Stephen Daniel Pope (1842 - 1910)

Part I

S. D. Pope held some of the most prestigious positions in the British Columbia public school system. He was principal of Victoria High School from 1876 to 1878 and he was Superintendent of Education from 1884 to 1899. But like other senior administrators during these formative years, he was the victim of political intrigues, ministerial whims, and bureaucratic jealousies. He had to resign as principal of the high school when he was accused of being a drunkard, and he resigned as superintendent when the Minister of Education called him incompetent. In this respect, Pope's career illustrates the mercurial character of the school system, and the parlous state of the superintendent's office in British Columbia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Pope's career is also testimony to pedagogical commitment and personal tenacity. Having been pushed from the pinnacles of the public school system, he toiled on its bottom reaches, as a teacher in one-room schools in South Saanich (1878-1884) and at Craigflower (1900-1904). Pope, who founded Queen's Academy, an elite private school for girls in Victoria, may also exemplify the entrepreneurial side of the education in British Columbia at the turn of the last century.

Like many early teachers and school administrators in British Columbia, Stephen Pope traced his lineage to England and Ontario. But in fact he was born in the United States, in the city of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents, John Carey Pope and Marie Pope were from Gloucestershire, England.1 In the late 1830s they immigrated to Philadelphia, where John Pope established a mercantile business. Stephen Daniel Pope was there on 13 October 1842.

The Pope family moved from Philadelphia in 1843 to the village of Norwood, near Peterborough, in Canada West [afterwards Ontario].2 Stephen Daniel attended at the local primary school at Norwood and Lindsay Grammar School in Peterborough, before entering Queen's University in Kingston in 1857. He was just fourteen years old when he enrolled in the university. In 1861, he graduated by "special dispensation" with a Bachelors of Arts degree. Because of his young age -- he was not yet nineteen years old -- and because of his "brilliant university" record, he was known as "The Boy Bachelor."3 Initially, he thought of studying medicine after completing his degree, while his mother encouraged him to take Holy Orders. Ultimately, he decided to become a schoolmaster.

His first post was headmaster of the grammar school in Stirling, Ontario, a position he held for three years until he contracted typhoid fever.4 On the advice of his physician, he resigned this post, abandoned the stuffy schoolroom, and made his way to Oregon, where he could convalesce in the invigorating climate of the Pacific Northwest.

For the next twelve years, from 1864 to 1876, Pope taught at a various schools in Oregon City and Portland.5 In 1868, the twenty-six year old schoolmaster married fifteen-year-old Charlotte Larissa Buck, daughter of Senator William W. Buck of Oregon City.6 In the summer of 1876, Pope and his wife, and their three young children, moved from Oregon City, Oregon to Victoria, British Columbia.

According to family tradition, he was encouraged to move to Victoria by Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, a former Hudson's Bay Company official and a prominent member of the provincial Board of Education. On 18 July 1876 the Board granted Pope a First Class Grade A teacher's certificate "by virtue of [him] being a graduate of Queen's University." The provincial Superintendent of Education, John Jessop, issued the certificate in his capacity as ex officio secretary to the Board. Soon after, Pope was appointed teacher at Cedar Hill School, near Victoria, with a salary of $70 per month.7

During this period, when the public school system was being established, even routine teaching appointments were sometimes surrounded by controversy. Pope's appointment to the common school at Cedar Hill is a case in point. In an editorial published on 25 July 1876, the Victoria Daily Standard noted:

We have been informed that the trustees of the public school, Cedar Hill, have sent over to the Sound [i. e. Puget Sound] for a Mr. Pope to fill the vacancy caused by the late dismissal of the last teacher. We have been told further that Mr. Pope is not qualified according to the Act, but that the School Board intend giving him an interim certificate as a first class teacher. Let us ask Mr. Jessop or the School Board one question: Cannot a teacher be found in this Province with the necessary qualifications to fill this vacancy without importing one? Let us look about us for material first without sending abroad for it. We are assured that there are many teachers in this Province who are in every way qualified for the vacant post and who, moreover, are anxious to obtain it.

The Standard often criticized Superintendent Jessop and the Board of Education for favouring Ontario-trained teachers and the newspaper's criticism may have been aimed at the Education Department policies, rather than Pope personally. In any case, Pope was not in charge of Cedar Hill School for long. He commenced classes there on August 1st, but just six weeks later he had resigned and had gained an eminently loftier position, principal of Victoria High School.8

The High School was in its infancy, having been opened on 7 August 1876. But within weeks it was embroiled in a controversy. The principal, Alexander B. Nicholson, was a Presbyterian clergyman who had "renounced his ordination before taking up the post" in order to comply with the non-sectarian provisions of the Public School Act.9 Even so, his appointment was resented in some quarters. When he followed the then common practice of commencing the day's exercises with the Lord's Prayer, he was accused of fostering a "religious" tone in the secular school. As the Victoria Daily Colonist sarcastically commented some parents were allegedly "terribly disturbed because the Principal of the High School dared to ask the blessing of God upon the children of the school committed to his charge" (9 September 1876, p. 3).

Nicholson tendered his resignation as the result of the complaints on September 9th.10 The Board of Education invited Colin Campbell McKenzie, principal of the Victoria Boys' School, to succeed him. McKenzie declined the offer, supposedly on the grounds that the salary of $125 per month was not commensurate with the demands and responsibilities of the job.11 On a motion from Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, the Board of Education then offered the position to S. D. Pope.

There is some evidence to suggest that Tolmie may have intended the principalship for Pope all along. Tolmie had visited Pope in Oregon in June 1876 and in order to persuade him to move to Victoria, the doctor may have suggested that Pope would have an inside track for top post at the new high school. Pope's appointment at Cedar Hill School, which caused the Daily Standard to comment, may simply have been a stopgap and ruse. The appointment of Nicholson, Nicholson's resignation, and Mackenzie's apparent rebuff may also have been part of an elaborate sham. In any event, when the position of principal of Victoria High School was formally offered to him, Dr. Pope didn't quibble over the salary. He took over the helm of the flagship of the provincial education system on Monday, 18 September 1876.12

Forty-four pupils were enrolled in the high school. Pope informed the Board in November that he was providing them with instruction in &qout;English Grammar, Arithmetic, Latin, Mensuration, Ancient Geography, Algebra, Ancient History, Euclid, Botany, Natural Philosophy, Book-Keeping, English Composition, and Declination." Despite a heavy workload, which involved administrative as well as teaching duties, Pope acquitted himself well at the first public examination of Victoria High School. The Victoria British Colonist reported "the entire exercises reflected great credit both upon the pupils and the popular principal, Mr. Pope" (19 December 1876, p. 3). The rival Victoria Standard agreed, noting "the High School under Mr. Pope promises to be a success" (19 December 1876, p. 3). The provincial Board of Education was pleased, too, and granted the principal's request for an assistant teacher.13 Less than a year later, however, Pope's competence was being challenged and his character was under attack.

Pope's troubles began in June 1877 when he disciplined a pupil, Harry Heywood, for using "insolent language," for failing to return to class after serving a detention, and for refusing to apologize to the principal for his errant behaviour. "I shall never apologize to you whatever may come," the boy had said, adding ominously, that the principal would rue the day that he had suspended him. Heywood's parents complained to the Board, but the Board and the Superintendent of Education, John Jessop, did not take any action in the matter.

A similar incident occurred a year later, when Pope suspended another pupil, Alfred Sargison, for using "abusive language" and for refusing to apologize for his behaviour. Again, the boy's parents defended their son and complained to the provincial Board of Education. This time, however, they charged that Pope was himself guilty of misconduct. They claimed that his teaching methods were un-progressive, that he was unable to maintain order in the school and, most damning, that he was frequently drunk and incapable while in charge of the school.

Young Sargison's father, George Andrew Sargison, was an executive member of the local temperance league. Heywood's father, John Heywood, was also a league member, as was the provincial Superintendent of Education, John Jessop. In the 1870s, the temperance movement was an important political force. After a cursory investigation, Jessop concluded that the charges against Pope were true. In a letter to the government minister responsible for education, Jessop reported: "Information obtained from about eight of the parents, & as many of the senior pupils provide a strong case against the Principal, proving conclusively that his intemperate habits have been often seen apparent in school, & that all other complaints are fairly traceable to this impudent predilection."14

Pope was appalled by the charges and wrote a strong letter to the Board refuting them. He said that discipline in the school was good, and explained that he preferred to discipline pupils with the threat of suspension, rather than corporal punishment. He described his teaching methods as being "efficient and thorough" and claimed that his pupils "manifested gratifying proficiency" in their scholarly attainments. On the matter of his alleged intemperance, "I am willing to confront the world as to my actions during my life," he wrote. He was not, however, prepared to carry on with his duties unless he had the unswerving support of the Board of Education. The Board dithered, Pope stayed at home, and Victoria High School was compelled to close early for summer vacation.

Over the next couple of weeks, the charges against Pope, and the principal's standoff with the Board of Education, were debated heatedly in the local newspapers. The Victoria Colonist attacked him in a series of articles and editorials. According to the Colonist, there was "overwhelming testimony" from parents and pupils to indicate that Pope's personal "habits are bad and that both in and out of the school he has been day after day under the influence of strong drink." "He hasn't a leg to stand on, we doubt if he is capable of standing at all!" (13 June 1878, p. 3). The Victoria Standard upheld Pope and criticized the Board and Superintendent Jessop for failing to defend the principal against malicious charges from disaffected pupils. "Boys and girls, probably smarting under well-merited punishment´┐Żshould not be allowed to set themselves up in judgment and condemn their teachers" (12 June 1878, p.2).

In the end, the Board decided to dismiss Pope, not because he was allegedly incapable and intemperate, but because he had failed to report for duty and he had in fact "resigned" from his office. Pope protested the Board's decision and instructed his attorney, Eli Harrison, with a view to launching a legal action against his dismissal.15 However, he did not proceed with the challenge and in July 1878 the Board appointed J. H. McLaughlin as principal of Victoria High School. Pope was out of work, but by the end of the summer, his critics were also out of office.

The summer of 1878 was tumultuous. In June, while Pope was embroiled in controversy at Vic High, an election had been held and a political faction led by George Walkem formed a government. Unwisely, John Jessop and members of the Board of Education had allowed themselves to be identified with an Opposition faction. In August, Walkem forced Jessop and the entire Board of Education to resign. The way was then clear for the government to implement its own education policies. The Public School Act was amended; the Board of Education was abolished and the office of superintendent became directly accountable to the ministry. Colin Campbell McKenzie, the schoolmaster who had declined the post of Victoria High School principal, became Superintendent of Education. And S. D. Pope, who had held the lofty position of principal, accepted a post as teacher in a one-room school in South Saanich, a farming community near Victoria.

The little wood-frame school on East Road in South Saanich was a far cry from the substantial brick high school in Victoria. As teacher in a common school, Pope did not enjoy the status he had had as the principal of the provincial high school. And his salary of $70 per month was a fraction of what he had received in Victoria. Yet South Saanich proved to be a very congenial berth for Pope. His son Carey and his daughter Jennie attended his school and engaged happily with their classmates. Their neighbours received his wife Charlotte, who taught needlework and music in the school, warmly. It would not be exaggerating to say that Dr. Pope and his family positively flourished in South Saanich.16

The school at South Saanich was also invigorating for Pope professionally. There were no dark rumours of drunkenness here; indeed, the local school trustees (some of whom were temperance league members) were "exceedingly pleased" with his conduct and his character. South Saanich also gave Pope an opportunity to demonstrate his pedagogical skills. Reporting on the school's public examination in June, the Victoria Colonist praised Pope for being an excellent teacher. The newspaper which had pilloried him only a few months earlier, declared: "South Saanich has been fortunate in obtaining the services of so efficient and experienced a teacher as Mr. Pope, and parents should certainly make every effort to utilize his valuable services" (29 June 1880, p.2).

The Superintendent of Education was also highly complimentary about Pope's work. In his Annual Report for 1880, McKenzie noted:

The teacher of this school [South Saanich] deserves great credit for the remarkable proficiency shown by his scholars. The large attendance may be said to be due entirely to the liking for the school, which he has imbued into his pupils. So large, in fact, has the attendance grown, that it has been necessary to divide the district so as to relieve this overflowing school."

In 1882, McKenzie noted that the school - renamed Saanich East South to differentiate it from a new school called Saanich West South - was "a credit to the teacher and to the people of the district." The next year he praised the "efficiency" of the school and raised the schoolmaster's salary by $10 a month.

But the parochialism and political partisanship that characterized British Columbia politics, and the provincial education system, soon claimed McKenzie. In January 1883, a new government, led by Premier William Smithe was formed and John Robson was appointed Provincial Secretary. Robson and Superintendent C. C. McKenzie had been political opponents for a long time and not surprisingly their working relationship was strained. Robson was eager to find any excuse to dismiss his superintendent, and an excuse presented itself when McKenzie indicated that he wished to qualify as a lawyer. Robson charged that McKenzie's ambition to be admitted to the bar was evidence that he was not committed to his work with the Education Department, and on those grounds McKenzie was fired. On 3 March 1884, Robson offered the position - and a salary of $1500 - to the teacher in charge of Saanich East South School. Pope formally accepted the offer five days later.

Pope's neighbours, and the parents of his pupils, were sorry to see him leave. The Victoria Colonist observed that "the good people of Saanich are greatly concerned at the prospect of the removal from their midst of Mr. S. D. Pope, B.A., and family, who have since their arrival in Saanich some years past, enjoyed the esteem and friendship of all with whom they have been brought in contact" (9 March 1884). To express their appreciation, families in the district organized a testimonial for their teacher and his wife at the schoolhouse on March 21st. At the testimonial, the Popes heard "kindly and expressive" addresses from students and heartfelt speeches school trustees. "The remarks of each were so pointed and affecting that tears were the order of the hour among both children and parents," the Colonist reported (23 March 1884, p.3). The schoolmaster and his wife also received farewell gifts: Mrs. Pope was presented with a "handsome clock," her husband accepted "a fine gold-headed cane."

The following week, on April 1st 1884, S. D. Pope commenced work as the province's third Superintendent of Education.

Notes