The institute had started in Scotland, to provide classes, lectures and books as education for working men, though anyone could join. The operation was financed by members’ fees which, after 1835, were augmented by government grants.
In 1846, in the Stratford Mechanics Institute had 90 volumes and 28 members. Many names we associate with leadership in the early days of Stratford were part of the institute and gave lectures: Alexander McGregor, the first teacher (see McGregor Street), Alexander Barrington Orr (civic leader not related to R. Thomas Orr), Rev. Thomas MacPherson (of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church), John James Edmonstoun Linton (see Linton Avenue), Charles Julius Mickle (Stratford-born lawyer and later a judge in Manitoba). James Street, longtime treasurer for the school board, was also the tireless secretary of the institute, which later occupied a small room cut off from the end of a hall in the Central Common School. By 1879, the institute had acquired 2,500 volumes and a membership of 100.
In 1871, the Grand Trunk Railway moved its equipment and mechanical personnel to Stratford from Brantford. With the machinery and men, came another literary institute. John Davis Barnett (see Douro Street) was president of the GTR Literary Institute and one of its biggest boosters.
Before the end of the century, with nearly 300 mechanics institutes in Ontario, legislation was passed to convert them to public libraries.
Dr. Hyde’s role as superintendent of education naturally brought him into contact with Stratford’s first teacher, Alexander McGregor (see McGregor Street). Adelaide Leitch retells the following story in Floodtides of Fortune.
The boys at the log school which, as I mentioned, was built on the lawn of what is now the Stratford Public Library (see St. Andrew Street) knew McGregor, their schoolmaster, as a fair and understanding man. In winter, he ignored their sport of coasting from the schoolhouse down to the river. However, when the master chose not to stop the sport, Dr. John Hyde, tried to end it. The boys dubbed the worthy doctor, “Old Mercury,” a name that stuck rather unfairly, for years afterward.
Note: In the 1800s, mercury was still used as a common elixir supposed to rejuvenate the body. It was also a popular “cure” for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. While mercury probably killed the infection, it generally killed the patient as well, most likely from kidney or liver damage. Dr. Hyde died in Stratford on March 4, 1889. Sources: Adelaide Leitch’s Floodtides of Fortune and Dean Robinson’s Overdue: Stratford Library Services 1846-2003.
Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. John Hyde did not seek fame. In the Stratford Herald newspaper outlining a summary of the history of Stratford, Dr. Hyde is mentioned only as " ...a truly good and guileless man who has left behind him a name for beneficent deeds which will be long remembered." It was left to others to compile a record of his list of 'firsts.'
Hyde was very seldom mentioned by his contemporaries though he is mentioned by the Lizar sisters, (see Hamilton Street), in their book, In the Days of the Canada Company. However, he is not mentioned for his accomplishments but for being the owner of an unreliable horse. Apparently some Canada Company officials had been loaned the horse by Hyde for a trip to Goderich but it had to be returned because it was "no good."
Sources: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune: Stratford Beacon Herald article, November 26, 1955 by Mary Ellen Burt; John Hyde (1819-1889) - Find a Grave Memorial Complied by Gord Conroy