With the single exception of Dr. Ryerson there is no other who has had as much to do with the development of the educational systems of Ontario as Dr. Hodgins. For nearly forty years he has been at the helm of the educational ship, and while all agree (and none more heartily than the subject of this sketch) that to his great captain, Dr. Ryerson, the credit is mainly due, it is certain that the perseverance, the faithfulness, and especially the administrative ability of Dr. Hodgins contributed very largely to the triumphant success which they so harmoniously accomplished.
John George Hodgins, brother of Thomas Hodgins, Q.C., whose sketch appears elsewhere in this volume, was born in Dublin, August 12, 1821, and came to Canada when twelve years of age. He was educated, therefore, in this Province, and few of her sons, either by birth or adoption, have so well repaid the debt which they owe her. He attended the Upper Canada Academy, and Victoria College, Cobourg. He received the degree of M.A. from Victoria University. Although his duties were very onerous, he found time to graduate in the faculty of Law in Toronto University, from which he received the degrees of LL.B. in 1860, and of LL.D. in 1870. He was called to the Bar of Ontario in the year 1870.
His connection with the Education Department began in 1844, when he was appointed senior clerk. In 1846 he became Secretary of the Board of Education for Upper Canada, afterwards called the Council of Public Instruction. He was elevated to his present responsible position in 1855, and has now filled it for a quarter of a century with very much credit. He left nothing undone which he could possibly do to fit himself fully for the performance of the duties of his office. He spent a year at his own expense in Dublin after his appointment in familiarizing himself with the details of the management of the office of the National Board of Education in Ireland, and in learning the working of the normal and model schools under their charge. Such zeal could only have one result. That result, in the case of Dr. Hodgins, is best expressed in the language of Dr. Ryerson, in his letter to Hon. Edward Blake, on his proposed resignation of the position of Chief Superintendent of Education, in 1871:
“In the practical administration of the Education Department an abler, more judicious and reliable man cannot be found than Dr. Hodgins, who has been in the Department twenty-seven years who was first educated to business in a retail store in Galt, and afterwards in a wholesale establishment in Hamilton with the Stinsons clerk in the same establishment with Charles McGill, M.P., and was offered to be set up in business by the Stinsons, or admitted as a partner within a year or so if he would remain, but he chose literature and went to Victoria College, in 1840, where I found him; and on account of his punctuality, thoroughness, neatness, and excellent conduct, I appointed him on trial first clerk in my office in 1844; and having proved his ability, I wrote to him when I was in Europe, to come home to his widowed mother in Dublin, and spend a year in the great Education Office there, to learn the whole system and management.I having arranged with the late Archbishop Whately and other members of the National Board, to admit Mr. H. into their office to study the principles and details of its management and of the Normal and Model Schools connected with it. Mr. Hodgins did so at his own expense, and losing the salary for the year; at the end of which he returned to my office with the testimonials of the Irish National Board, as to his diligence and the thorough manner in which he had mastered the modes of proceeding in the several branches of that great Education Department. He also brought drawings, of his own make, of the Dublin education offices, Normal and Model schools. Then since you know that Mr. Hodgins having taken his degree of M.A., has proceeded regularly to his degree of law in the Toronto University, and has been admitted to the Bar as Barrister-at-Law. He is, therefore, the most thoroughly trained man in all Canada for the Education Department; and is the ablest, most thorough administrator of a public department of any man with whom I have met. I think he has not been appreciated according to his merits; but should you create and fill the office of Minister of Public Instruction, you may safely confide the ordinary administration of the Education Department to Dr. Hodgins, with the title of my office.”
This tribute from a man under whom he had labored for thirty years, briefly summarizes the history of a record of which any man might be justly proud.
Dr. Hodgins is the author of several works, chiefly text books, which have been extensively used in the public and high schools of Canada. Those best known are Lovell’s General Geography, Easy Lessons in General Geography, First Steps in General Geography, School History of Canada, and of the other British North American Provinces. He also published the Canadian School Speaker and Reciter, the School Manual, Lectures on School Law, Sketches and Anecdotes of the Queen, and The School House. One of the most important of his publications is the Report of the Educational Features of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. This is a most exhaustive and able work, and it received on its publication the most flattering testimonials both in America and Europe.
Besides these he has written very largely for the periodical press on educational, historical, commercial and social questions. He was editor of the Journal of Education during the whole of the long period of its issue, first as the associate of Dr. Ryerson, and afterwards as sole editor. All his works give evidence of great care, correct taste, and wide research.
In social life Dr. Hodgins is well known to be a kind hearted, genial, and cultured man. He has always taken a very active interest in many schemes of practical benevolence and christian work, and has been frequently called upon to occupy honorable and responsible positions in connection with them. He has been for many years, and is now, Hon. Secretary of the Bible Society, and of the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Toronto. He is frequently called upon by his Alma Mater to occupy positions of honor and responsibility, and on all occasions performs his duties with ability and courtesy. He has permanently connected his name with Victoria University by founding the Ryerson, Webster and Hodgins Prizes, and he has also graven it on the history of his adopted country by his long career of honorable labor’ When the history of the educational progress of Ontario is written, the name of Dr. Hodgins must occupy a prominent position in it. His legal knowledge was of good service in arranging a school law which is the basis of the whole system, and he will merit the gratitude of posterity for aiding to establish the magnificent art museum. of Toronto, and for his successful efforts in disseminating literature so widely through the agency of the People’s Depository.
Since the time of the Rebellion, Dr. Hodgins has been a staunch Conservative, and in religious views, is connected with the Episcopal church.
In 1849 he was married in Dublin, Ireland, to Frances Rachel, eldest daughter of James Doyle, Esq., of Cloyne, County of Cork, by which union he has four sons living, two of whom are barristers, one practicing in Bowmanville, and the other in Toronto.