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

CROOKS, ADAM, lawyer and politician; b. 11 Dec. 1827 in West Flamborough Township, Upper Canada, the fourth son of James Crooks* and Jane Cummings; m. 4 Dec. 1856 Emily Anne (d. 1868), daughter of General Thomas Evans*, and they had no children; d. 28 Dec. 1885 at Hartford, Conn.

Adam Crooks was raised in the privileged, well-to-do atmosphere of the Homestead, the family farm a few miles west of Dundas, Upper Canada. His father was a prosperous paper-mill owner and politician; his mother came from a loyalist family. After attending common schools near Dundas and in Hamilton, Adam entered Upper Canada College in Toronto at the age of 11 and was a pupil until 1846. His brilliance as a scholar was immediately evident; he stood first in his class every year. Academic success followed Crooks through his years at the University of Toronto. He received a ba in 1852, with first prize medals in both classics and metaphysics, and an ma in 1853.

Crooks studied law concurrently with his university work; he received a bcl from the University of Toronto in 1851 and was called to the bar in the same year. Practising in Toronto, he soon specialized in the remunerative field of equity law. His most famous case, in 1862, the Commercial Bank of Canada v. the Great Western Railway Company, was a $900,000 civil suit. The bank, for which Crooks was one of the counsel, successfully appealed a lower court decision before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and Crooks was in England during much of 1864 and 1865 in connection with the case. He had received a dcl from the University of Toronto and was named a qc in 1863. After having been in several law partnerships during the 1850s he emerged in 1864 as the senior partner in the firm of Crooks, Kingsmill and Cattanach which continued until 1883. In 1871 he was elected a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada for which he had served as lecturer and examiner in commercial law and equity for several years.

Crooks had continued to take an interest in the affairs of the University of Toronto following his graduation. In 1863 he joined Edward Blake* and other graduates on its senate to defeat recommendations of a commission established by the legislature to divide a major portion of the government endowment among the denominational colleges of Canada West. With support from the public and from within the senate Crooks was elected vice-chancellor the following year; he held this office for nine years. After his entry into the provincial cabinet in 1871, he sponsored legislation which gave graduates more representation on the university’s senate and provided for the chancellor to be elected by convocation rather than appointed by the government. He consistently adhered to the principle of a strong, central provincial university, with control shared by faculty and graduates.

Prominent in the city’s legal circles and in university government, Crooks enjoyed the additional accoutrements of a professional upper-middle-class life. He was a member of the corporation of Hellmuth College in London, Ont., founded by his brother-in-law, Isaac Hellmuth*, and belonged to the Toronto Club. In 1869 he became the first Canadian to be elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, London, England. In May of that year he read to the institute its first paper dealing with Canada, “On the characteristics of the Canadian community,” in which he depicted a “distinctive, intelligent, educated, and self-reliant” population, “devoted to the development of the great resources of the country.”

Scattered references in speeches after 1870 indicate that Crooks had had a long association with railways, and in particular with the promotion of narrow gauge railways, during the 1850s and 1860s. He was apparently instrumental in obtaining railway charters and in 1868 he was a provisional director of at least one railway, the narrow gauge Toronto, Grey and Bruce. He was also a director of the proposed Toronto and Georgian Bay Canal Company (after 1865, the Huron and Ontario Ship Canal Company) and an enthusiastic supporter of projects to develop northwestern Ontario.

Politics attracted the attention of this talented lawyer. At a meeting of the Reform Association of Upper Canada in Toronto in April 1867 Crooks was appointed to fill one of the vacancies on the central executive committee as the association prepared for the coming elections. He was unsuccessful later that year in his first attempt for the provincial riding of Toronto West but secured the seat for the Liberals in 1871. Running in Toronto East in the 1875 election, he lost to Matthew Crooks Cameron, but subsequently was returned in an Oxford South by-election after the original returns electing Adam Oliver were nullified. He retained Oxford South in 1879 with a large majority and again in 1883 despite failing health.

Crooks’s scholarship and legal background quickly won him a prominent place in the Liberal cabinet. He took office as attorney general in the government of Edward Blake on 20 Dec. 1871 and soon began the consolidation of Ontario municipal law which resulted in the Municipal Institutions Act of 1873. On 25 Oct. 1872 Crooks became provincial treasurer in the reconstituted Liberal administration of Oliver Mowat*. “He had no previous experience with matters of finance,” wrote Charles Robert Webster Biggar in his sketch of the Mowat government in 1905, “but his untiring industry, and his capacity in mastering details . . . soon enabled him to master the subject of our provincial finances. His ‘budget speeches’ are models of lucidity.” During the 1870s Crooks steered a number of bills through the legislature including, in 1873, the Mechanics’ Lien Act, providing security to workers for unpaid wages, and the Married Women’s Real Estate Act, under which married women could hold property in their own right. As provincial treasurer, he was chairman of the Private Bills and Railway Committee at a time of active railway expansion, and he directed government funding for service and development projects.

Crooks’s name became publicly associated with the Mowat government’s attempt to control the sale of alcoholic beverages in the province. The liquor licence act of 1876, popularly known as the Crooks Act, required skilful drafting and piloting through the legislature, because provincial jurisdiction in this area was a matter of dispute and also because it tried to find a middle ground between the extreme camps of “drys” and “wets.” The act transferred licensing power from municipalities to provincially appointed commissioners, restricted the number of licences that could be issued in each community, increased licence fees, and provided for the inspection of licensed premises. Although it succeeded in introducing order to a chaotic system of licensing, the Conservative opposition objected to the legislation on the grounds that it opened the door to provincial patronage, a criticism the Mowat administration was unable to dispel entirely. The constitutionality of the act was challenged in the well-known case Hodge v. the Queen [see John Godfrey Spragge], but was upheld in 1883 by a decision of the Judical Committee of the Privy Council. This move towards regulation by the government of social and economic activities was Crooks’s most difficult assignment as provincial treasurer.

Crooks was sworn in as Ontario’s first minister of education on 19 Feb. 1876, although he continued as provincial treasurer until March 1877. Egerton Ryerson’s retirement provided Mowat with an opportunity to replace an appointed superintendent with a minister of education directly responsible to the legislature. The choice of Crooks came as no surprise. His previous portfolios had given him the necessary seniority to bring status to this new cabinet position and his association with the University of Toronto gave him the confidence of the personnel of the universities in the province. Moreover, despite their being on opposite sides during the University of Toronto debate in 1863, Crooks was virtually hand-picked by Ryerson. “He is most cordial and seems to be thoroughly at one with me on all educational matters,” Ryerson wrote his daughter Sophia Howard early in 1876. Most important to Ryerson was Crooks’s decision to make long-time deputy superintendent John George Hodgins* the new deputy minister. Ryerson observed that Crooks “takes upon himself only what requires the action or policy of government, & places the whole management of the Department . . . under Dr. Hodgins, who is virtually installed in my place.”

Crooks approached his new portfolio with enthusiasm, but even in the month of his appointment he gave Mowat cause for concern because of his “overworking himself.” Mowat wrote that he must “relieve” Crooks of the treasurer’s office as soon as the session ended and expressed the hope that Crooks “may continue to give sufficient attention to the Department of Education without injury to himself.” Crooks recovered temporarily, continued briefly as treasurer, and displayed considerable energy as minister of education. During his first year he visited teachers’ meetings and trustees’ conferences throughout the province, gaining “practical knowledge of the condition and working of the educational system under my charge.” Thus armed, he introduced a number of changes in 1877: stricter certification requirements for teachers, a provincial network of county model schools for teacher training, and a reduction in the number of required subjects on the elementary school curriculum. But with the exception of certification, these changes were practical concessions to the reality of local control of schools, rather than bold advances of provincial power. Crooks realized that local taxation, management, and control were of paramount importance for education in Ontario in the 1870s. “The principal functions of the Education Department are those of supervision,” he told the legislature in 1879. The department must “strictly refrain from taking upon itself, or interfering with powers and duties entrusted to local managment, and which local experience can more intelligently deal with than any central authority at a distance.”

Thus elementary and secondary schools changed little during Crooks’s seven years as minister. He saw a decidedly limited role for elementary schools, referring to them as “the fifth of the essential institutions of civilized life,” coming after the family, civil society, the state, and the church. The true place of the school was “misapprehended,” he warned, if it trespassed on the prerogatives of the other four, particularly if it attempted to supply “what the family alone can adequately give.” Also suggesting a traditional role for Ontario high schools, Crooks declared in his first annual report as minister that they “constitute the necessary stepping-stone between the Public Schools and the University.” As a graduate of Upper Canada College, he favoured the continuation of a strong role for private schools in secondary education. As a supporter of the University of Toronto, Crooks was able to avoid the embittered university-government relations that characterized the administration of his successor, George William Ross*.

Questions of church-state relations in education frequently surfaced during Crooks’s years as minister. The withdrawal in 1882 of Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion from the high school literature curriculum under pressure from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, including Archbishop John Joseph Lynch, annoyed the Toronto Mail and militant Protestant clergymen who charged Crooks with subservience to the Catholic Church. Further concessions, such as Roman Catholic model schools, the easier transfer of Quebec teaching certificates to Ontario, the appointment of a Catholic separate school inspector, and less cumbersome arrangements for Catholic ratepayers to place their names on the separate school tax roll, similarly annoyed Protestants while failing to satisfy growing Catholic demands. Crooks managed to avoid any direct confrontation with either side, but the church-state question would increase in intensity after his retirement. John Morison Gibson*, a political colleague, referred to this and other lingering educational questions when he wrote the new minister of education, George William Ross, in December 1883: “You will now have made a slight examination of the nooks and crannies of Dr. Ryerson’s den. Some of them poor Crooks never saw into, and some he did see he had to wink at.”

Provincial initiative in educational policy was severely compromised by the pitiful decline in Crooks’s mental and physical health. Hodgins had observed such deterioration as early as 1878, and by the early 1880s it was evident to his close colleagues that the minister was succumbing to the ravages of cerebral paresis. Finally, in January 1883, Crooks collapsed after an evening sitting of the legislature, and Mowat had no choice but to relieve him of his cabinet responsibilities. Crooks nevertheless ran in the election of March 1883 and retained his seat. However, the committee on privileges and elections reported him to be “incurably insane” and declared the seat vacant. Then friends and business associates spirited him off to Europe in search of a cure. By the fall of 1884 he was confined to an asylum in Hartford, Conn., where he died in December 1885.

The assessment of Crooks as minister of education by his contemporaries and by historians is generally unfavourable. “He followed and never ventured to anticipate popular demands,” wrote William Pakenham. In her study of the Mowat administration, A. Margaret Evans concluded that “the strong leadership that was desirable in Ontario’s first Minister of Education seems not to have been given by Crooks.” But the shadow of Ryerson in the guise of Hodgins as deputy minister, the continuing adherence to local control of schools, plus his declining health, limited Crooks’s leadership as education minister. His significance rests more with his contributions to the practice of law and to the University of Toronto, and with his work as attorney general and provincial treasurer.

Robert M. Stamp

[Letters by Adam Crooks were published in Correspondence arising out of the pastoral letter of the Right Reverend Francis Fulford . . . (Toronto, 1862), and Crooks was the author of “On the characteristics of the Canadian community,” Royal Colonial Institute, Proc. (London), 1 (1869): 162–74, and of the election address, Reform government in Ontario: eight years’ review . . . (Toronto, 1879). Some of his speeches, including budget speeches and a few which he gave as minister of education in 1879, and election addresses were also published. The records of the Department of Education while he was minister are at AO, RG 2; series D-1 to D-4 are of particular importance. His reports as minister of education were published both separately and in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers.  r.m.s.]

AO, MU 158, Oliver Mowat to Edward Blake, 18 Jan. 1876. Ont., Legislative Library, Newspaper Hansard, 2 Feb. 1876 (mfm. at AO). Commercial Bank of Canada v. Great Western Railway Co. (1862–64), 22 U.C.Q.B. 233. Ontario Educational Assoc., Proc. (Toronto and Hamilton, Ont.), 1876–83, 1919. [Egerton Ryerson], My dearest Sophie: letters from Egerton Ryerson to his daughter, ed. C. B. Sissons (Toronto, 1955). Globe, 12 April, 24 Aug. 1867; 7, 10, 13 March 1871; 8 Jan. 1875; 29 Dec. 1885. Canadian biog. dict., I: 52–55. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886), 168–69. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, II: 139–43. Toronto directory, 1850–83. J. G. Althouse, The Ontario teacher: a historical account of progress, 1800–1910 . . . (Toronto, 1967). C. R. W. Biggar, Sir Oliver Mowat . . . a biographical sketch (2v., Toronto, 1905). Canada and its prov. (Shortt and Doughty), XVIII: 227–341. A. M. Evans, “Oliver Mowat and Ontario, 1872–1896: a study in political success” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1967). V. E. Parvin, Authorization of textbooks for the schools of Ontario, 1846–1950 ([Toronto], 1965). R. M. Stamp, “The campaign for technical education in Ontario, 1876–1914” (phd thesis, Univ. of Western Ontario, London, 1970). F. A. Walker, Catholic education and politics in Ontario: a documentary study ([Don Mills, Ont.], 1964; repub., Toronto, 1976). Wallace, Hist. of Univ. of Toronto.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert M. Stamp, “CROOKS, ADAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crooks_adam_11E.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/crooks_adam_11E.html
Author of Article:   Robert M. Stamp
Title of Article:   CROOKS, ADAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   May 21, 2024