The Billings Academy – Circa 1880

Written by Dr. D. S. Hoig in 1933.

At the south west corner of Centre and Bagot Streets was the Billings home. Here four maiden ladies conducted a private school, an institution that filled a real want in those days, when children from homes of refinement found it difficult, especially the young ones, to endure the rough atmosphere of the Public Schools of that time. As a result, ladies like the Misses Billings were found in every Ontario town carrying on the primary schools in private houses. The vastly improved conditions of the modern schools and the employment of female teachers for this purpose render the old private school unnecessary, and it was largely disappeared.

But at the time we are writing of, most of the young of the more genteel people went to these schools, and the Misses Billings’ “Academy” was always full; each of the sisters presiding over one branch of education, except one, who managed the house. They were of very “genteel” extraction; their father having been an officer in the English army. In their youth several of these girls were said to have been beautiful; but at this time they were elderly ladies, tall and thin and looking very much alike. They were in the habit of taking a walk in the afternoon and four ladies in a group, clad in long black dressed of the period, and walking with a rather mincing gait, looking not unlike four stately geese, were sure to attract attention.

Especially edifying was it to see these four vestals in the act of crossing the very muddy streets of the period, pick up their skirts to exactly the same genteel height, and go prancing across to the other side. But they were held in the highest esteem by the townspeople and the many children who passed through their hands could not help but carry with them some of the refinement and graciousness which was no noticeable in these gentlewomen.”

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