Born in Topsail, Conception Bay, on Nov. 17, 1866, Arthur Barnes was began teaching in Coley's Point when he was 17, after which he returned to university and acquired his B.Sc. degree. His early teaching career included a year as vice-principal of Bishop Feild College in St. John's and several years as a principal in Bay Roberts.
Dr. Barnes entered politics in 1904, representing Harbour Grace district until 1908. For the next nine years he served as principal of the Normal School in St. John's. During this time he completed his thesis on the history of education in Newfoundland and was awarded his doctor of pedagogy degree in 1917.
On the promise that he would be allowed to help organize an educational system for the entire Island, Dr. Barnes again entered politics in 1919 when he was re-elected as a member of the Squires Government for the district of Harbour Grace.
Arthur Barnes was Newfoundland's first minister of education and inaugurated the Department of Education in Newfoundland. As minister, he worked hard at upgrading the qualifications of teachers and helped organize a new teachers' training school in 1924, which would become Memorial University College the following year.
Long after his retirement, Dr. Barnes gave his time freely to help the cause of education in this Island. He gave lectures, attended teachers' conferences and helped organize teachers. As late as 1952 his name appeared on a brief presented to the Government of Newfoundland suggesting that a system of regional high schools be established and urging better salary scales for teachers, in order to "attract and hold men and women of ability to the teaching profession".
Dr. Barnes died at the age of 90 in Bay Roberts in 1956.
A bronze bust of Dr. Barnes is on display in the lobby of the Arts and Administration Building, St. John's campus.