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MONTGOMERY DONALD, educator and politician; b. 3 May 1848 in Valleyfield, P.E.I., son of Malcolm Montgomery and Christine MacDonald; d. 14 May 1890 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

The youngest child of a farmer who had emigrated from Scotland in 1840, Donald Montgomery received his early education in the predominantly Gaelic-speaking Scottish Presbyterian community of Valleyfield in Queens County. In 1865 and 1866 he taught in rural schools in southern Kings County before proceeding to Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown for at least one year of study, during which he won several prizes and came first in his class. At some point prior to mid 1868 he also attended the colony’s Normal School, and by the early 1870s was master of the grammar school at Harrington, near Charlottetown.

On 25 Aug. 1874 Montgomery was appointed master of the Normal School and Model School, at an annual salary of $650. He soon began reorganizing the institution, which had degenerated into more or less a grammar school for Charlottetown students, and he attempted to make its focus once again the training of teachers. Montgomery had one assistant in the Normal School and at various times either one or two in the Model School department. The role of religion in the public educational system was a central issue in the political life of Prince Edward Island during these years, and in April 1876 he testified before a parliamentary committee investigating education that his institution was entirely secular in practice and was modelled after the Albany Normal School in New York State. The committee, whose establishment he had earlier recommended, reported that Montgomery’s normal school, although an excellent secondary academy, was still not providing uniform professional training for Island teachers. However, the fault was not entirely the master’s, because candidates for teaching licences were not required to attend the Normal School, and in fact under the provisions of the education act of 1868 were offered little incentive to do so. Montgomery’s work had earlier been praised by the local press and by William McPhail*, the thorough school visitor for Queens County.

In September 1876 the government of Louis Henry Davies* came to power on a promise to establish a completely non-sectarian school system. Although Montgomery apparently agreed with the thrust of the new government’s reforming Public Schools Act of 1877, he was dismissed in July of that year. The most probable explanation is that the government wished to make the Normal School into a more thoroughly professional institution and believed that Montgomery lacked the qualifications necessary for the position. Rumours circulated as to whether he was offered another post, but soon after his dismissal he left the Island to enrol in the law school attached to McGill College. He had never fully abandoned his studies, and indeed during his first year as master of the Normal School had taken classes in Latin and Greek at Prince of Wales College.

The Davies government, a coalition, rapidly disintegrated, and in September 1878 Montgomery, who had returned to the Island in the summer, won a by-election for the Belfast constituency, which included his native district. He was re-elected in the general election of 9 April 1879 and during the two assembly sessions of that year, although an Orangeman, he supported the Conservatives led by the Roman Catholic William Wilfred Sullivan*. Despite being “by nature, remarkably quiet, retiring and self-contained,” he immediately established himself as a formidable debater. On 25 September the Sullivan government appointed him, at age 31, chief superintendent of education (at a salary of $1,200), which necessitated his resignation from the assembly. During the committee hearings of 1876 he had recommended the creation of such an office, which Davies had instituted in the following year. As chief superintendent he was to enforce the Public Schools Act of 1877, prepare annual reports, suggest improvements in the system, and, in general, supervise publicly funded education under the direction of the board of education, composed of the cabinet, the principal of Prince of Wales College, and himself.

It appears from all surviving evidence that Montgomery was an excellent choice as chief superintendent, despite predictable political criticism at the time of his appointment. He was a man of clear judgement, outstanding executive ability, and great energy. He at once set about classifying all Island schools into three groups, according to the level of work done in each. In the early 1880s he also introduced a uniform course of studies for each grade; on 24 Jan. 1883 he wrote, “I look upon the adoption of it as the most important step yet taken in the administration of our Public School system.” As a man who had begun teaching with the lowest classification of licence and had experience at every level of education in the province, little escaped his notice. He encouraged the improvement of school accommodations, equipment, appearance, and surroundings and during his tenure the problem of vacant schools virtually disappeared. A constant goal was “to give the teacher a more ennobling view of his calling,” and to this end he put the full weight of his office behind the establishment of the “Provincial Educational Institute,” a sort of annual convention which teachers were given two days to attend each October. He was the institute’s first president, and apparently it was he who arranged for papers to be delivered by professors from Prince of Wales and by leading teachers. The institute served as a voluntary association of teachers, and it appears that Montgomery had had such a body in mind for several years: in 1875 he and William McPhail had organized the short-lived Queens County Teachers Association. Yet he was not successful in all his endeavours: daily average school attendance, as a percentage of enrolment, remained, in his opinion, unsatisfactorily low (although certainly no worse than in most provinces); his proposal for the appointment of an Acadian professor at Prince of Wales to specialize in the training of French-speaking teachers was not acted upon by the government; and he appears to have been frustrated in his desire for a “more practical” curriculum.

Although not an extrovert, Montgomery took a personal and visible interest in the working and results of the educational system. He attempted to make rural students attending Prince of Wales College and Normal School (amalgamated in 1879) feel welcome in the capital, he personally sponsored a prize in French at the college, and he encouraged students and former teachers when they continued their studies elsewhere; one suspects that he took a particular interest in those of Scottish background from his own part of the Island. He inspected the advanced schools himself, although in later years he sometimes entrusted the task to young university graduates whom he knew well. In addition, he played a leading role in the intellectual life of Charlottetown, organizing the Natural History Society and actively participating in the Shakespeare Club.

Montgomery, whose heart had been weakened by vaccination against smallpox late in 1885, died in 1890 at age 42. He left a widow, Mary Isabella McPhail (daughter of the former school visitor), whom he had married on 10 Aug. 1887; they had no children. In an obituary the Charlottetown Examiner reported rumours “that he entertained doubts at one time concerning the Divinity of our Lord . . . doubts . . . long since removed.” Montgomery’s father-in-law, in a family letter, reported that “Mr. Montgomery was ‘satisfied’ in departing this life. I say satisfied because that was the word he used.”

Donald Montgomery, as master of the Normal School and especially as chief superintendent of education, was part of a Scottish Protestant hegemony in the educational system of Prince Edward Island, one of the first major figures in that tradition to be born in the New World. He played perhaps the most important single role in translating the sound school legislation of 1877 into sound practice. When he died the Island had an excellent educational system for a rural province of that era, a source of pride in the difficult years after confederation. His earlier political connections were clearly regarded as irrelevant and the press overflowed with the sentiment that, because of his exceptional administrative ability, he had been exactly the man for the job and had set a standard against which the performance of his successors would be measured.

Ian Ross Robertson

[Donald Montgomery’s annual reports as chief superintendent of education are found in: P.E.I., Legislative Council, Journal, 1880, app.7; House of Assembly, Journal, 1881, app.C; 1882, app.D; 1883, app.B; 1884, app.B; 1885, app.F; 1886, app.A; 1887; app.A; 1888, app.A; 1889, app. A; 1890, app.C. His reports to the Board of Education as master of the Normal School were not published, but the following should be consulted: Reports of the visitors of schools, for the three counties of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), for 1874 (especially p.36) and 1875 (pp.6–7), as well as the Report of the parliamentary committee appointed to investigate and report upon the manner in which the education law has been and is being carried on in the public educational establishments of this Island (Charlottetown, [1876]), 4, 15, 19, 20, 22, also published in P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1876, app.AA. For his brief career as an assemblyman, see P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1879.  i.r.r.]

The following items of interest for this biography were found in the Sir Andrew Macphail papers in the possession of Mrs Dorothy Lindsay (Montreal); J. H. Good to Macphail, 20 April 1884; Montgomery to Macphail, 3 Nov., 15 Dec. 1883; 5 March 1886; William McPhail to Andrew Macphail, 17 May 1890; “Music and drama” scrapbook; and a brief undated (1888?) article on Montgomery. The Lindsay-Macphail scrapbook I, also in the possession of Mrs Lindsay, includes the following useful item: Andrew Macphail to Catherine McPhail, 29 Sept. 1884. PAPEI, Natural Hist. Soc. for P.E.I., Letters; Minute book: 1–19; RG 5, Minutes, 25 Aug. 1874; 30 Sept., 24 Nov., 22 Dec. 1876; 25 Sept. 1879; RG 16, Land registry records, Conveyance registers, liber 16: f.96; liber 26: f.784. Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), Estates division, liber 12: f.415 (will of Donald Montgomery, 10 May 1890) (mfm. at PAPEI). Educational Rev. (Saint John, N.B.), 1 (1887–88). Grand Orange Lodge of Prince Edward Island, Annual report, 1879; 6, 17, 22 (copy in the possession of the Grand Orange Lodge of P.E.I., Charlottetown). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1868, app.BB; 1875, app.CC; 1881, app.C: 34; 1891, app.A: xxii, 72; Legislative Council, Journal, 1866, app.13: 284; 1867, app.6a, warrant nos.481, 1802, app.7; 1880, app.7: 23. Daily Patriot (Charlottetown), 15 May 1890. Examiner (Charlottetown), 7 Dec. 1874; 28 June 1875; 24 April, 25 Dec. 1876; 30 June, 11 July, 17 Dec. 1877; 18 April, 1 May, 8 June, 25 July, 19, 20, 26 Sept. 1878; 29 Sept., 3 Oct. 1879; 10 Aug. 1887; 15, 16 May 1890. Herald (Charlottetown), 13 Feb., 11 Sept., 9 Oct. 1889. Island Argus (Charlottetown), 13 April, 28 Dec. 1875. Island Farmer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 8, 15, 22 May 1890. Island Guardian and Christian Chronicle (Charlottetown), 16 May 1890. Patriot (Charlottetown), 12 July 1877; 13, 19, 21, 28 Sept. 1878; 13, 27 Sept., 2 Oct. 1879. Pioneer (Alberton, P.E.I.; Montague, P.E.I.), 11 July 1877, 6 March 1878, 1 Oct. 1879, 5 March 1880. Prince Edward Island Agriculturist (Summerside), 19 May 1890. Summerside Journal and Western Pioneer, 22 May 1890. A. [J.] Leard, “The historical development of the Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation to 1969” (m. ed. thesis, Univ. of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1971), 26–27. M. O. McKenna, “The impact of cultural forces on commitment to education in the province of Prince Edward Island” (phd thesis, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., 1964), 171–72, 263. Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.,” chap.9–11; epilogue; “Sir Andrew Macphail as a social critic” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1974), 22, 29. S. N. Robertson, “The public school system,” Past and present of P.E.I. (MacKinnon and Warburton), 381a–89a.

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Cite This Article

Ian Ross Robertson, “MONTGOMERY, DONALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montgomery_donald_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montgomery_donald_11E.html
Author of Article:   Ian Ross Robertson
Title of Article:   MONTGOMERY, DONALD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 4, 2023