Manitoba History: J. Hoyes Panton: An Early Winnipeg Rocks Star

by James Burns
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 87, Summer 2018

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Prof. Panton’s class pauses on a botanical field trip near Elora, Ontario, circa 1881. Panton is believed to be the bearded gentleman
in centre right, holding an open book.
Source: Guelph Public Library Archives, image C6-0-0-0-0-937.

James Hoyes Panton, born in Cupar, Fifeshire, Scotland on 7 May 1847, was the son of a banker James Hoyes Panton (1805-1854) and a farmer’s daughter Agnes Wilkie (1816-1894). His family, including two siblings, moved to Canada when he was a year old. [1] The Wilkies, were “of an unassuming, quiet nature, while the Pantons were more ambitious and enterprising”. Hoyes was an “A” student who enjoyed school in Columbus and Whitby, Ontario, and earned his “First-Class A unlimited” teaching certificate at age 17. After a frustrating stint teaching school—several Trustees complained he was too young to teach—he entered the University of Toronto. He appears in two 1871 censuses, one stating he lived at home in Oshawa with his widowed mother and three siblings, and the other stating he was a university student living in Toronto with his older brother Ebenezer, also a university student and future clergyman, and Ebenezer’s wife Helen. [2] Hoyes earned his B.A. (1877) and M.A. (1878) in the Faculty of Arts and Science, concentrating on “natural science geology”. On graduating, he was 31 and ready to put his training to good use as a scientist and educator.

One of his U. of T. classmates—also, like Panton, schooled in Whitby—was Peter Henderson Bryce, the six-years-younger brother of Rev. Prof. George Bryce who became a fixture in Winnipeg circles as a respected clergyman, founder and Principal of Manitoba College, historian, and scientist. Peter H. Bryce (B.A. 1876, M.A. 1877) went on into Medicine, to earn the M.B. (1880) and M.D. degrees (1888). [3][4] He had a long career in Public Health in Ontario before his appointment as Chief Medical Officer of the Dominion Department of Immigration. He was, among other things, an outspoken critic of the treatment of Aboriginal children in the dreaded residential schools. [4]

After graduation from the University of Toronto, where both men were medallists for their high academic proficiency, Panton and Bryce were hired in 1878 by the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph to teach physics, meteorology and biology. Panton was a staunch believer in scholarship based on scientific field observations. So, one of his pleasant tasks was taking his botany classes on field trips. There was a preponderance of women in the class, and all the students donned rather formal-looking field apparel. Of course, three-piece suits and flouncy dresses were everyday-wear back then.

Hoyes married Mary Jemima Drummond Cattanach in Kenyon Twp., Glengarry County, Ontario on 18 August 1880, near her family’s home. The couple moved to Guelph almost immediately post-nuptials. He had already been teaching at the Ag College for two years.

Disenchanted though, after four years of teaching there, Panton and Bryce resigned in 1882 due to the inadequate salaries offered; the College was not a rich institution in those days. Panton and his wife moved to Winnipeg that year. One might speculate—not on any evidence— that the move was mediated through Hoyes’ friendship with Peter Bryce, perhaps indirectly through George Bryce, as Panton had few, if any, connections in Winnipeg. [5]

Though difficult to reconcile, it appears that upon arrival in Winnipeg, Hoyes became a Winnipeg real estate agent for a year or two (1882-1883) [6] , perhaps unable to find a teaching position right away. He was appointed Principal of the Collegiate Department of the original Central School on Louise St. starting in January 1884 till the end of the year, when he left Winnipeg for the east to teach at the Agricultural College in Guelph. [7]

Hoyes and Mary Panton (as a child and young woman she was called Jemima) [8] moved to Winnipeg early in the year, and there they were blessed with a son, Leonard, on 3 June 1882. [9] Leonard became a physician and rose to the rank of captain in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. [10]

J. Hoyes Panton was elected to membership in the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba (HSSM) in September 1882. The Minutes show that by February 1883 he was the Chairman of the Society’s Archaeology and Natural History Committee, which had charge of the Society’s museum. He did much to organize the fledgling museum, and he donated specimens including Silurian and Devonian fossils from Manitoba. Several trips into the Northwest (e.g., southern Saskatchewan and Alberta) netted him and the museum many fine Cretaceous fossils also.

In his short sojourn in Winnipeg, Panton quickly became a well-known and well-respected man who gave back much to the community. Besides HSSM committee work, his scientific research and his principalship, he delivered a series of lectures to the Society, and to gatherings at his newly adopted Knox Presbyterian Church, on geological, paleontological and botanical topics. The Society’s Executive Council Minutes reveal that he was a consistent and enthusiastic attendee at the meetings. He was also an Examiner for the History Department of Manitoba University. University Principal Rev. George Bryce was also the society’s president at the time.

One of his field projects involved the testing of agricultural soils, to determine their suitability for farming. Having mooted such a study to eminent English agricultural scientist, Dr. J. H. Gilbert, in 1883 at the Winnipeg meeting with the British Association, Panton set out to collect soil samples around the province for Gilbert to assay. Gilbert’s preliminary results suggested that Manitoba’s soils had higher levels of nitrogen and minerals than any English soils. The question was: How had Manitoba’s soils fared after 60 years of cultivation with no fertilization, not even manure? Panton’s initiative spurred the province to take charge of the study. [11]

In July 1884, Panton participated in a session of the Manitoba Teachers’ Convention in Winnipeg; agricultural education in schools was the topic of discussion. In his presentation, he argued that Manitoba, as a leader in Canadian agriculture, needed to: (a) introduce an agricultural chemistry course into the “common” school curriculum; (b) establish an agricultural college; and (c) create an experimental farm. He argued these assets were critical to a growing and prosperous farm industry. The Venerable Archdeacon W. Cyprian Pinkham, President of the Convention and Superintendent of Education for Protestant schools in Manitoba, did not, however, favour a provincially-funded college, such as the existing and—in his opinion—not entirely successful Ontario Agricultural College, certainly not one “that was not likely to be an eminent success.” There were colleges elsewhere, he said, to satisfy the educational ambitions of Manitoban farmers. In the Convention’s aftermath Panton, while still disagreeing with Pinkham’s assessment of the Guelph institution’s degree of success, was happy that his other two ideas were agreeable. “If these two could be supplied,” he reportedly said, “and enthusiasm thrown into the subject at a lower expense than that of establishing a college, he would be quite willing to follow that course.” [12] The same year, James C. Patterson, who would become Lt.-Governor of Manitoba (1895-1900), also proposed an agricultural college for the province. [13]

Out of school and beyond academia, Panton was a devoted member of Knox Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Daily Free Press records his considerable involvement in church affairs. As President of the Knox Young People’s Association, he occasionally spoke to them and to the Knox Young Men’s Literary Association on various topics, from Manitoba geology to insects as plant pollinators to travelogues of his journeys in the Northwest. His delivery was polished and thoroughly appreciated, especially when he caused his audience to laugh heartily! He was head of the Sabbath School at Knox, taught Bible classes, and served on two committees of the Presbyterian Synod of Manitoba and N.W.T.

Both Hoyes and Mary were involved in charitable works. For example, they attended an afternoon tea in aid of the Home for Women where donations were welcomed. Fittingly, the academician gave books and/or magazines to the Home. [14] Mary was a fund-raiser in the Knox Church Ladies’ Aid Society’s efforts among the poor and homeless. The committee recorded its regrets at her leaving the fold in 1884. [15]

Hoyes’ friends, fellow elders and the congregation at Knox Church were sorry to see him leave Winnipeg. The “Session” recorded their regret in the Minutes. They would feel his loss deeply for his “efficient and accepted services” as Bible class teacher, for his work with the young people’s groups, and for his “wise council and faithful work as an elder”. Finally, the Minutes recorded, “Both as a man of science and as a member of the church, he has been devoted to Him who is alike the author of grace and truth, and the session cannot doubt that the good influence which has marked his work in this community will continue to be exercised by him in the sphere to which he has been removed.” [16]

Hoyes was persuaded to move back east with the prize of a professorship at the Agricultural College in Guelph, and submitted his resignation to the HSSM with great regret. On 27 November 1884, he delivered his last paper in person, “Gleanings from outcrops of Silurian strata in the Red River Valley”. The HSSM’s Recording Secretary acknowledged Panton in the Minutes: “The lecture was well illustrated with maps and drawings, and the numerous geological specimens of the Society, and was characterized by the President as being of high scientific order... The speakers intimated their great regret at Mr. Panton’s contemplated removal from the district, testifying to Mr. Panton’s ability and industry in geological research, and the position into which Mr. Panton had elevated the science of geology in the northwest.” [17]

Panton’s last recorded duty was to oversee the Christmas examinations of the Collegiate School in December 1884. On the last day of school for the calendar year, after the exams had been written, the students presented their principal with an “elegant morocco portfolio” and addressed him, speaking of his “unfailing kindness and uniform courtesy” and of how “our friendship will be more enduring from your valuable teaching, faithful admonitions, and consistent example of uprightness.” On presentation of the leather case, they concluded, “May it speak for us the gratitude we owe to one who has ever been, not only a kind and patient teacher, but also a true Christian gentleman.” [18]

The 37-year-old Panton—bearded, balding and bespectacled—was reported in paraphrase to have said that “he had never before been among pupils who knew so well how to work and act, and he was certain that their future was a brilliant one. He wished to impress upon them the necessity in cultivating habits of order, promptness and neatness, and above all to place their trust in God—that unseen power that directs and controls all. He would always bear the most kindly remembrances towards his Winnipeg friends, especially those who had been pupils under his charge, and he wished them every success in after life.” Clearly, Panton had made a lasting impression on the people and institutions of Winnipeg in less than three years. [19]

Leaving Winnipeg, likely in January 1885, Hoyes, Mary and two-year-old Leonard had some heavy baggage to transport back to Guelph. As Chairman of the HSSM museum, Hoyes realized that the need for more space for storage and display of specimens in the Society’s already cramped museum would only grow more critical. He therefore decided to give the balance of his personal collection of rocks, ores and fossils not to the Society, but to the Ontario Agricultural College museum. It was a missed opportunity for the Historical Society to establish a fine geological museum collection in Winnipeg. Establishing such a museum would fall to the University of Manitoba, almost 40 years later! Ironically, the holdings of the Ontario College of Agriculture museum were dispersed during the hard times of the Great Depression. [20]

Panton immediately assumed his position as Professor of Geology and Natural History. Mr. Wm. Johnston, the then Principal of the College, in hiring Panton was said to have “ensured that the science as well as the practice of agriculture would flourish at Guelph.” [21]

He was “agreeably surprised” when, in May 1885, he was informed that he had been nominated for a prestigious Fellowship in the Geological Society of London. [4], [22] A distinguished scientist had put him up for the honour and many influential fellow scientists had co-signed the nomination paper. Bestowal of the F.G.S. recognized “Prof. Panton’s efforts to elucidate some of the scientific problems in the geological records of the great Northwest,” some of which were revealed as he read his Silurian Outcrops paper before the British Association in Winnipeg the previous August. A number of Association members who attended that meeting were also F.G.S. He had doubtless impressed his audience. What a wonderful feeling to be recognized at such a high level among such peers. Two years later, he was elected to membership in the Victoria Institute (aka Philosophical Society of Great Britain). [4]

Panton had eclectic interests in science as revealed in the fact that he had taught Physics, Astronomy, Geology and Horticulture previously at Guelph, and added Chemistry and Biology upon his return there. In addition, he published papers in the 1890s through the Ontario Department of Agriculture including treatises on weeds of Ontario, bees and fruit production, bark-lice and pear-tree slugs, and San Jose scale. [23] He presented a paper to the Guelph Scientific Society in 1880 on “The caves and potholes at Rockwood, Ontario,” and wrote a well-illustrated, informative 1890 book about the amazing Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, which publications attest to his wider love of geology. He also wrote about Ice Age mastodont and giant beaver fossils found near Highgate, in southwestern Ontario, in 1891. [24]

Winnipeg lost a tremendous resource when Hoyes and Mary Panton left the city for the east. Sadly, Mary died in Guelph on 21 September 1886, just over six years into their marriage. Hoyes never remarried. Their son Leonard pursued a medical career and raised a family. Hoyes Panton retired from the University of Guelph in 1897.

Panton was never really a “household name”, and was at best a minor player in the field of Canadian geology. However, during his nearly three years in Winnipeg, he had contributed to the spiritual and educational life of the city, and also to a better knowledge of Manitoba’s geological and mineralogical secrets. He died of cancer in Guelph on 2 February 1898, at the age of 51. [25]


1. Panton, J.H., [autobiography], 1896—see; 1861 Canada Census, Ontario Co., East Whitby; 1871 Canada Census, Ontario South, Oshawa.

2. 1871 Canada Census, Ontario South, Oshawa South; 1871 Canada Census, Ontario, Toronto East, St. David’s Ward; Ontario Marriages, 1801–1935, Ontario, York, 1870.


4. Maureen K. Lux, “Bryce, Peter Henderson”. peter_ henderson_16E.html. Accessed 1 February 2018.

5. Two members of the Winnipeg Protestant Board of School Trustees—Alderman George H. Ham and Ward 2 Trustee Mr. (A. P.) Cameron—acknowledged Panton as a school chum back in Ontario, Manitoba Daily Free Press (hereafter MDFP), 10 December 1884, p. 4.

6. Henderson’s Directories for Winnipeg, Winnipeg: Winnipeg Directory Publishing Co.

7.; Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 12 October 1907, p. 5.

8. 1861 and 1871 Canada Censuses, Ontario, Glengarry Co., Kenyon Tp.

9.; 1891 Canada Census, Ontario, Wellington South, Guelph; Leonard’s birth is unrecorded in Manitoba Vital Statistics.


11. MDFP, 2 March 1883, p. 2; 5 September 1883, p. 4.

12. MDFP, 4 July 1884, p. 4. A. M. Ross and T. Crowley, The College on the Hill: A New History of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1877–1999. Toronto: Dundurn, 1999.

13. The Nor’West Farmer, July 1884

14. MDFP, 9 April 1883.

15. MDFP, 22 January 1885.

16. Ibid.

17. HSSM General Meeting Minutes, 27 November 1884. Archives of Manitoba Acc. No. P7996/9-13.

18. MDFP, 24 December 1884, p. 4.

19. Ibid.

20. Ross and Crowley, 1999, College on the Hill, p. 45.


22. MDFP, 21 May 1885, p. 4—an account of the nomination in the Guelph Mercury that week.

23. %20Hoyes%20(James%20Hoyes)%2C%201847-1898.

24. Geological Magazine (London), Series 3(8):504–505.


We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 8 April 2021