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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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HARPER, JOHN MURDOCH, first principal of Harkins Academy, 1867-70; b. Johnstone, Scotland, 10 Feb 1845, s/o Robert M. Harper, a weekly newspaper publisher, and Marion Henderson; m. 1st, Agnes Kirkwood, of Paisley, Scotland, and 2nd, Elizabeth Hastings, of Saint John; d. Quebec City, 28 Feb 1919.

When Harkins Academy was opened in the fall of 1867 the Newcastle Grammar School, which had been taught by John Hardie, was closed. As principal of the new school, the trustees engaged twenty-two-year-old John Harper, who had been a Queen's Scholar at the Established Church Training College in Glasgow and had taught for a short time in Scotland. His assistant, and the only other member of staff, was Charles S. Ramsay, age thirty, a native of Prince Edward Island.

It was stated that Harper "gave his scholars a formal education in Latin, mathematics, and 'memory work' and insisted on absolute obedience." At the same time, he was a progressive educator, one of whose accomplishments at Newcastle was to introduce the type of grading system that is still used in schools today. The only other Miramichi school to be graded up to that time was the Presbyterian Academy, under William Crocket. Previously, a single course of study was offered in each subject, with students progressing from subject to subject rather than from grade to grade.

Harper found ready acceptance in Newcastle. While in town he served as superintendent of the St James Presbyterian Sunday school and was warmly praised for his leadership. He was a good public speaker and was given high marks for a light-hearted talk which he delivered to a meeting of the Mechanics' Institute in 1868 on the topic, "Starts in Life."

Harper resigned from Harkins in July 1870, after three years as principal, and was succeeded by John Sivewright Jr. He went to Scotland in August that year but soon returned to Canada to pursue a varied and successful career. He had appointments as principal of Victoria High School in Saint John, principal of the Normal School in Charlottetown, rector of Quebec High School, and inspector of Quebec's Protestant superior schools. He continued his personal education through part-time and extension study, earning a BA from Queen's University in 1882 and an "external" PhD from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1883.

Harper was a prolific writer of poetry, prose, drama, and history, his first major publication being a text for New Brunswick schools entitled The History of New Brunswick and the Other Maritime Provinces (1876). His earliest poetic work was his Translations in Verse from Homer and Virgil (1888). He published eight or more titles in all, including several books on Canadian historical themes after his retirement from the field of education in 1903.


[b] Morgan (CM&W) 1912 [d] Encycl. Can. / Advocate 23 Jan 1868, 1 Sep 1870, 10 May 1876, 25 Jul 1877, 14 Aug 1878, 22 Sep 1880, 11 Jul 1883, 15 Feb 1888; Educ. reports 1867-70; Encycl. of Can.; Manny (Parker); Watters