DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

COCHRANE, HENRY – Volume XII (1891-1900)

d. 22 May 1898 at Jackhead, Man.


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

MILLS, JOSEPH LANGLEY, clergyman of the Church of England, educator, and office holder; baptized 28 March 1788 in Deddington, England, son of Moses Mills and Sarah —; m. 3 March 1817 Anna Cecilia Craigie, daughter of John Craigie*, at Quebec, and they had at least six children; d. there 13 Aug. 1832.

Joseph Langley Mills attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he received his ba in 1809 and his ma three years later; he was a fellow of the college from 1810 to 1817. Commissioned a chaplain in the army on 12 Oct. 1812, he served in Portugal during the Peninsular War. He arrived in Lower Canada in August 1814 as a chaplain on the staff. After being stationed briefly at Fort Chambly, he was sent to Quebec later that year to relieve the Reverend Salter Jehosaphat Mountain as garrison chaplain. It seems to have been the practice for chaplains to assume other clerical duties in order to supplement their income and support the local clergy; thus in 1814 Mills succeeded George Jehoshaphat Mountain* as evening lecturer at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, a position which, for lack of a sufficient salary, could not otherwise attract a qualified clergyman. After the death of the Reverend George Jenkins, Mills was appointed senior chaplain to the forces in the Canadas on 30 Oct. 1821. The following year the bd and dd degrees were conferred on him by decree.

Like many of the clergymen of his time, Mills was a leading figure in the formation of local charitable and social institutions. In 1816 he appears to have been treasurer of a fund for the relief of soldiers wounded in the War of 1812 and of the widows and orphans of those killed. In July 1819 he, Jonathan Sewell*, George Jehoshaphat Mountain, Daniel Wilkie*, and the merchant Benjamin Tremain constituted a committee to study means of supporting distressed immigrants. On the 26th he was elected to the governing committee of the Quebec Emigrants’ Society, established as a result of the study. The following year he was a founding member of the Quebec branch of the Royal Humane Society of London for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned or Dead. Its object was to educate the public to determine whether persons were dead or merely unconscious and to instruct in methods of resuscitation; hitherto many had succumbed because given up for dead. About 1828 Mills helped collect funds for the erection of a monument (which still exists) to James Wolfe* and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*; he also composed an inscription.

As garrison chaplain Mills had to attend to the schooling of the soldiers’ children, and this task led to a deep and lifelong commitment to education. In January 1816 he preached a sermon at the cathedral that brought in about £170 for the support of the “Female School” at Quebec. In March 1818 he was named secretary to the Quebec diocesan committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and as such was involved in the work of the Sunday schools and the founding of the National School, which operated on the Madras or Bell system [see John Baird*]. When Bishop Jacob Mountain accepted the principalship of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning in December 1819, he nominated Mills to be its secretary, and the appointment was made on the 13th.

The Royal Institution, the first system of public education in Lower Canada, had been established in April 1801 by an act of the provincial legislature. The governor had the power to appoint the principal, trustees, and other officers of the body, and the Royal Institution was to run all schools in the colony with the exception of private schools, a restriction inserted in the act possibly at the insistence of the Roman Catholic coadjutor bishop of Quebec, Joseph-Octave Plessis. No school under the auspices of the Royal Institution could be built in any parish or township without its having been requested by a majority of the inhabitants; the cost of construction was then divided among all the residents. Beginning in 1801 several projects for funding the Royal Institution were proposed – including appropriation of the Sulpician estates and of monies from the Jesuit estates fund – but none was adopted. Indeed it was 1818 before a board of trustees was appointed. Until then only some 35 schools had received government funding by virtue of the act of 1801, and there had been no supervision over them. With the appointment of the board, regulations and procedures were promulgated, and Mills, as secretary, initiated a survey to establish the state of existing schools.

Mills virtually became the Royal Institution. He kept the board’s minutes and records and interpreted and applied its policies. Since the board met infrequently, he had much autonomy in day-to-day administration. He maintained a constant correspondence with the commissioners of the institution, local officials who administered the establishment of schools, and the visitors, who inspected them, as well as with teachers, parents, and other clergymen. He received the visitors’ semi-annual reports and conveyed their content to the board. In addition, after consultation with local leaders, he secured appointment of commissioners, visitors, and teachers, and the remuneration of the latter. He approved selection of sites and erection and maintenance of schoolhouses. With the cooperation of the visitors he authorized exemptions from fees of students in financial need. In almost every aspect of the institution’s operations people turned to him for solutions to problems, disputes, and crises. He undertook his numerous tasks wisely and was respected by all with whom he came into contact.

Despite Mills’s efforts the Royal Institution met with only partial success. The British Protestant population, particularly in new settlements, readily accepted its schools, although the Methodists in the Eastern Townships did not always agree with its policies or follow its directives. The Roman Catholic clergy, however, strongly opposed it. From the beginning Plessis, who became bishop of Quebec in 1806, successfully discouraged establishment of its schools among Roman Catholics. The board appointed in 1819, being largely British and dominated by the Anglican clergymen Mountain and Mills, did not reassure Plessis by either its composition or its structure; indeed, although invited, he had refused to sit on it under the presidency of the Anglican bishop.

In this hostile climate, Mills administered with justice and humanity. He avoided religious and ethnic controversy and, with remarkable sensitivity and adaptability, tried to provide a system as acceptable to Canadians in the seigneuries as to British Protestants in the townships. The act of 1801 did not provide for ethnically or religiously distinct schools, but the policies of the board, in which Mills had great influence, were sufficiently flexible and liberal to enable Canadians to apply for Royal Institution schools without fear of entering an exclusively Anglo-Protestant system. Provisions were made for the separation of students during religious worship; there were regular inspections by local visitors, and if in Canadian parishes these posts were refused by the parish priests on Plessis’s orders, they were ultimately filled by Canadian residents; only French-speaking Catholic teachers were appointed in Canadian areas, and then only with the consent of local authorities; and finally there was a separate list of textbooks for Canadian pupils. Thus sufficient local control existed to ensure that in Canadian regions the schools reflected the character of the population they served. Largely through Mills’s unremitting efforts the Royal Institution grew slowly. The number of schools increased from 35 in 1818 to 55 in 1825, and then to a high of 84 four years later. But opposition by the Roman Catholic clergy was telling; from 1801 to 1829 only some 23 schools having a substantial number of French-speaking students were brought or established under the jurisdiction of the Royal Institution.

Mills’s task, to make the Royal Institution the de facto public education system, would have been formidable under any circumstances, but increasing political tensions rendered it virtually impossible. The success of Plessis’s boycott (continued by his successor, Bernard-Claude Panet) was not lost on Canadian representatives in the House of Assembly. Many had become opposed to a system of education under the control of the governor. Since at least 1814 the assembly, dominated by the Canadian party, had been struggling unsuccessfully with governors and councils to pass a new law that would establish a system of education more acceptable to the majority of the population. In 1824 it held an inquiry into the state of education before which Mills and other leading figures in Lower Canadian education testified. Mills affirmed that education advanced among Protestants thanks to the Royal Institution, but that it was stagnant among Catholics largely because of Plessis’s boycott. The same year the assembly obtained royal sanction for what became known as the fabrique schools law, which enabled Catholics to finance the construction of schools from the funds of the parish fabriques; these bodies also administered the schools. Thus, while not financed by the state, a new semi-public system threatened the Royal Institution’s dominance over education.

Mills had foreseen and tried to prevent such an eventuality. Before the assembly’s committee of inquiry in 1824, he had invoked as a possible solution to the problem of Roman Catholic education a scheme that Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] had been working out with Plessis, in the formulation of which he had been consulted. By this scheme a parallel Roman Catholic royal institution would have been formed. Mills, however, deplored the fact that the ultimate effect of this measure would be a further separation of Protestants and Catholics. The plan fell through in December when rejected by the colonial secretary, Lord Bathurst, for lack of funds; the colonial authorities were struggling with the assembly for control of provincial finances and had few resources, the assembly disposing of most of the colony’s revenues. Mills supported more enthusiastically a revised plan worked out by Dalhousie on the one hand and Plessis and Panet on the other by which autonomous Protestant and Roman Catholic committees of a single royal institution would administer denominational schools. This system would have resembled the one adopted by the province of Quebec in 1869, whereby Catholic and Protestant committees coexisted within the Council of Public Instruction [see Louis Giard*]. However, by the time the new scheme was ready to be implemented in 1829, Mills found that provisions of the act of 1801 would not permit the necessary administrative adjustments. The assembly had to revise the act but did not do so. The act of 1824 having proved largely ineffective, it passed a bill in 1829 commonly called the syndics act in order to avoid having the education of Canadians come under the control of the governor through the Royal Institution. The financial generosity of the new act sounded the death knell of the Royal Institution as the system of public education in Lower Canada.

Mills also bore the brunt of along legal battle begun in 1820 between the Royal Institution and the heirs of James McGill* over an estate and money left to it for the founding of a college to be named after McGill [see François Desrivières]. Mills in fact was named the college’s professor of moral philosophy, but the nomination was made solely for the cause of the institution’s suit, to fulfil a requirement of McGill’s will, and he was never active in the position. Despite these and his other efforts on behalf of the Royal Institution, Mills was never remunerated fully as its secretary. The colonial executive, because of its struggle with the assembly for financial autonomy, could not pay Mills’s stipend of £100 per annum, while the assembly, having become opposed to the institution it had created, was not prepared to remunerate the secretary; in 1829, however, it paid £300 to Mills in an effort to close the matter. Mills claimed an additional £720, and that year he went to England to obtain it. At the same time he was authorized by Jacob Mountain’s successor as Anglican bishop, Charles James Stewart*, to promote in government circles the division of the diocese of Quebec.

Mills returned to Quebec about May 1832, having failed to obtain his back pay. When he died that summer at age 44, he left his wife and family destitute; a request to the British government for support was granted only two years later. It was a sad end for someone who had given so much of himself to his church and to education in Lower Canada. Rather than being remembered as a pioneer and driving force in the development of public education in Lower Canada, he is recalled unjustly as a minor figure who administered an unpopular and controversial system that spanned, effectively, only a decade of operations. In fact, it was in part because of his efforts on behalf of the Royal Institution that others were spurred to lay the groundwork for a system of formal education for the Canadians.

Réal G. Boulianne

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 15 août 1832. McGill Univ. Arch., Royal Instit. for the Advancement of Learning, incoming corr., 1807–56; letter-books, 1820–35. PAC, MG 17, B1, C/CAN/Que., IV/32; IV/34, folder 383 (mfm.); RG 8, I (C ser.), 0, 64–65, 67–68, 210–11, 213, 246, 1171, 1203 1/2M, 1276, 1707, 1709; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 676. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1816–33. Quebec Gazette, 18 Jan., 1 Feb., 18 April, 7 Nov. 1816; 5 March, 26 Nov., 7, 10 Dec. 1818; 22 April, 24 June, 1, 15 July, 2 Aug., 9, 16 Dec. 1819; 6 Jan., 16 March, 6, 27 April, 26 June, 23, 26 Oct. 1820; 22 Feb., 16 April, 12, 26 Nov. 1821; 6 Jan., 10 Feb. 1823. Quebec almanac, 1818–41. L.-P. Audet, Le système scolaire, vols.3–4. R. G. Boulianne, “The French Canadians under the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, 1818–1829” (ma thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1964); “Royal Instit. for the Advancement of Learning.” S. B. Frost, McGill University: for the advancement of learning (2v., Montreal, 1980–84). Cyrus Macmillan, McGill and its story, 1821–1921 (London and Toronto, 1921). T. R. Millman, Jacob Mountain; The life of the Right Reverend, the Honourable Charles James Stewart, D.D., Oxon., second Anglican bishop of Quebec (London, Ont., 1953). G. W. Parmelee, “English education,” Canada and its provinces; a history of the Canadian people and their institutions . . . , ed. Adam Shortt and A. G. Doughty (23v., Toronto, 1913–17), 16: 445–501. R. G. Boulianne, “The French Canadians and the schools of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning, 1820–1829,” SH, 5 (1972): 144–64. S. B. Frost, “A McGill personality: Joseph Langley Mills,” McGilliana, Bull. of the Hist. of McGill Project (Montreal), no.1 (March 1976): 4–5. F. C. Würtele, “The English cathedral of Quebec,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., new ser., 20 (1891): 63–132.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Réal G. Boulianne, “MILLS, JOSEPH LANGLEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mills_joseph_langley_6E.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/mills_joseph_langley_6E.html
Author of Article:   Réal G. Boulianne
Title of Article:   MILLS, JOSEPH LANGLEY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   May 22, 2024