Biography of Rev. Alfred B. Demill
Alfred Byron Demill, founder of the Ladies’ College at Oshawa, dates his birth at Northport, Prince Edward county, Ontario, July 10, 1831. His father, Isaac Demill, a farmer, was also a native of this Province. His grandfather, Isaac Demill, senior, was a Loyalist during the American Revolution, and came from New York soon after the close of that war, settling in Northport. The family was from Germany. The mother of our subject was Amelia Mills, from Herkimer county, N.Y. Alfred was with his father on the farm, until fifteen years of age, and was subsequently in the tin, stove and hardware business for himself at Shannonville about five years. He took a partial course of studies at Victoria College, Cobourg, his health not allowing a full course, and entered the ministry of the New Connection Methodist church in 1861, preaching for ten or eleven years in the counties of Prince Edward, Haldimand, and Ontario. His last charge being at Brock, in the last named county. In all of these charges he was very successful in building churches and adding to the membership, as the records of the church fully testify. During these years that Mr. Demill was on circuits he gave much thought to the subject of female education, and was maturing plans for starting a school such as he has since founded at Oshawa. Prior to commencing this enterprise, he visited many schools for the education of women in Canada and the Eastern and Middle States, spending nearly a year in making careful observations of their workings, the best methods of. conducting them, and the best style of building for such purposes. Having fully completed his plans, he selected a high and pleasant site in the flourishing town of Oshawa, overlooking Lake Ontario, commenced the building on the 1st of May, 1874, and opened a ladies’ college on the 1st of February, 1876, the structure being four stories high, with a capacity for accommodating 110 students, none being taken except those who board in the college. The building is 50 by 150 feet, with high ceilings, embracing all the modern improvements for ventilating, lighting, heating, airing, etc., the physical health of the students being a prominent consideration. In the school the ancient and modern languages are taught, as well as the higher English branches and the fine arts, affording superior facilities for thorough mental and aesthetic culture. Another feature of the school is the domestic training which the pupils are subject to, thus fitting them to perform the duties of any position in life. In the introduction of this branch many persons predicted a failure, as it was altogether new, but Mr. Demill was not a man to be easily turned from his purpose when convinced that it was likely to meet a great want, rendering those attending his institution practical and accomplished in the domestic and household knowledge which is so generally neglected, but which adds so greatly to the comfort and happiness of after life. The school is conducted at rates that are regarded as extremely moderate, and has been a success from the start. It was a herculean task to undertake, to build up alone such a noble enterprise, which not only established a new feature in female education, but being free from sectarianism, was without that denominational assistance so usual in most cases, but the indomitable energy of President Demill has successfully accomplished the task. From eighty to one hundred pupils are usually in attendance, and it is not to be wondered at that the institution is giving unqualified satisfaction, with the able management it receives. The wife of Mr. Demill, who was Miss Lucelia Hurd, of Raglan, and to whom he was married in August, 1854, is a well educated lady, and has a remarkable adaptation to the sphere of usefulness in which she is placed, she being the principal of the school, and her husband the president: The school owes its success largely to her earnest and untiring assistance. They have one child, Frances Amelia, ten years old. The talent and perseverance which President Demill has shown in building up such an institution in so short a time, entitles him to great praise. The work has already become a monument to the best qualities of the man, and Its results, already achieved, will last long after he has passed away.
We call attention to a notice in the Ontario Reformer, of March 26th, 1880:
“As to the success which has attended the efforts of the founder of Demill College to establish in this country, unaided by powerful denominational influences, and unsupported by a large endowment fund, an institution for the thorough education of young lathes. The college has just entered upon the fifth year of its existence and it will not, we think, be deemed inopportune to refer, at the present time, to its history, past success and future prospects, from which it will readily be seen that, unless some great and unforeseen calamity befalls it, there is a brilliant future in store for it, and that it is destined to maintain the proud position it now holds, in the front rank among the many excellent institutions of the Province. To many persons the scheme propounded by the Rev. Mr. Demill, in 1874, for the erection of a college here for the education of females was deemed a folly so palpable as to deserve only to be treated with the most profound contempt. It is a fortunate circumstance, however, that there are men, who, instead of being turned aside by the opposition, gloomy predictions, or sneers of others, from the path which they have marked out for themselves, are incited by such means to greater efforts to achieve the object of their ambition and press forward with persistent energy, with but a single object in view, over or through difficulties, which, to weaker men, would appear insurmountable, to ultimate triumph and deserved success. Mr. Demill has clearly demonstrated to the entire satisfaction of this community that he is not easily diverted from the work to which he has devoted his life and talents; and he has further shown, that he possesses a sound and discriminating judgment, and administrative abilities of a high order; in the selection of the beautiful and commanding site for the college; the preparation of the plans; in carrying out the design of the architect; the selection of an efficient staff of teachers ten in number in meeting the financial demands incident to an undertaking of this magnitude during a period of almost unexampled financial distress and commercial complications; in securing by his own unaided efforts a steady but rapid increase in the number of pupils in attendance from 29 in 1876 to more than 100 in 1880 in the inception of the scheme as well as in carrying it out even to the minutest detail he has displayed a correctness of judgment, an earnestness of purpose, and complete devotion to his self imposed task, deserving of the very highest praise. The steady increase in the number of pupils in attendance is, of itself, pretty conclusive evidence that the public acknowledge the soundness of the basis upon which the institution was established; to furnish the greatest possible educational privileges at the minimum of expense, and, while avoiding denominational and sectarian influences over the students, to enable them to enjoy all the advantages of a refined christian home. The increasing popularity of the college will necessitate the erection of additional buildings at an early date; the plans for the additions are already prepared, and the work will be proceeded with as soon as practicable. One feature in the management of this institution, deserving of special mention, is the exclusion of day pupils. It has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of nearly all educationalists that the intermingling of boarding and day pupils in institutions of this kind usually operates to the disadvantage of the boarders. Day pupils are more irregular in their attendance and to some extent the irregularity of their attendance, and the consequent interruption of their studies, reacts upon those members of the class who are boarding, preventing them making the progress they otherwise would and, beyond this, there are other influences, of a social nature, which will readily occur to anyone who will give the matter a moment’s consideration which do not tend to develop in students a fondness for the studies they are pursuing. It is more than probable that the absence of day pupils has had no little influence in inducing parents at a distance to patronize this college rather than send their daughters elsewhere.”