ontario outside Toronto and Hamilton. The library provided him with the opportunity to pursue his abiding interest in the natural and physical sciences, especially Darwinian biology and geology, as well as palaeontology, mineralogy, and archaeology. These years of rigorous, self-imposed study were of critical importance in his intellectual growth.

In 1873 Boyle began establishing a second institution, the Elora School Museum, which by decade’s end reputedly possessed one of the best natural history collections in the province. In building up its holdings, he gained experience in public relations and collecting, and a knowledge of current curatorial practices and principles.

Boyle contributed as well to the foundation of the Elora Natural History Society in 1874 for the purpose of generating wider public interest in science, through a program of field trips, lectures, and publications. One of his lectures to the society, “On the local geology of Elora,” was issued in 1875, his first published piece of writing. During his geological research in the Elora Gorge, a Middle Silurian formation, Boyle discovered a fossil of a new species of gastropod, which University of Toronto palaeontologist Henry Alleyne Nicholson named the Murchisonia boylei in his honour.

Through the library, the school museum, and the society, Boyle stimulated intellectual discussion on controversial scientific themes, sparked a spirit of enquiry among young and old alike, and generally helped lift the veil of superstition and ignorance from the minds of many residents. In 1884 he would reflect on his Elora years in a thinly masked autobiographical and satirical novel, The ups and downs of No.7. The volume is scathing in its critique of those clerics and educators who had excoriated Boyle for challenging conventional theological views of natural and human history.

Beyond these cultural pursuits, Boyle was active during the 1870s both in the North Wellington Teachers’ Association, where he frequently spoke on the importance of science and the teaching of science, and in the Ontario Educational Association, where he advocated the improvement of professional standards and better working conditions and benefits for teachers. During these years he began to submit humorous letters to the Elora Lightning Express, written in a “broad Scots” dialect under the pseudonym Sandy McTosher, and later to the Scottish American Journal (New York) under the nom de plume Andrew McSpurtle. Through the McSpurtle epistles, which would appear over a 30-year span, Boyle expressed the tenets of his national concept, one based on imperialism, Anglo-Saxon racialism, and an intense Scottish cultural nationalism.

In December 1881 Boyle retired from teaching. He had been attracted by an offer from Toronto publisher Graeme Mercer Adam to work for the Canada Publishing Company promoting the Royal Canadian readers and writing the “School work” section of the Canada Educational Monthly (Toronto). When the Ontario Department of Education rejected the readers, Boyle resigned in the fall of 1883. He then moved his family to Toronto and in December opened Ye Olde Booke Shoppe and Natural Science Exchange on Yonge Street near Elm.

Boyle’s bookshop quickly became a lyceum of sorts for the city’s intelligentsia, many of whom were members of the Canadian Institute. In 1884 Boyle himself joined the institute, donated his archaeological collection to it, and secured the voluntary position of curator of its museum. Encouraged, among others, by the institute’s corresponding secretary, William Henry Vander Smissen of University College, Boyle issued a circular to begin an inventory of archaeological sites in southern Ontario, solicited donations of specimens, occasionally ventured into the field to excavate promising locations, and lobbied for government funding. In 1887 George William Ross, Ontario’s minister of education, agreed to subsidize the institute’s archaeological endeavours. The following year, assured of a modest salary from the provincial subsidy, Boyle sold his bookstore – never profitable in any case – to become Canada’s first professional archaeologist. Any regrets he had about selling were assuaged too by the fact that he needed the equity to finance the education of his children. John was studying to be a druggist and Susanna Peel, who shared her father’s liberal view of women’s sphere, required assistance through medical school.

From 1887 to his death in 1911 Boyle stood unchallenged as the most prominent and influential figure in the development of the Ontario archaeological tradition; he dominated its so-called classificatory-descriptive phase. This period was one of incipient professionalism across North America, when a more scientific archaeology displaced the armchair speculation of the past and when the emphasis of those interested in prehistory turned to the collection, systematic description, and rudimentary classification of archaeological data.

At the Canadian Institute Museum, Boyle assembled an outstanding collection of Indian artefacts representative of southern Ontario, as he would continue to do when he later obtained provincial appointments. Beginning in 1887, he published its “Annual archæological report,” the first periodical in Canada devoted primarily to archaeology. Together, the museum’s collection and the reports provided a foundation of data and insight upon which scientific archaeology could be based. Boyle also undertook a vastly greater amount of fieldwork in Ontario than had ever been conducted before, including site inventories, systematic field explorations, and excavations. His excavation techniques and interpretation of findings compared favourably with the best work of his peers in North America. By modern standards, however, his efforts seem rudimentary. Lacking 20th-century refinements in stratigraphical analysis, the carbon–14 method of dating, and concepts of cultural units, local sequence, tradition, and horizon, he could not overcome problems of dating sites or identifying inhabitants. Still, his fieldwork proved of lasting importance in that he discovered or initially investigated many classic locations, including the prehistoric Clearville (Kent County, 1889) and Lawson (Middlesex, 1895) sites, the Southwold (Elgin, 1890) and Parker (Lambton, 1901) earthworks, the Bon Echo pictographs (Frontenac, 1895), and the Rice Lake-Trent River burial mounds (Peterborough, 1896). Beyond his own work, Boyle encouraged various amateur archaeologists, among them Andrew Frederick Hunter of Barrie, George Edward Laidlaw of Victoria County, Thomas William Beeman of Perth, and William John Wintemberg* of Toronto, to pursue vigorously the archaeology of Ontario.

During his years at the Canadian Institute, Boyle was occasionally called upon by the provincial government to serve as a geological consultant. He was recruited to help collect, design, and arrange the Ontario mining exhibit at the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1888; to organize a geological exhibit for the Imperial Institute in London, England, in 1892; and to prepare the geological and archaeological displays for the Columbian exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The sojourns in Cincinnati and Chicago had an important side benefit: they allowed Boyle to expand his personal contacts with the leading figures in North American archaeology and anthropology. Since the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1889 in Toronto, where he first met many of his American counterparts, Boyle had assiduously cultivated his colleagues to the south in order to exchange artefacts and publications, as well as to discuss theories and information. Boyle’s work was highly regarded by the Americans. The Annual archæological report was favourably reviewed in the most prestigious journals and its contents would be incorporated into major syntheses, such as William Henry Holmes’s “Aboriginal pottery of the eastern United States” (1903), Stewart Culin’s “Games of the North American Indians” (1907), and Frederick Webb Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico (2 pts., 1907–10), all published in Washington by the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology, the first two in its Annual report.

As a result of deteriorating relations, Boyle left the Canadian Institute, and his curatorship, in 1895. His archaeological collection had outgrown the limited quarters at the institute’s building on Richmond Street and in 1896 it was slated to be transferred to the Ontario Provincial Museum in the Toronto Normal School. Formally appointed curator of this museum’s archaeology department in November 1896, Boyle was promoted superintendent of the entire museum in 1901. During his years at the Ontario Provincial Museum – also called the Provincial Museum of Ontario – he dedicated considerably more time to ethnological pursuits. Following the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Toronto in 1897, he was appointed to its standing committee, chaired by George Mercer Dawson*, formed to organize an ethnological survey of Canada. For his part, Boyle undertook in January and February 1898 a study of traditional religious ceremonies on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. Access to these rituals was facilitated by the fact that Boyle had established cordial relations with the Iroquois there; they appreciated his efforts to reconstruct Iroquoian prehistory and to preserve their material heritage. In 1892 the Mohawks on the reserve had adopted him into their tribe and named him Ra’-ri-wah-ka-noh’-nis, meaning “ambassador” or “one who is sent to do business between the two peoples.”

Boyle’s 150-page manuscript on conservatism among the Iroquois of the Six Nations Reserve appeared in the Annual archæological report for 1898. It earned him an invitation to present a paper, “On the paganism of the civilised Iroquois of Ontario,” to the BAAS at its annual meeting in Bradford, England, in September 1900. The paper was published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (London) later that year. Upon his return from Britain and Europe, Boyle determined to emulate the great museums he had visited there by expanding the ethnological holdings of the Ontario Provincial Museum. His efforts in collecting were so successful that he was able to open a separate ethnological room in the museum in 1903.

By the turn of the century Boyle had achieved recognition as Canada’s pre-eminent archaeologist. In June 1902 he became a founding member of the American Anthropological Association and he was subsequently appointed to the editorial board of the new American Anthropologist (Lancaster, Pa). In 1906, with Robert Bell, Franz Boas*, and Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme*, he organized the biannual meeting of the International Congress of Americanists in Montreal. As his special contribution to this event, Boyle had edited a volume of the Annual archæological report (1905) as a handbook on the ethnology of Canada and Newfoundland for distribution to the delegates. He later served as a vice-president of the congress (1906–8). Other honours accrued to him. In 1908 he received the Cornplanter Medal for Iroquois Research awarded by the Cayuga County Historical Society in New York State. The University of Toronto acknowledged his accomplishments in 1909 by conferring an lld upon him at a special convocation at his home, where he lay bedridden, paralysed by a stroke. Boyle remained in that condition until his death on 14 Feb. 1911.

Remarkably, during his years as a practising archaeologist and curator, Boyle had found the time and energy for a variety of other endeavours. He served as the first secretary of the Ontario Historical Society (1898–1907) and helped found the Canadian Folk-Lore Society (1908). Among his numerous publications, all issued in Toronto, were a book on Pestalozzian educational theory and practice entitled Hints and expedients: a pocket book for young teachers, illustrated by John Wilson Bengough* (1892); Notes on the life of DrJoseph Workman (1894), a biographical sketch of his long-time friend Joseph Workman*, the late superintendent of the Toronto Asylum for the Insane; Notes on primitive man in Ontario (1895), a synthesis of existing knowledge on the subject, including Boyle’s theories on patterns of migration in prehistoric Ontario; The township of Scarboro, 1796–1896 (1896), a model of local history written in collaboration with Sarah Anne Curzon [Vincent*] and Mary Agnes FitzGibbon; and a delightful volume of nonsense and humour, the first of its kind in Canadian children’s literature, Uncle Jim’s Canadian nursery rhymes; for family and kindergarten use, illustrated by Charles William Jefferys* and published anonymously in 1908.

A common thread connects all of these interests and activities. They reflect the one constant and unifying theme of David Boyle’s life: a dedication to the ideal of self-culture and to the acquisition and imparting of knowledge. Boyle never ceased expanding his intellectual horizons. He remained to the end the quintessential product of the British autodidactic culture out of which he sprang.

Gerald Killan

The archaeological periodical which David Boyle established was published at Toronto as part of the Canadian Institute’s Annual report from 1886/87 to 1893/94, and continued under Boyle’s direction from 1894/95 to 1908/11 as the Ontario Provincial Museum’s Annual archæological report. The reports are available as part of the appendices to the Report of the minister of education issued by the Dept. of Education, and in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers; from 1894/95 on they were also published separately. A comprehensive listing of Boyle’s contributions to the Annual archæological report may be found in Science and technology biblio. (Richardson and MacDonald).

Boyle’s earliest publication, “On the local geology of Elora,” appeared in 1875 as Elora Natural Hist. Soc., Selected papers from proc. (Elora, Ont.), 1874–75. His satirical novel, The ups and downs of No.7, Rexville: being a full, true and correct account of what happened in the said school section during a period of twelve months . . . ([Toronto?, 1884]), was issued anonymously “by an old maid, (who was ‘plucked’).”

Boyle’s efforts to begin an inventory of archaeological sites in southern Ontario are recorded in his article “The archœological outlook,” Canadian Institute, Proc. (Toronto), 3rd ser., 4 (1885–86): 1–7. His lecture “On the paganism of the civilised Iroquois of Ontario” was reissued in the Annual archæological report for 1901: 115–25, and his Notes on primitive man in Ontario, a summary of the seven archaeological reports prepared for the Canadian Institute, was published as a monograph (Toronto, 1895) and in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1895, no.4.

AO, F 26; F 334; F 1139; F 1203, MU 2019, Elora Mechanics’ Institute papers; F 1209-1-1, 1881–88; RG 2-17, box 32; RG 2-146; RG 80-27-2, 79: 206. MTRL, SC, David Boyle scrapbooks. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), Ethnology Dept., Boyle papers; G. E. Laidlaw scrapbooks; Library and Arch., Boyle papers. Simcoe County Museum Arch. (Minesing, Ont.), A. F. Hunter papers. Smithsonian Institution Arch. (Washington), RU 26; RU 33. Wellington County Museum and Arch. (Fergus, Ont.), Elora Mechanics’ Institute records. Scottish American Journal (New York), 1879–1908 (called Scottish American from 2 July 1886). Pym Buitenhuis, “David Boyle, dilettante or museum anthropologist: a study of Victorian museums and historical collections in anthropology” (mms thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1989). Canada Educational Monthly (Toronto), 1 (1879)–5 (1883). Canadian Journal (Toronto), 1 (1852–53)–3 (1854–55); new ser., 1 (1856)–11 (1866–67); continued by Canadian Institute, Proc., 3rd ser., 1 (1879–83)–7 (1888–89), and Trans., 4th ser., 1 (1889–90). J. C. Carter, “Ryerson, Hodgins, and Boyle: early innovators in Ontario school museums,” OH, 86 (1994): 119–31. J. R. Connon, “Elora” (n.p., 1930); repub. as The early history of Elora, Ontario, and vicinity, intro. Gerald Noonan (2nd [ed.], Waterloo, Ont., 1975). Glyn Daniel, A hundred and fifty years of archaeology (2nd ed., London, 1975). Elora Mechanics’ Institute and Library Assoc., Constitution and by-laws and catalogue of books in the library (Orangeville, Ont., 1881). Journal of Education for Ontario (Toronto), 22 (1869)–30 (1877). Gerald Killan, David Boyle: from artisan to archaeologist (Toronto, 1983); Preserving Ontario’s heritage: a history of the Ontario Historical Society (Ottawa, 1976). H. A. Nicholson, Report upon the palaeontology of the province of Ontario (Toronto, 1875), issued as a monograph and in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1874, no.8. V. E. Parvin, Authorization of textbooks for the schools of Ontario, 1846–1950 (Toronto, 1965). The Royal Canadian Institute, centennial volume, 1849–1949, ed. W. S. Wallace(Toronto, 1949). G. R. Willey and J. A. Sabloff, A history of American archaeology (London, 1974).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gerald Killan, “BOYLE, DAVID,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 25, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boyle_david_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/boyle_david_14E.html
Author of Article: Gerald Killan
Title of Article: BOYLE, DAVID
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: February 25, 2017