Waterloo Region Generations
A record of the people of Waterloo Region, Ontario.
Dr. William L. Tassie

Dr. William L. Tassie

Male 1815 - 1886  (71 years)

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  • Name William L. Tassie 
    Prefix Dr. 
    Born 10 May 1815  Dublin, Dublin, Leinster, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2, 3
    Gender Male 
    Interesting education, life story 
    Immigration 1834  , Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    Occupation 1861  Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    Grammer School Teacher 
    Religion 1861  Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    Free Church 
    Occupation 1871  200 Water N., Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Grammar School Teacher 
    Tassie's School
    Tassie's School
    The Galt Grammar School, as it was originally known, was formed in 1852 under the direction of Michael Howe in the Township Hall. It was later brought under the direction of William Tassie, who moved the school to it's present site. The building, fondly known as Tassie's School, was later enlarged in 1859. It became one of 6 Collegiate Institutes in Ontario in 1872.
    Religion 1871  Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    C. Presbyterian 
    Occupation 1881  Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    High School Master 
    Died 21 Nov 1886  Peterborough, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Cause: Heart Troubles 5 hours 
    Website 2007 
    Eby ID Number Waterloo-95848 
    Person ID I95848  Generations
    Last Modified 16 Jul 2019 

    Father James Tassie,   b. Abt 1790, Of, Dublin, , Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Mother Mary Stewart,   b. Abt 1790, Of, Dublin, , Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Family ID F24736  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Sarah Morgan,   b. 1825, Dublin, Dublin, Leinster, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1895, Peterborough, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 70 years) 
    Married 1837  , Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
     1. Henry Tassie,   b. 1838, , Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown
     2. Alexander S. Tassie,   b. 1849, , Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown
     3. Sarah Tassie,   b. 1861, , Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown
    Last Modified 17 Jul 2019 
    Family ID F24737  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 10 May 1815 - Dublin, Dublin, Leinster, Ireland Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsImmigration - 1834 - , Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 1837 - , Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Grammer School Teacher - 1861 - Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsReligion - Free Church - 1861 - Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Grammar School Teacher - 1871 - 200 Water N., Cambridge, Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsReligion - C. Presbyterian - 1871 - Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - High School Master - 1881 - Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - Cause: Heart Troubles 5 hours - 21 Nov 1886 - Peterborough, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Photos
    William Tassie school master of Galt
    William Tassie school master of Galt

  • Notes 
    • William Tassie, one of the most successful educators in Western Ontario, is a native of Dublin, Ireland, dating his birth May 10, 1815. His father, James Tassie, an Engineer and Contractor, descended from a Scotch family that went to Ireland about a century ago; and his mother, whose maiden name was Mary Stewart, was also a descendant of a family which made a similar migration a little earlier. She belonged to the Garth family.

      Our subject spent his boyhood in study in his native city; in 1834 came with the family to Upper Canada, and taught and continued his studies at Oakville and Hamilton until 1853, when he settled in Galt and took charge of the Grammar School, which was some years later merged into a Collegiate Institute.

      While at Hamilton, where he taught fourteen years, Mr. Tassie took up the studies laid down in the curriculum of the College and University of Toronto; passed terminal and annual examinations, and was graduated from that institution in 1855 as Bachelor of Arts, and in due course of time received the degree of Master of Arts. In 1871, Queen's University, Kingston, conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws a distinction rarely granted by that institution.

      Dr. Tassie has been at the head of the Collegiate Institute the oldest school of the kind in the Province since it was opened, and has built up an institution of unusual popularity and of high standing. Usually about three hundred students attend it annually. They come from every part of the Dominion of Canada, and from nearly every State in the American Union, including Texas at the extreme south, and Oregon on the Pacific Slope. In looking over the list of pupils, we notice that several of the leading men, particularly politicians in the several Provinces, send their sons here for their mental drill.

      This school is well known, not only in Canada and the United States, but also in Great Britain, and not unknown on the Continent of Europe, parties from time to time writing to Dr. Tassie for situations as teachers, from Germany, France, and Switzerland.

      The course of instruction in the Institute embraces the English, French, German, Latin and Greek Languages, History, Geography, English Composition, Bookkeeping, Arithmetic, Algebra, Physiology, Trigonometry, Use of Instruments, Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Natural History, Mensuration, Geology, Music, Drawing, and Drill. Pupils are prepared for Competitive Examinations at the Universities, for the Law Society, the Medical Boards, the Army and Navy, the Civil Service, and for Mercantile pursuits.

      Dr. Tassie has an extensive acquaintance among the leading men of all classes in the Dominion, and they thoroughly appreciate the noble work which, with the aid of a competent corps of masters, he is doing in a quiet way at Galt. The people of this town seem to appreciate the merits of the Institute, and are liberal in their patronage and very free in their commendations of its learned Principal.
      The wife of Dr. Tassie was Miss Sarah Morgan, of Dublin, married in 1837. They have no family.

      The Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men, Ontario Volume, 1880.


      TASSIE, WILLIAM, teacher and headmaster; b. 10 May 1815 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland), third of the eight children of James Tassie and Mary Stewart; m. in 1834 in Dublin Sarah Morgan, and they had no children; d. 21 Nov. 1886 at Peterborough, Ont.

      William Tassie immigrated to Nelson Township in Upper Canada in 1834 with his wife, parents, brothers, and sisters. He taught briefly in Nelson Township before accepting a position at the first common school in Oakville. In 1839 Tassie went to the Gore District Grammar School at Hamilton as assistant master under John Rae*. In 1853 he moved to Galt (now part of Cambridge) where, as headmaster of the newly established Galt Grammar School, he built a national reputation for both himself and the school.

      Under Tassie the enrolment in the school grew from 12 in 1853 to between 250 and 300 at the height of its fame in the 1860s. Four out of five boys who attended came from homes outside Galt: from across Canada, from the United States, and even from the West Indies. Tassie's role was similar to that of John Strachan* during his teaching career at Cornwall and York (Toronto) earlier in the century; the alumni of their schools later formed a large percentage of the élite in Upper Canada. Families such as the Tuppers, Blakes, Mowats, Oslers, Codys, Keefers, Cronyns, Becks, Carlings, Boultons, Cayleys, and Galts sent their sons to "Tassie's School."

      Tassie was an "old school" educator who opposed coeducation, favoured a curriculum centred on the classics, was a strict disciplinarian, and preferred residential schooling where the boys could be under constant supervision (at times over 40 boys stayed in his own home). According to a former pupil, the headmaster had "the bearing and dignity of a field-marshal and the walk and tread of an emperor." Yet he was a dedicated, high-principled teacher who drove himself as well as others. Tassie's aloofness was balanced by his sincerity and the warmth of his wife's character. Left in a difficult financial situation after his death, she received a life annuity of $340 from the school's old boys.

      By the 1870s educational reform in Upper Canada had led to a stress on practical rather than classical education. In 1871 the Galt Grammar School was the first school in the province to be named a collegiate institute, but the introduction of provincial examinations, especially the intermediate examination begun in June 1876, and a system of grants paid according to the results of these examinations, precipitated the decline of the school. Students, especially those who had to pass the intermediate examination to become teachers, began to turn elsewhere and by 1881 the annual enrolment at the school had fallen to 50 boys. Tassie, however, held that education was largely for the building of character and remained a firm believer in education for its own sake, in clear defiance of the mounting preference for more scientific and practical training. But when many of his students were unsuccessful in provincial examinations his entire system came under criticism and pressure mounted on him to change his methods or leave. Unwilling to abandon his principles, he chose the latter course and resigned in the spring of 1881 under a cloud of controversy. He was succeeded by John E. Bryant, principal of Pickering College.

      That fall Tassie opened a private boarding-school in Yorkville (now part of Toronto) where he again emphasized the classics. In 1884, still refusing to adapt his ideas to the changing conditions, he returned to the public system by accepting an appointment as headmaster of the Peterborough Collegiate Institute where his talents were sought, according to Henry John Cody*,"to improve its discipline." Indeed enrolment did increase and one year later students and teachers were reported to be working harmoniously.

      While an active teacher, Tassie had advanced his own educational qualifications. He had received a ba from the University of Toronto in 1856 and an ma two years later. In 1871 he was awarded an honorary lld from Queen's College in Kingston. Tassie had also served as president of the Ontario Grammar School Teachers' Association in 1869 and 1870 as well as in 1871 when it became the Ontario Grammar School Masters' Association.

      On 21 Nov. 1886 Tassie suffered a fatal stroke. Tributes poured in but perhaps the most appropriate summary of his later years came from the Educational Weekly: "Doctor Tassie . . . belonged to a school of educators whose opinions and methods have had to succumb to newer educational ideals." By the last quarter of the century Tassie's educational methods were clearly outmoded.

      J. Donald Wilson

      "The late Dr. Tassie," Educational Weekly (Toronto), 4 (July-December 1886): 728-29. Galt Reporter (Galt, Ont.), 20 June 1871; 21 May 1875; 9 Dec. 1879; 6, 13, 20 May, 3, 24 June, 16 Sept. 1881; 3 Feb., 3 March 1882; 11 Dec. 1885; 26 Nov., 24 Dec. 1886; 7, 21 Jan. 1887. The Canadian almanac and repository of useful knowledge . . . (Toronto), 1869-71. Canadian biog. dict., 1: 478-81. Encyclopedia Canadiana. H. J. Cody, "Dr. William Tassie (1815-1886)," Canadian portraits: C.B.C. broadcasts, ed. R. G. Riddell (Toronto, 1940), 107-16. Picturesque and industrial Galt (Galt, 1902), 39. Thomas Carscadden, "History of the Galt Collegiate Institute, 1881-1914," Waterloo Hist. Soc., Annual report (n.p.), 13 (1925): 134-38. H. J. Cody, "Dr. William Tassie," School . . . Secondary Edition (Toronto), 26 (1937-38): 565-72, 652.

      Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online 2000 University of Toronto/Université Laval


      Recollections of My Schooldays at Tassie's
      By James E. Kerr, Galt

      It was in August, 1859, that my father, who then lived in Doon, sent me a lad of twelve years, to the Grammar School at Galt. With the exception perhaps of Upper Canada College it was regarded as the best Preparatory School in the Province. This enviable reputation which it had acquired was entirely due to the merits of its headmaster, Mr William Tassie, an M. A. of Toronto University, and afterwards, in 1871, honored with the degree of LL.D., conferred upon him by Queen's College, Kingston. Mr. Tassie was Principal of the school for twenty-eight years.

      During the Tassie regime the school was much more than a local institution, for thither came from all parts of Canada and even distant places in the United States boys whose parents were desirous that their sons should receive the best educational training then avail able. In order to accommodate this large influx of pupils the Head Master found room in his own house for about forty boys, and about fifty or sixty were placed in houses in the town.

      During the four years of my attendance at the school I boarded in Dr.Tassie's house. Though one of the largest houses in the town, for forty boys the accommodation was somewhat limited. A play-room was much needed, but, as the necessity of such a room had not been foreseen when the house was planned, we were obliged to betake our selves to our bedrooms when the inclemency of the weather or other reasons prevented us from seeking recreation on the play-ground. The noise we made in our dormitories frequently brought us into trouble with Dr. Tassie, whom I am sure we very often disturbed, but who I think was not very severe with us considering the provocation we must have given him.

      In Mrs. Tassie we found a never-failing friend. I shall never forget the kindness she showed to us, and I am glad that this opportunity is given me to pay this long-delayed tribute to her goodness of heart. When we were sick she nursed us with a mother's care. If we had coughs or colds she administered to us gruel or swathed our necks with hot cloths. To purify our blood she would dose us with sulphur and treacle. For every ailment she had some old-fashioned remedy. In person Mrs. Tassie was above the medium height and slight, the face pale, the hair dark, and the eyes black and piercing. Her voice was pleasant. She spoke with a slight brogue which betrayed her Irish birth. At nineteen she had married the handsome young teacher, who was the same age as herself, and sailed off with him to make her home in the wilds of Canada. Some people have said that it was a runaway match. I think this statement is not correct. At any rate the marriage turned out a happy one. Mrs. Tassie's maiden name was Sarah Morgan. She was a daughter of William Morgan, Dublin, and grand-daughter of Peter Burchell of Kilteel Castle, County Kildare. She died in Peterboro' in 1895.

      At seven in the evening we were called in from our games to prepare the lessons for next day. I usually spent the larger part of my time puzzling out with the aid of a lexicon the twenty or thirty lines of Virgil or Horace which had been assigned for study. The translation was undertaken first, then the construction of the sentences, and lastly the division of the lines into metrical feet. Our translations were very bald and literal. Dr. Tassie made no attempt to show us the thought of the author or to point out the beauties of his style and the stress and strain of our endeavours to get the barest translation to hang together so as to make sense prevented us from seeing the ities of diction of the author. There was no continuity about the translation. We did not go back to pick up the thread of the narrative that had been dropped the day before. Minute attention was, however, given to points in grammar or quantities in scansion J mythological allusions which were profusely scattered over.the text. The fortunes of the gods and goddesses, demi-gods and heroes, with their parentage, fightings, deeds and labors had to be memorized. While busy with our lessons the Master watched us closely, either from his desk or in walking about the room, to see if any were idling or scheming. At nine o'clock with a sigh of relief, though with a secret dread of the ordeal which awaited us on the morrow, we put our books back into our satchels, and after the reading of a portion of Scripture and prayer we were dismissed.

      On Sunday we all attended the Church services. More than half of the boarders were Episcopalians. Dr. Michael Boomer was the English Church clergyman. I can recall nothing of his preaching, but I remember that he was a very fine reader. His reading of the Prayer Book and of the Scripture lessons was the best that I have ever heard. Old Knox Church which I attended was an exceedingly plain barnlike structure. In it the ideas of the old Scottish reformers in reference to church building had been carried out with a faithfulness that would have pleased the iconoclasts of John Knox's day.

      Instead of a full holiday on Saturdays, Dr. Tassie thought it better to give us half holidays on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Our amusements in summer were chiefly bathing and boating. The boys who were learning to swim went to the Mill Creek where the water was comparatively shallow, but when they were able to swim perhaps fifty yards they were allowed to bathe in the river near the school where the water was deep. Fortunately no drowning accidents ever occurred. Dr. Tassie had one or two rowboats for the use of the boarders, and many a half-holiday we spent upon the river which for a mile or more above the school was deep enough for rowing.

      In winter our chief amusement was skating. There were no rinks either open or closed, but when the ice was good on the river no more charming place could be found than on its glassy surface for the pursuit of our favorite pastime. In winter also we had sledding on some of the hills, and when the snow was soft we had snowballing. A standing feud existed between the town boys and us. They called us "Tassie Apes," and we retaliated by shouting "Baikie Apes," a Mr. Baikie being at that time Principal of the Central School. Many were the fights that occurred, when fists and sometimes even sticks and stones, were used.

      Fights occurred among the schoolboys in those days as I suppose they do now. Every new boy had to have one or two of them before his position in the school was settled. After that it was only once in a long while that he had to assert his manhood, though, as it has been in the Balkans, war might break out at any time. Dr. Tassie did not countenance fighting, but I have an idea that he was secretly pleased when a boy whom he did not like received a thrashing from another boy. Perhaps he thought it might have a more salutary effect than if administered by himself. As a rule he kept out of the way when a fight was on. He appeared to act on the theory that little differences were best settled by the boys themselves in a fair standup fight without the interference of the teacher, the consequences of which interference are generally worse than if the fight has been allowed to go on. He trusted to the bystanders to see that there was no foul play and to the fighters themselves, for there had grown up among the boys a love of fair play. According to the rules of the game, after two boys had fought they shook hands and were friends again. Some years after I left school (I have the story from another "old boy") a fight took place in the gymnasium after the school was dismissed, and one of the two chief performers got the worst of it, as often happens. How ever, when the game was called off he went up to his antagonist to congratulate him and offered him his hand. The other fellow with a scowl turned on his heel and went out, upon which there arose such a storm of indignation among the boys at this boorish conduct that the offender had to leave school the next day and never returned
      Our outdoor games were cricket, football, and baseball;' lacrosse had not yet been heard of. Cricket was the only one of these that required much skill and the only one that Dr. Tassie regarded with any favor. He never took any part in our games; that would have been beneath his dignity, but when a cricket match was on, especially when our boys were opposed by a heavier team, he was often an interested, though always a silent, spectator of the game. He liked to see his boys undertaking hard things, and if they put up a good game when the odds were dead against them it pleased him very much. He did not show his pleasure openly. It was only by some little remark or question at the tea-table that we could tell that the playing of the boys had satisfied him. He admired pluck, endurance, and skill. He favored cricket because as we played it there was never any squabbling over the decisions of the umpires, because there was a generosity and love of fair play among the players, a good hit or a fine catch being cheered by both sides, and because the game was free from the rowdyism that had already crept into some other games. In short, he looked upon cricket as a gentlemanly game and it was his object to make us gentlemen.

      Much to my own mortification and disgust though I often practised cricket I 'could never attain to any proficiency in it. I was always a very poor player. I cannot tell why this was so, for the steady application I gave to the game seemed to deserve success. I was never good at games of skill; some boys are like that.

      Our playground was a large field just south of the ground now occupied by the C. P. R. station and tracks and east of North Water Street as it ascends the C. P. R. hill. It was leased by the Town Cricket Club, but we were allowed to make use of it for our games. Many famous games were played on this ground by the town team, which was then one of the best in Western Canada.

      The Grammar School in 1859 was a long, rather narrow, one-storey stone building with no pretension to style or beauty of any kind. It was substantial, that was the most that anyone could say for it. It had not even a belfry or cupola to relieve the dull monotony of its outline or to show that it was not some small factory or storehouse. It stood on the site of the present Collegiate Institute. At the back of the school the ground sloped rapidly down to the Grand River and in front of it a wide expanse of stumpy field lay between it and the Preston road. To the south of the school grounds no C. P. R. bridge or unsightly embankment then cut off from the school the view of the pretty little town of Galt, lying almost a mile away in the valley below. The school contained two classrooms separated by a transverse hallway. The room in the south end was used by the mathematical master and across the hallway was the door of the north room in which Dr. Tassie taught. Entering by this door the visitor saw to his right a row of desks at which were seated the senior boys, and to his left along the full length of the west wall ran a bench occupied by the juniors. There still remained a large open space down the middle of the room. Here the floor was marked in chalk with squares and circles which might have suggested to the visitor geometri cal problems awaiting solution, but which were merely intended to indicate the lines along which we were to place our toes when our classes stood up for the recitation of lessons. Maps hung on the west wall and at the north end of the room there was a large black board. On a raised platform at that end was a table and the chair of the head-master.

      The classrooms were always crowded, and it required all Dr. Tassie's skill and the constant exercise of his authority to maintain order. To a man less expert than he in the management of boys the task would have been impossible. Of Dr. Tassie's life before coming to Galt I know very little. He was born in 1815 at Dublin. His father, James Tassie, an engineer and contractor, was a descendant of a Scotch family, as was also his mother, Mary Stewart, who belonged to the Garth family. He spent his boyhood in his native city, and came in 1834 to Upper Canada. He taught school for some time in Oakville and afterwards in Hamilton, where he lived fourteen years. He seems to have taken up the curriculum prescribed by the University of Toronto. In 185? he graduated and a little later he received his M.A. degree.

      In 1853 he assumed the mastership of the Galt Grammar School. The School had been founded in the previous year and had been taught for a few months by a Dr. Michael Howe. That but little progress was made in Howe's time may be conjectured from the fact that only a dozen names were on the roll when he resigned. Under the rule of the new master the school rapidly filled up and the room in the old Township Hall in which the pupils met became in a short time so crowded that the trustees had to set about building a schoolhouse on a piece of land obtained from the Dickson Estate. This school formed the south end of the building which I have already mentioned, the northern extension being added in the spring of 1859.

      In the year 1859 Dr. Tassie had reached the age of forty-four, A man of medium height, rather stout, he bore himself with the easy grace of one who was conscious of his authority. He walked with head erect and with a firm and masterful tread. His cane held lightly by the middle was carried more as a symbol of power than as a possible means of support. His whole mien was dignified and gentlemanly. His head was large, features refined, the forehead wide and high, the face cleanshaven except for a tuft of whisker under each ear. His black hair brushed well back from his forehead was already tinged with grey about the temples. The nose was well shaped and had a slight roman curve. The lips were full and the chin well-rounded. His light grey eyes were large and prominent. His clear mellow voice had that ring about it which betokens decision of character. A slight clearing of the throat which had become habitual to him often oppor tunely betrayed his presence or gave us timely warning of his approach. When things were going well and he was in a good humor his face was pleasant and attractive, but when he was angry it grew dark as a sky overcast with thunder clouds and his eyes blazed as if the lightning was playing in their dark recesses. Though often angry he never lost command of himself. That would have been a sign of weakness and might have been a signal for rebellion. He was a man whom we all feared and, though in a spirit of bravado we might call him "Old Bill' behind his back, we felt that he was one with whom we could not trifle as we sometimes did with the other masters. We could not but respect a teacher who had no weak points and who never gave us a chance for ridicule. His bearing before his classes was always dignified. Long experience and keen discernment gave him an intimate knowledge of boy nature. He never made a mistake in reading character. His explosions of anger were always justified, though sometimes perhaps the fault was punished with undue severity. Some teachers are looked upon by their pupils as friends and con fidants. We never regarded Dr. Tassie in that way. He never spoke of himself, never let us know what his thoughts were, but dwelt apart, inaccessible as some mountain peak. He was an autocrat in his little kingdom. His will was law and admitted no question. He was absplutely upright and sincere. I believe his whole heart was in his school and that it occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. He was industrious, _ energetic and conscientious in the per formance of his duties. He rose at five in the morning and was at his desk till breakfast time. I have no idea how he spent his school vacations, but I know that during terms he gave himself no rest. His itle in my opinion to the gratitude and esteem in which he has rightly been held by his old pupils rests not on his teaching, for his methods of teaching were in many respects faulty, but on the influence he exerted on the boys in the formation of their characters. Manliness, sincerity, truthfulness, perseverance, diligence, thorough ness, were qualities that he himself possessed, and these he succeeded in imprinting on the hearts and minds of scores and hundreds of boys who attribute whatever success they may have attained in after life to the training they received under Dr. Tassie.

      The Third Annual Report of the Waterloo Historical Society, 1915 pg 20


      WILLIAM TASSIE 1815-1886

      Member of the Cambridge Hall of Fame (1995) - Married: Sarah Morgan - 1834

      William Tassie was born in Dublin, Ireland on May 10, 1815 the third of eight children of James Tassie and Mary Stewart. He immigrated to Canada with his wife and family in 1834 settling first in Nelson Township. He taught briefly at Nelson before accepting a position at the first common school in Oakville. In 1839, Mr. Tassie went to the Gore District Grammar School in Hamilton where he served as the assistant master under John Rae. He remained there until 1853 when he was called to replace Michael Howe as headmaster of the School. The school had been formed in 1852 as a "prep" school to prepare students for "exhibitions in Upper Canada College and for scholarships in Trinity College and the University". When Mr. Tassie arrived, the school had 12 students and was housed on the upper floor of the old Township Hall. It was apparent that this facility would soon be inadequate and in 1854 a new stone building was erected on a site overlooking the Grand River on Water Street North (then Hunter Street). Mr. Tassie drew around himself an excellent band of teachers and the school soon developed a reputation for excellence. Mr. Tassie held that education was largely for the building of character and favoured a curriculum centred on the classics. He modeled his school on the great British public schools of the day such as Eton, Rugby and Harrow and it was not long before the public mind held the Galt Grammar School to be the best preparatory school in the province and second in reputation, perhaps, only to Upper Canada College. By 1859, the original 12 students had grown to about 100 scholars on the way to an average annual enrollment of 220 boys. More than half of those students came to Galt from other parts of Ontario, from Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and from the United States. Many graduates from Mr. Tassie's school went on to hold prominent positions in education, religion and the law as well as in the legislatures of both Canada and the United States. Mr. Tassie was a man of stern discipline who has been described as "absolutely upright and sincere". He was described as industrious, energetic and conscientious in the performance of his duties and he expected the same of his students. Known as "Old Bill" and "The Lion Tamer", Mr. Tassie did not shy away from corporal punishment when he thought it was necessary. Some suggest that he thought it necessary far too often and in many cases the strap "was resorted to without justifiable cause". Yet while he was stern and aloof possessing in considerable abundance what has been described as "the grand air", Mr. Tassie succeeding in gaining the respect of his students. Many of them felt that Mr. Tassie was most revered for imparting to his students the qualities of "manliness, sincerity, truthfulness, perseverance, diligence and thoroughness" which contributed significantly to their later success. Others noticed Mr. Tassie's success and in 1871 Queen's University in Kingston conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his "indefatigable exertions" and the well-earned reputation for excellence enjoyed by his school. The following year the Galt Grammar School headed the list of six schools in Ontario upon which were conferred the "name and privilege" of Collegiate Institutes. With this change came a number of obligations both of which were destined to cause problems for Mr. Tassie. The first was the requirement that the school, once the exclusive domain of male scholars, be now opened to girls. Mr. Tassie was opposed to co-education and acceded to the requirement only reluctantly by opening a separate division for girls in the old Wesleyan Chapel. The second obligation was to have more far reaching implications for Mr. Tassie since they were directly related to his teaching methods. New teaching standards and methods established by the Board of Education and introduced throughout the Province exposed a major defect in the methods that Mr. Tassie had thus far employed with great success. Mr. Tassie's method had required his pupils in all classes to commit to memory the information in the texts and be able to repeat it verbatim. There was no place in this method for any discussion of the content and meaning of the material being studied. Annual examinations set by the Department of Education reflected the new teaching methods which Mr. Tassie was unable or unwilling to implement and students at his school began to fail. As the failure rate increased, student enrollment declined to about fifty students. Criticism of his methods became more common and according to one commentator "his reputation as a teacher soon vanished". Mr. Tassie continued to resist the ever increasing pressure to change his teaching methods until finally he could resist no further, and in the spring of 1881, he resigned his position as headmaster. In the fall of that year he opened a private school in Yorkville which emphasized the classics. He returned to the public system in 1884 when he assumed the role of headmaster at the Peterborough Collegiate Institute. He was selected for that school because of his reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Learning was something Mr. Tassie expected of himself as well as his students and while he was teaching he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 1856 and his Master of Arts in 1858. He served as president of the Ontario Grammar School Teachers' Association in 1869 and 1870 as well as in 1871 when it became the Ontario Grammar School Masters' Association. Mr. Tassie died in Peterborough on November 21, 1886.

      1. Thomas Carscadden "History of the Galt Collegiate Institute", Waterloo Historical Society Journal, Vol. 13, 1925.
      2. "Flail of Fame Citation", City of Cambridge Archives, Inducted February 1995.
      3. R.S. Hamilton The Early History of Galt 1816-1866, Mrs. W.A. Osbourne Editor, Galt 1956.
      4. Mary A. Johnston Trail of the Slate A History of Early Education in Waterloo County 1802-1912 Waterloo 1975.
      5. James E. Kerr "Recollections of My Schooldays at Tassie's", Waterloo Historical Society Journal Vol. 3, 1915.
      6. Kenneth McLaughlin Cambridge, the Making of a Canadian City Windsor Publications (Canada) Ltd., Burlington, 1987.
      7. Warren Stauch "Of the Days When Tassie was There", Waterloo Historical Society Journal Vol. 65, 1977.
      8. Andrew W. Taylor "Some History of the Galt Collegiate", Waterloo Historical Society Journal Vol. 46, 1958.
      9. T.H. Wholton 100 Years: the History of the Galt Collegiate Institute and Vocational School February 9, 1952.
      10. J. Donald Wilson "William Tassie", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. X1 1881-1890, Frances G. Halpenny, General Editor. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1982.
      II. James Young, Reminiscences of the Settlement of Galt and North Dumfries Hunter, Rose and Co. Toronto 1880.

      Cambridge Mosaic, Jim Quantrell, 1998, City of Cambridge [used with kind permission of Jim Quantrell]


      Death of Dr. Tassie

      The many friends of this gentleman in Galt and vicinity, as well as throughout the Dominion generally, were shocked on Monday morning last by the report of his death the day previous at Peterboro' where for some time he had occupied the position of Principal of the Collegiate Institute.

      From private sources we learn that Dr. Tassie's death was quite sudden. It appears that on Saturday some friends had been spending the evening with Dr. and Mrs. Tassie, leaving about half-past 9 o'clock, and that the Dr. went to bed about half-past 10 apparently as well as ever he was. About 5 o'clock on Sunday morning …?... out the night light …?... all night, and then went back to bed again without complaining. Shortly before 7 o'clock, however, he was heard to exclaim, "Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" and Mrs. Tassie at once went and asked him what was the matter. He replied that he thought it must be rheumatism in his throat, and he went over to sit down on a chair while Mrs. Tassie made preparations to rub the part affected. While so doing, she noticed that he was falling, and before she could reach him he had fallen to the floor. He rallied after this and was able t get into bed, when he fell asleep; but shortly before the noon hour he opened his eyes, gave a heavy sigh or two, and was gone.

      Dr. Tassie was born in Dublin in May 1815, and was consequently in the 72nd year of his age. He was a remarkably well preserved man, and would readily pass for 60 or 65. He came to Canada with his father and others of the family in 1834, and at once took up the profession of teaching; and it is not too much to say that from that time up to the hour of his death Dr. Tassie occupied a very prominent position on educational circles in Canada. While he was successful in his earlier engagements in Oakville and Hamilton, his greatest triumphs were won after he took charge of Galt Grammar School in 1853. In this position and afterwards as Head Master of Galt Collegiate Institute, Dr. Tassie obtained a reputation that was more than Provincial in its character, and scholars flocked to his school not only from Canada but also from many parts of the United States. This reputation was due not only to the admirable education given at the school, but also to Dr. Tassie's character as a disciplinarian. In this respect he was unequalled; and many of the foremost men in Canada today will award to Dr. Tassie the credit of doing much towards making them what they are. A few years ago, the connection existing for so many years between Dr. Tassie and his old school was severed, and the Dr. left Galt to commence the world anew. For some time he carried on a private school at Toronto, but afterwards received the appointment of Head Master of Peterboro' Collegiate Institute, which position he held at the time of his death. In 1871, Queen's College, Kingston, conferred upon Mr. Tassie the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, a distinction which was truly well earned by our old friend.

      Galt Reporter Nov 26 1886 pg 1


      At Peterborough, on Sunday, Nov. 21st, William Tassie, L.L.D., late of Galt.

      Galt Reporter Nov 26 1886 pg 1

  • Sources 
    1. [S336] Census - ON, Waterloo, Galt - 1881, Galt Division 1 Page 82.

    2. [S570] Census - ON, Waterloo, Galt - 1871, Div. 1, Pg. 41.

    3. [S1838] Census - ON, Waterloo, Galt - 1861, Galt 1861 Div. 1 Page 9.

    4. [S107] Book - The Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men, Ontario Volume, 1880.