Academic journal article Manitoba History

"An Excuse for Being So Bold": D. W. McDermid and the Early Development of the Manitoba Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, 1888-1900

Academic journal article Manitoba History

"An Excuse for Being So Bold": D. W. McDermid and the Early Development of the Manitoba Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, 1888-1900

Article excerpt

In March of 1891 Duncan Wendell McDermid, principal of the Manitoba Institute for the Deaf and Dumb (MIDD) (1) in Winnipeg, received a letter from the father of a fifteen-year-old student. James Wilkie had written to offer the Institute $58 in lieu of tuition, as the newly founded school offered free admission, room, and board to deaf students. The money, Wilkie wrote, should be "applied towards forming a nucleus for a suitable Library for the D & D Institute," the lack of which was "to be regretted and which furnishes me an excuse for being so bold." (2) The principal endorsed Wilkie's gesture in his subsequent communication to the provincial government, and enclosed MLA Findlay Young's support for the money's contribution to a Library Fund. (3) The MIDD, called the Manitoba School for the Deaf after 1912, faced a litany of institutional challenges beyond the procurement of a library in its first decade. McDermid's first full year of correspondence with the Minister of Public Works offers a glimpse into the difficulties confronting 19th-century public institutions that arose with the growing recognition of the deaf as citizens possessing civic and educational rights, rather than as only deserving recipients of private charity. After its founding in 1888, the school struggled to consolidate itself as a first-class, publicly funded educational institution in pre-Confederation British North America, a time when the novelty of education for the deaf had given way to an acceptance by the general public that it was a legitimate and necessary enterprise. Realizing Manitoba's recently enshrined goal of free education for deaf children, as well as the province's compulsory educational requirement for all deaf children of school age, remained difficult in the school's first few years in the face of a minimal provincial appropriation and the reluctance of some parents to send their children to the residential school for the deaf in Winnipeg. It is the purpose of this article to consider how the MIDD, despite these significant roadblocks, transformed from a school reliant on private and religious charity to one dependent on public funds, which allowed the school to incrementally improve its professional standing and bring its practices up to the emerging North American standard.

Education of the deaf in Canada has only recently been examined by academic historians. Earlier work on deaf education presented the movement's history as divided into pre- and post-deaf-education eras, and omitted consideration of the difficulties faced by provincial schools and governments to develop and consolidate effective educational institutions. The stories of schools, in other words, both began and ended with their founding. Since the 1980s, a small number of scholars have begun to focus attention upon the difficulties of establishing schools for the deaf as well as on the motivations of hearing administrators and politicians involved in school operations. The valuable and ground-breaking work of Margret A. Winzer focusses on the periods before deaf education was firmly established in Canada, as well as on the efforts of deaf and hearing North Americans to have the education and integration of deaf individuals be recognized as a right, including institutional development after the founding of schools. (4) Winzer traces how 19th-century advocates for the prelingually deaf and hearing-impaired pursued childhood education as a primary goal, as well as the importance of the financial and moral support of clergy to the success of the deaf education movement. Most important for the scope of this paper is Winzer's argument that reforms within institutions of special education almost exclusively came from both educators and individuals who were educated within them. (5) While focussed on the establishment of deaf and blind institutions in the Maritimes, Joanna Pearce has argued that the Halifax Asylum for the Blind and the Halifax Institution for the Deaf and Dumb represented a movement from a charitable institutional model to an educational, rights-based one, and that this transition was a key step in the emergence of what Mariana Valverde has called a "mixed social economy. …

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