William Walker Blackall was born in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, England on Jan. 19, 1864. The son of a Church of England minister, he was educated at Hertford Grammar school and received his BA from the University of London in 1890. He had an extensive and successful teaching career in England before coming to Newfoundland as head master of Bishop Feild College in 1891.
In 1898 he helped organize the Newfoundland Teachers Association and became its first president. In 1908 he became the Anglican superintendent of education and travelled around the island on long tours of inspection. Writing of a visit he made to schools in the White Bay area in 1909 he tells of visiting tiny communities in "a small smack. The owner's son of some 13 years accompanied us as a sailor before the mast. Places (Wild Cove, Riverhall, Purbeck's Cove, Gould's Cove and Beeches) so remote that they are visited by clergymen only once or twice a year. The people of Riverhall had some years previously erected a rude school house, but alas it was only occupied by a teacher for a few months." Blackall went on to describe the place, commenting that there was no mail delivery and no candidate for the legislature had ever visited the spot. He conducted church services in Riverhall and then walked thirty miles to MacGregor with Robert Gill of Wild Cove as his guide, "...it was a glorious October day and despite the pack on my shoulders we got along well but, crossing the marsh, the pack made me sink and I had to ask Robert to slow down – still, a journey of 31 miles in a single day is no mean feat for a man of my years and weight." Such trips gave Dr. Blackall the lifelong ambition to improve standards of education, especially in remote areas. To this end he initiated a series of instruction by correspondence for teachers. In 1921 he started the St. John's Normal School dedicated to the upgrading of teacher training in Newfoundland. He served for some years as president and vice-president fo the Council of Higher Education and constantly urged the government to set more stringent standards for teachers. In correspondence with the government in 1922, he asked that examining the boards not accept candidates for the teaching profession who did not hold an intermediate grade diploma from the Council of Higher Education and that first-grade certificates not be issused to any candidate under 19.
Dr. Blackall lived until 1943 and saw many of his dreams for Newfoundland become reality. His book Newfoundland, Memorial College and Normal School reflects the satisfaction these accomplishments gave him.
A bronze bust of Dr. Blackall is on display in the lobby of the Arts and Administration Building, St. John's campus.
[Source: S.J. Carew, The Nine Lives of Paton College, (1974) p.10-11]