Ryerson Students Bring Down Statue Glorifying Key Architect of Residential Schools
On June 6, Ryerson University students and others in Toronto took action to bring down a statue of Egerton Ryerson who was a leading architect of the racist Residential School system. The University took its name to glorify the life and work of Egerton Ryerson and the statue held a place of prominence on campus.
It is reported that as many as 1,000 people participated in the memorial march and rally on June 6. It started at the Ontario Legislature buildings and ended at Ryerson University. The action was held to honour the 215 indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered in an unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Ryerson’s racist views were clearly expressed in a letter he wrote on May 26, 1847 as Chief Superintendent of Education in Upper Canada, to George Vardon, Assistant Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Ryerson asserted that “the North American Indian cannot be civilized or preserved in a state of civilization (including habits of industry and sobriety) except in connection with, if not by the influence of, not only religious instruction and sentiment but of religious feelings.” He expressly recommended that Indigenous students be educated in a separate, denominational, English-only system with a focus on industrial training. This letter was published as an appendix to a larger report entitled Statistics Respecting Indian Schools.
Indigenous students and faculty have for some time been advocating that the university change its name and stop glorifying racists like Ryerson. Recently the Indigenous Students’ Association, in an open letter to the university, announced it would no longer use the name Ryerson and would go by X University instead. It called on fellow students, faculty and alumni to do the same and refer to X University in their email signatures, correspondence and on their resumes.
Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre based in the Faculty of Arts at the university, has since taken up the appeal and posted the open letter to their website. The open letter reads in part:
“For us, there is no debate about reconciling Ryerson’s legacy. It doesn’t matter how many non-Indigenous historians send their fawning letters of support for Egerton. From an Indigenous student perspective, it cannot be reconciled.
“The only solution then, is to change the name (something that Ryerson has actually done three times before). So we are asking that you stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community here at Ryerson University and help us make that demand.
“Until it is met, we will erase Ryerson ourselves, removing the university’s current name from our email signatures, CVs, and other professional communications and replacing it with an X.
“We ask that, you too, remove Ryerson’s name and this symbol of cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma.
“As the stewards of a new generation, we have the responsibility to have better relationships with one another. Please help us reframe the conversation so that we are no longer forced to debate our humanity. Signed: Indigenous Students at X University.”
In response to students and activists bringing down Egerton Ryerson’s statue, the university has said it will not be restored or replaced.
1. Ryerson, Egerton (1847). “Statistics Respecting Residential Schools, Appendix A: Report by Dr Ryerson on Industrial Schools.” National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (Letter to George Vardon, Assistant Superintendent of Indian Affairs). Indian Affairs.
2. “Aboriginal Residential Schools Before Confederation: The Early Experience.” Historical Studies. 61: 13-40
3. Ryerson (1847). “Statistics Respecting Residential Schools, Appendix A.”
(Photo: P. Watson)