McDERMID, DUNCAN WENDELL, educator of the deaf; b. 1858 in Martintown, Upper Canada, youngest child of John McDermid and Janet Christie; m. 7 Oct. 1882 Mary Ettie Lorenzen in Trenton, Ont., and they had a son and a daughter; d. 12 Sept. 1909 in Winnipeg.
Duncan Wendell McDermid was educated in Martintown and in Manvers Township, Ont., where the family had relocated in the late 1860s. He later moved to Belleville, where in 1876 he became visitors’ attendant, telegraph operator, and clerk at the Ontario Institution for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. After a year spent acquainting himself with the methods used in the institution, he served for five years as a teacher and quickly won the respect of his pupils. He taught several grades and, in a school where the use of sign language was dominant, he none the less gained some experience in teaching articulation. As a resident teacher, he also participated in non-sectarian religious instruction.
In 1882 he married a native of Sarnia, Mary Ettie Lorenzen, a partially deaf graduate of the institution who had been appointed monitor teacher in 1879 and assistant teacher the following year. With little immediate chance of promotion, McDermid resigned in 1882 and accepted a higher-salaried position at the Iowa Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, at Council Bluffs, Iowa. His success was repeated there, and he soon won national recognition among educators of the deaf. While in Iowa he developed some business interests and played a leading role in charitable and community activities, especially in the annual summer Chautauqua meetings at Council Bluffs.
In Manitoba education of deaf children was largely ignored until the Winnipeg Ministerial Association financed a school run by James C. Watson in 1888. The following year the school became the publicly funded Manitoba Deaf and Dumb Institution and was placed under the jurisdiction of the minister of public works. Shortly after the completion of new school and residential buildings in 1890, ill health forced Watson to resign; McDermid was appointed principal and his wife an assistant teacher.
McDermid brought to his work knowledge of both the manual or sign-language method favoured in eastern Canada and the oral method more widely used in Iowa. For most pupils he recommended the manual method, but he realized that a minority of pupils could gain more by the oral approach. This conclusion led him to experiment with hypnosis in the treatment of speech disorders. To a curriculum stressing communication skills and basic academic subjects he added an emphasis on industrial training: sewing and cooking for the girls; printing, carpentry, and later photography and engraving for the boys. He assisted his students in finding jobs in industry and in 1905 obtained the admission of four graduates to civil service positions in the Post Office.
Initially students were drawn mainly from Winnipeg, but later some from rural areas were enrolled as were pupils from all parts of western Canada under an agreement with the other provinces and the federal government. It was the type of arrangement McDermid wished to see extended to the education of the blind, the mentally handicapped, and the delinquent, with each western province establishing one specialized institution. Enrolment grew rapidly from 32 students in 1890 to nearly 100 in 1908, and McDermid, his wife, and his staff did their best to provide a homelike atmosphere for resident students. Entertainment, picnics, and clubs were organized while the monthly newsletter Silent Echo helped maintain contact with former students and the deaf community of Winnipeg.
Although McDermid devoted his professional life to the education of the deaf and was a strong family and church man, he also found time to participate in community endeavours. He was part of the Winnipeg social élite: president of the Manitoba Club, an active freemason, and a member of the St Andrew’s Society, as well as a worker for such charitable causes as the Associated Charities Bureau, the Winnipeg General Hospital, and the Manitoba Sanatorium at Ninette. An avid golfer, he belonged to the Winnipeg Golf Club and the St Charles Country Club. He was responsible for planning a western tour for the Winnipeg meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1909 and was a member of the planning committee for the proposed Selkirk centennial exposition of 1912.
McDermid’s social connections, his administrative abilities, and the respect in which he was universally held enabled him to build a remarkable degree of influential community support for his institution and for the education of deaf children in Manitoba and western Canada. Taken ill suddenly in the late summer of 1909, he died of heart failure at the Winnipeg General Hospital.
Duncan Wendell McDermid is the author of “The Manitoba institution for the education of the deaf and dumb, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1888–1893,” in Histories of American schools for the deaf, 1817–1893. . . , ed. E. A. Fay (3v., Washington, 1893), 3.
AO, RG 80-5, no.1882-004155. NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, East Durham, dist.51, Manvers Township: 13. PAM, RG 18, A2, boxes 8, 10. Manitoba Morning Free Press, 13 Sept. 1909. R. B. Campbell and Douglas McDermid, The Kennedys, MacDiarmids, McDermids, Munros and other Glengarry–Stormont pioneers (Belleville, Ont., 1986). Man., Dept. of Public Works, Annual report (Winnipeg), 1901–2, 1905–6, 1908. Ontario Institution for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, Annual report (Belleville), 1876, 1878–80.