Honorable Adam Crooks, Minister of Education, and member of the Executive Council of Ontario, is a native of this Province, having been born in the Township of West Flamborough, on the 11th of December, 1827. He was a son of the Hon. James Crooks, at one time a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, also of the Legislative Council, and of United Canada. Through his mother, daughter of Thomas Cummings of Chippewa, Mr. Crooks is the grandson of a United Empire Loyalist, who left the State of New York upon American independence being established.
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The education of Mr. Crooks began at Upper Canada College, and in 1846 he entered the then University of King’s College, when it was strictly a Church of England Institution. At the examination for the degree of Bachelor of Arts, he was awarded the Gold Medal, as first in Classics, and the Silver Medal as first in Metaphysics. Owing to illness the degree of Bachelor of Arts was not conferred till 1851, when he also took that of Master of Arts. Having taken the degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1850, he became, under the constitution of the University, (which had been reformed and made Provincial as “The University of Toronto,” by the Hon. Robert Baldwin), a Member of Convocation, and also Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University; when another change was made by the Act of 1853, introduced by Sir Francis (then Mr.) Hincks, and Convocation abolished, and a Nominative Senate entrusted with the management of the University, he and other graduates were subsequently appointed members of the Senate, and they were enabled in 1863, notwithstanding the Senate was increased by members nominated by the Government of the day expressly to favor it, to effectually defeat the scheme for partition of a portion of the endowment amongst the Denominational Colleges, which had been recommended by the Report of the Commissioners, the Hon. James Patton (then Vice-Chancellor), James Patton (Queen’s College, Kingston), and Mr. Beatty, (member of Victoria College, Cobourg). Mr. Crooks was elected Vice-Chancellor in 1864, and continued to be elected biennially without opposition, till December 1871, when he became a member of the Provincial Government, and Attorney-General. In this position he introduced and successfully carried the University Amendment Act of 1873, in which Convocation was restored with some of its privileges, with the right of electing the Chancellor of the University, and members of the Senate. The Provincial character of the Institution was still further extended, as well as its educational facilities, especially as to local examinations at which ladies could be present.
Mr. Crooks was created one of Her Majesty’s Counsel for Upper Canada, by the Governor-General of Canada. About the same time he was nominated a Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada (then a close corporation), which he afterwards resigned and became an elective member under the new Constitution, in 1871. He is now an ex-officio member, having been Attorney-General in 1871-2. Before becoming a Bencher, he had been Examiner and Lecturer on Commercial Law, and also in Equity.
Mr. Crooks was a member of the Reform Convention which met in Toronto in 1867, and took strong grounds against the coalition which a section of the Reform party, led by Messrs. W. P. Howland, Win. McDougall, and Fergusson Blair, had consented to form. He then unsuccessfully contested West Toronto for the Provincial Parliament, with Mr. John Macdonald as the Reform candidate for the House of Commons. At the general Provincial elections in 1871, Mr. Crooks defeated his same opponent of 1867, and was returned for West Toronto by a good majority. On accepting office under Hon. Edward Blake, in December, 1871, as Attorney-General, he was re-elected over Mr. Harman by a large majority. At the general elections in 1875, he was the candidate for East Toronto, against Hon. M. C. (now Justice) Cameron, and was defeated; but, upon South Oxford becoming open, owing to that election having been set aside, he was called upon by the leading Reformers of that riding to contest the seat against Benjamin Hopkins, the opponent of Adam Oliver, who had been unseated, and on the 10th of September, 1875, was elected for that constituency by nearly 300 majority. At the general elections of 1879 he was again elected for South Oxford, by the large number of 940, over his opponent. Mr. Crooks has had trying positions to fill in the Legislature, and also in the Government. He was Chairman of the Private Bills, and of the Railways Committees for several sessions, and at a time when the incorporation of further railways was urgently insisted upon by municipalities which had been placed at a disadvantage by the undue discrimination of existing railways, and the necessity for extended railroad facilities; as Attorney-General, from December 20, 1871, till October 25, 1872, when he became Provincial Treasurer, he introduced vigor into the whole administration of justice, and in Parliament, was entrusted by Mr. Blake with the consolidation of the whole Municipal Law. his successful arrangement of it, has rendered it accessible to, and intelligible by, all who have occasion to refer to it, which means every taxpayer in the Province. As Provincial Treasurer, from October, 1872, till May, 1877, Mr. Crooks had the difficult duty of considering the grants of aid to the different railways, and the grounds which would entitle them to be recommended. He was always able to show in his financial statements, from 1873 to 1877, a large surplus of assets of the Province over its liabilities of more than five millions of dollars.
When he became Minister of Education in addition to holding the office of Treasurer, his responsibilities were not only increased, but the amount of work discharged by him personally was more than doubled. However much the Provincial Educational system had been built up by the Chief Superintendent, Dr. Ryerson, Mr. Crooks, in his review of its position, soon became convinced that the system was in urgent need of further improvement in many essential points; in the confused state of the law and regulations, and in their rigid application; in the inferior textbooks and qualifications of teachers; in the Normal Schools not sufficiently fulfilling their special objects as training schools for teachers, and in their consequent costliness to the Province; also in the too centralized administration at Toronto and dictation of County Inspectors. Before the end of 1877 much of this was remedied, and beneficial progress has attended the administration of educational affairs up to the present, with the general approval of those who are conversant with the subject; and the increased efficiency of both Public and High Schools is universally admitted.
The liberal and advanced views held by Mr. Crooks can be judged from his Mechanics’ Lien Act; the Act which enabled married women to hold property in their own right, and as if settled to their separate use; the Liquor License Act, acceptable to both liquor dealers and prohibitionists, and other acts affecting the social well being of the people of the Province, now to be found in the Revised Statutes, and showing his work as a legislator. He takes a decided stand on the question of Provincial autonomy as against a Legislative union and favors the view that, in the interest of the whole of Canada, confederation can be made more acceptable and successful, if the limits of Provincial jurisdiction were extended, and those of the General Government more confined to that class of subjects which, from their generality, must necessarily be committed to some central joint authority. He thinks Legislative Union would give a deadly blow to progress in the future.
We have thus given a brief outline of some of Mr. Crooks’ services to his native country, necessarily confined to some leading facts, but it will be sufficient to show how important and beneficial his labors thus far have been. In that he has attained to the prominent position which he now occupies, is entirely owing to his individual force of character, intelligence, power of observation, and knowledge of men and affairs with which he comes in contact.